Multi-platform research

Insight and analysis into the roles of multi-platform newsbrands in delivering effective advertising.

John Lewis and newsbrands – the untold story

Newsbrands have played a key but largely unsung role in the success of John Lewis, delivering a huge range of messages for the retailer and an estimated £4 of profit for every £1 invested.

Although John Lewis is arguably better known for its TV advertising, the retailer invests twice as much with newsbrands as it does on TV. It has increased the spend and effectiveness of its newsbrand advertising in recent years.

John Lewis is big brand operating across multiple categories that needs to engage many different audiences. Working with newsbrands has enabled the retailer to achieve the scale, frequency and depth of contact with consumers that it needs to keep growing in a highly competitive retail sector.

In a presentation to the Shift 2014 conference, two of the brand's leading agency executives - James Murphy, founding partner of adam&eveDDB, and Tim Pearson, executive director of Manning Gottlieb OMD – detailed some of John Lewis' activities across newsbrands' print and digital channels.

These campaigns have enabled John Lewis to communicate long-held brand values – as expressed in policies such as its extended product warranties and 'Never Knowingly Undersold' promise as well as to respond quickly, when needed, to competitor offers and to consumers' changing media and shopping behaviour.

Increasingly in recent years, the brand has been looking to develop partnerships with newsbrands to develop richer, "always-on" content on digital media that goes beyond traditional advertising formats.

The presenters believe the future will bring fresh opportunities to create new shopping formats for John Lewis within newsbrand apps. However, they argue that in order for this potential to be realised, audiences for newsbrand apps must grow and publishers will need to be more willing to share app data with agencies.

 Key findings:

  • John Lewis grew investment in newsbrands by 20% year on year in 2013, and has doubled its newsbrands budget since 2010. It spends twice as much with newsbrands as it does on TV
  • The ROI from the group's newsbrands' spend is growing, with the retailer using print in combination with TV and other forms of video to increase the effectiveness of its print executions
  • Whereas John Lewis only runs one or two TV campaigns a year, it maintains a 52-week presence on newsbrands to deliver a spectrum of messages from the highly emotional to rational, product-focused stories  
  • Newsbrands offer the John Lewis flexibility of format and the ability to convey detailed information cost effectively within a trusted context. These qualities are important for a retailer which stocks an exceptionally wide range (350k items) and is continually seeking to encourage consumers to reappraise its offer, and visit either in store or online
  • John Lewis has also developed the role of supplier-funded newsbrand advertising and advertorial-style partnerships with publishers to increase its visibility and/or deliver more detailed content and interactivity

 The variety of communications put out by John Lewis reflects the different goals sought by the brand at any one time. These goals typically include…

…inspiring, surprising or reassuring consumers.

Inspiration: The brands newsbrand campaigns often feature the most aspirational merchandise sold by the retailer in the fashion, technology or furniture departments of its flagship stores.

This is a deliberate attempt to use top-end products to arrest consumers' attention, prompt them to re-consider the group for a purchase in these categories, and to drive footfall to either the website and/or stores.

In the womenswear category, for instance, the brand has used newsbrand formats to detail key seasonal looks, and explain how these can be put together from the store's ranges. Similar techniques have been implemented for home design.

Surprise: The retailer often uses creative ways to surprise consumers’ expectation of its offer and invite reappraisal and visits. In fashion, catalogue-style material and 'behind the scenes' video have added extra and unexpected content and texture to the brand’s presence on newbrands' digital platforms.

According to James Murphy of adam&eveDDB, the brand's creative agency, these newsbrand initiatives have enabled the brand to feature a wider range of products cost effectively than would be possible on TV and have been as "reactive as any of the broadcast channels" in generating footfall for the brand.

Reassure: Many of the retailer's messages are designed to reassure consumers about the value and quality of its products and the expertise of its staff.

Of these messages, the promise to be 'Never Knowingly Undersold' is possibly the best-known example. Other examples are campaigns explaining the retailer's policy of offering extended warranties or providing consumers with the opportunity to buy online and collect in-store at John Lewis or Waitrose outlets (click and collect). The ability of newsbrands to carry complex information about topics such as these within a trusted context makes them ideal vehicles.

The robustness of sales figures at John Lewis, even during the recession, has persuaded the brand that these types of features provide consumers with the security to spend with John Lewis rather than its rivals.

At the same time, the brand has taken advantage of the short-lead times on newsbrands' advertising to deliver tactical campaigns to announce its clearance sales or respond to announcements from rivals.

Nevertheless, the brand acknowledges that John Lewis consumers have a changing relationship with newsbrands.

According to MGOMD, the brand's media agency, readership of traditional print formats among tech-savvy, design conscious young John Lewis shoppers is declining. Within this group, ownership of newsbrands apps is already larger among John Lewis shoppers than print readership.

The media agency anticipates that in future it will increase investment in digital media, apps and native style advertising – of which a partnership between John Lewis and The Guardian for fashion editorial is one recent example.

However, MGOMD's Tim Pearson believes that in order to realise the full potential of newsbrands apps, audiences will need to reach a tipping point in order to justify the time and investment needed to work on them. Publishers should also be more willing to share data from apps with brands and agencies.

If these conditions are met, he foresees opportunities for richer, more 'shop-able' formats to be created within apps.

In summary, newsbrands have delivered a huge spectrum of messages and tonality for John Lewis. These span the entire spectrum from supporting "hard trading" to enabling the brand to offer more textured stories and content that help build its brand equity with shoppers.

In the words of James Murphy, newsbrands provide the backbone of what is being done to drive "this large and layered business forward."

Newsbrands provide us with this fantastic toolbox to respond to different briefs and different challenges for John Lewis.

Tim Pearson, executive director, Manning Gottlieb OMD

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