John Lewis Christmas advert 2015
John Lewis has unveiled its Christmas advert for 2015You Tube/John Lewis

So, here it is: the John Lewis Christmas advert, heralding the beginning of the most magical shopping season of the year. The specifics may vary but the basic recipe is always the same. A breathy cover of a classic pop song recorded by a fairly middle of the road performer. A heart-warming narrative that builds to an emotional climax involving the exchange of a gift. Friendship, love and consumer goods purchased from John Lewis stores as the ingredients for a truly wonderful Christmas.

The advert for 2015 tells the story of an unexpected friendship between a little girl and an elderly man who lives on the moon. The soundtrack is a version of Oasis's Half The World Away by 19-year-old Norwegian singer Aurora.

In 2014, we were treated to a charming tale of a small boy and his animated penguin best friend, Monty, culminating in a scene in which the child unwrapped a Christmas gift of a second toy penguin, a companion for Monty, making dreams of both boy and bird come true.

So effectively were the British public convinced of the happiness-creating power of the John Lewis plush penguins (available in three sizes, £12 to £95), they sold out within 24 hours. Entrepreneurs began auctioning the toys on eBay for up to £500 a time, extracting their own slice of profit from the store's expert ability to tug at our collective heartstrings.

It's too early to know whether we'll see a repeat of 2014's Monty-mania but it's likely that Man On The Moon will have just as powerful an influence on the purchasing decisions of viewers. John Lewis has found a way that works reliably, which is why it doesn't deviate from it.

John Lewis Christmas advert 2015: Man on the Moon advert unveiled by retailerIBTimes UK

Influencing how we spend our money is, of course, the primary purpose of the advert. Partnership with Age UK aside, the retailer hasn't forked out a reported £7m on creating and broadcasting the clip in an altruistic attempt to spread festive goodwill; it's expecting to see a return on that investment.

With all the hype around the "event" of the ad's release, it's worth reminding ourselves of the cold, hard facts of the situation. Beneath the surface-level sentimentality and charitable association, this is a cynical attempt to persuade viewers to purchase things they otherwise would not have purchased. Or, at the very least, to purchase them from John Lewis instead of a rival store.

It is, perhaps, evidence of the overwhelming triumph of capitalism in 21st-century Britain that we've made a major cultural event out of being emotionally manipulated into buying things. At its most insidious, advertising allows corporations to exert considerable influence over our feelings and thoughts.

When we commemorate the release of the annual John Lewis Christmas advert – posting excited comments on social media as news outlets run countdowns and publish fawning articles – we're celebrating the fact the company has a record of being especially good at getting under our skin. Good at making us feel a certain way. If it makes me a Grinch to suggest that maybe, possibly, corporate power over our emotions isn't actually something to be celebrated, then so be it.

Yes, loneliness among elderly people is a real and troubling issue. And yes, the advert is lovely, Christmassy, and impossible to watch without feeling your heart melt. But that's exactly the problem. These factors are so distracting, we barely notice as it exploits our emotional responses to promote the idea that buying things is the way to show love at Christmas time. That presents are a solution to loneliness, even. Really, advertising that is this effective in its subtle manipulation can basically be considered corporate psyops.

If you suspect me of sliding into hyperbole, consider this: every winter, one in eight people in the UK ends up in debt due to festive overspending. Some resort to taking out payday loans with unmanageably high interest rates. The pressure to spend more than they can afford, with more expensive gifts being understood as a greater expression of love, leaves many families struggling to meet even basic living costs in January and beyond.

Admittedly, none of us are completely passive in our consumption choices, but persuading us to spend money is undeniably the purpose of advertising. It's worth keeping in mind that the technique chosen by John Lewis is particularly powerful.

Perhaps the best thing would be to take on board the issues raised in Man On The Moon without necessarily accepting John Lewis's proposed solution. Age UK offers opportunities to volunteer your time and befriend an elderly person – surely a much better way of fighting loneliness than purchasing gifts ever could be.


Abi Wilkinson is a freelance journalist based in London who writes about politics, inequality, gender and internet culture, among other topics.