It may not surprise you to hear that a John Lewis Christmas ad was crowned Youtube’s top festive advert two years running. That ad was 2018’s The Boy and the Piano, a £7m production featuring Elton John.
We know that budget doesn’t matter – it’s all about how you deliver story. So we broke each advert down into its five acts to see which one has a stronger story structure.
The Five Act Structure of Love Is A Gift by Phil Beastall
This is a beautifully structured short film, with a clear archetypal shape:
Chris lives in a modest house – and he is counting off the days on a calendar. It’s the first of December. He is a diligent and serious man. This is his ordinary world.
He prepares for Christmas – and does so with great care – it must mean a lot to him.
Chris continues to live his life, crossing days off the calendar. Christmas gets closer.
He’s impatient for December 25th to arrive, and keeps looking at the calendar.
The reveal of the ‘truth’ – Chris is waiting to open a present. It seems that the present is important to him.
Christmas Eve. Something is keeping him awake at night – he clearly has something on his mind. He seems sad and preoccupied.
It’s Christmas Day finally. And we discover what is inside the present. An audio tape with a message from his mother. Chris reacts to her voice and becomes emotional.
We discover that his mother has passed away, and this is the last tape she made for him. She bids him a final farewell.
Chris’s mother has a final message for him – she loves him very much, and will always be his mum. She tells him that the happiest day of her life was the day she gave birth to him. A tearful Chris smiles …
So, now we move on to:
The Five Act Structure of The Boy and the Piano
This one isn’t quite as clear in its story-telling. The idea is very simple – modern Elton John thinks back across his life to where it all started:
Elton John sits at a piano in a house. There’s something melancholy about this situation. He tentatively plays a note … This is his ordinary world.
A thought occurs to Elton, and he begins to play ‘Your Song’ …
We flashback to Elton, when he was a little younger. He plays ‘Your Song’ to a packed theatre.
We flashback in time through increasingly younger Elton Johns. His persona and performance become increasingly more flamboyant.
We reach a teen Elton John playing the piano in a pub – he seems to have found his ‘mission in life’ – as he entertains the crowds.
Eventually, we reach Elton John at school where he plays in a school concert in front of a proud mother.
The youngest EJ yet, probably six years old, races downstairs on Christmas Day – to be presented with the gift of a piano.
This six-year-old EJ has to make a choice – should he play the piano or not? His finger hovers above the piano key …
He presses the piano key – decision made. And we cut back to modern EJ – delighted that he made the right decision all those years ago. Still slightly melancholy, he smiles and closes the piano lid.
Both ads have their charms, but Love is a Gift wins the story-structure test and proves that you don’t need a big budget to connect with an audience or customers – you just need an engaging story. Which advert do you prefer?
Emily Ronan is a freelance writer and editor based in Bath. She holds an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University and is a John Yorke Story: Story for Business alumna with a keen interest in video games and nature writing.
Emily has recently worked with John Yorke and Caroline Marchal as a story development assistant in the writers’ room for an Interior Night narrative video game.