Monty the John Lewis penguin : Manipulative marketing or magic?


It pains me to talk about Christmas this early in November but with the arrival of Monty the John Lewis penguin this morning there’s quite simply no avoiding the festive season.


Year after year, British high street giant John Lewis rolls out sensational ad campaigns that leave us reaching for the tissue box: 2014 is no exception.

Meet Monty. He’s a marvellous little penguin (or is it pengling Mr Cumberbatch?) who watches Pingu, plays with Lego, enjoys a cheeky fish finger and even helps to put up the Christmas tree.

MontyLego1 MontyFishFingers MontyTree

Our waddling little wonder has a big problem though: He can’t have a happy Christmas until he finds a mate.

Sobbing yet? Good. You should be. He’s adorable.

If you fancy your own Monty you’d better save your pennies though. A plush one will set you back £92, according to the John Lewis website. No volume of tears could persuade me to part with that much cash.

And yet, year after year, the department store creates arguably the greatest Christmas buzz in the UK and Ireland. Is that because they’re master manipulators, who have worked out some marvellous marketing formula?

How could you say no to that face? (John Lewis)

How could you say no to that face? (John Lewis)

Well, some might argue yes, and they wouldn’t be wrong: Every company pays people to run effective ad campaigns. I think there’s something far more simple going on though. Let me take you back to 1990s Dublin in order to explain.

Growing up in Ireland just before the turn of the century, there were two things I looked forward to at Christmas time: The Late Late Toy Show and the Christmas windows. The latter tended to reign supreme, given the fact that my dream of talking about books on the Toy Show refused to come true.

Back then, December was denoted by the appearance of magical displays in the windows of Switzers, Brown Thomas and Clery’s department stores. From giant mechanical bears to tiny ballet dancing mice, nutcracker soldiers to sleeping princesses, fairytales and Christmas fantasies were played out behind the glass.

I can still remember the disappointment I felt when we wandered in one year to discover that these magical creatures had been replaced by morose mannequins who couldn’t move at all. They were only there to push Christmas clothes upon consumers so we quite simply stopped paying attention.

Department stores lost their grip on magic somewhere along the way but John Lewis slowly but surely brought it back with a bang. And by God did we start paying attention again. In our millions.


They began by telling a simple story about a little boy, followed it up with a snowman we couldn’t help but feel sympathy towards and then introduced us to a menagerie of magical woodland creatures who allowed our imaginations to run wild.

Who could resist the idea of a bare and a hare joining their woodland friends on Christmas morning while us humans were snuggled up in our beds waiting for Santa Claus? Even Vodafone copped on and produced this charming little number in 2012.

These tales certainly outshone those silly old ‘Christmas’ shop window mannequins, with their charmless handbags and high heels.

Monty the penguin may be the latest in a long line of boardroom creations but his little story reminds us, if even just for a split second, that the experiences we share with the people we love matter more than any present.

Christmas magic, if you want to call it that, can’t just be p..p..p..picked from a shop shelf.



2 responses to “Monty the John Lewis penguin : Manipulative marketing or magic?

  1. Hi Sarah, I just cant find any information on the net of where Monthy the penguin is made, in which country I mean and in which factory- (factories)…………My opinion? They’re master manipulators. Thanks

    • I have no idea where he’s made either and I do agree re: masterful manipulation. I just also think it’s nice to get a bit of storytelling back into Christmas ads.

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