British department store John Lewis is known for its memorable holiday ads, and this year’s “Monty the Penguin” spot is no exception. Just 24 hours after its release, the ad has created a holiday frenzy, spawning record numbers of shares and views.
The ad focuses on a young boy, Sam, and his friendship with his whimsical pet penguin, Monty. The two-minute spot follows Sam and Monty as they move through the holiday season: raking leaves, watching the first snowfall, sledding, and decorating the Christmas tree, all against a nostalgic acoustic cover of John Lennon’s “Real Love” by singer Tom Odell. There’s just one problem: Monty is lonely. So Sam seeks to remedy his pal’s loneliness through a Christmas Day surprise.
The video premiered on both YouTube and Facebook on Thursday morning. Within 24 hours of the videos’ release, “Monty the Penguin” had 7 million views and more than 200,000 shares, besting last year’s “The Bear and the Hare” ad’s first-day record. Both #montythepenguin and #johnlewis have been trending on Twitter since the video premiered.
However, Victor Piñeiro, vice president of social media at Big Spaceship, doesn’t think “Monty the Penguin’s” instantaneous viral success has much to do with clever social maneuvering.
“The secret here doesn’t seem to be a brilliant social strategy so much as an incredibly strong piece of shareable content propelled by its place in popular culture, with a smart seeding strategy to give it the initial momentum it needed to go viral,” Piñeiro says. “That the annual John Lewis Christmas ad is an anticipated tradition helped gain it that crucial initial momentum that helped launch it into the stratosphere.”
Piñeiro also believes the video, created by Adam&Eve/DDB, owes much of its inspiration to the iconic American comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, which followed the exploits of a mischievous boy and his stuffed tiger. The Calvin & Hobbes creator, Bill Watterson, famously never sold merchandising rights to the comic, leaving a generation of fans without memorabilia or collectables.
“Part of the credit for [the ad’s] success should go to Bill Watterson, who wouldn’t allow his creations to exist beyond his comic strips,” Piñeiro says. “John Lewis feels like a safer version of Calvin & Hobbes that can actually be merchandised.”
In addition to Monty merchandise like stuffed toys and penguin pajamas, John Lewis has also crafted a Twitter account for Monty, @MontyThePenguin, which features tweets in the voice of the character. Monty currently has 16,500 followers.
The campaign’s viral success has translated to retail success for John Lewis stores. The Daily Mail reports that the £95 plush penguin toys modeled after Monty and his girlfriend Mabel sold out within hours. Samsung, Microsoft, and Google have also partnered with John Lewis to create an in-store space called Monty’s Den, where children can use Google cardboard to enter a virtual world to interact with Monty or create their own Monty Christmas cards using the Samsung Galaxy.
“Tactics like an active @MontyThePenguin Twitter account helped feed the need for content beyond the 90-second spot, though it was smart to focus on the theme of the ad and give kids tools to create their own stories with Monty – whether through an iPad app or the plush toy, which sold out immediately,” Piñeiro says, adding that “It was also smart choose a penguin, as it’s the cutest seasonally appropriate animal not owned by Coca-Cola.”
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