It's become a British holiday tradition, and the reason anyone with friends or family in the UK might be seeing a penguin called Monty popping up on social networks. It will probably make you cry.
Every year, UK company John Lewis, which operates a chain of massive department stores that grace our green and pleasant land, makes a Christmas advert. With no Thanksgiving in our calendar, the British retail year revolves around Christmas, and with celebrations often beginning in earnest months in advance, this annual marketing event has become a signal flare to the British psyche that it's time to start shopping.
This corporate-sponsored dose of festive feeling follows a predictable pattern -- an unashamedly sentimental story told in roughly two minutes, set to a heartwrenching cover of a beloved tune (this year it's singer Tom Odell doing John Lennon's "Real Love"), because apparently what Brits want from Christmas is to feel sad and regret the passing of our childhood.
This year's opus -- which touches on important themes such as loneliness, the innocence of youth and fish fingers (sorry, fish sticks) -- has enjoyed a warm reception since its debut earlier today, encouraged by John Lewis' own #MontythePenguin hashtag. Marketing agency Hotwire estimates that there have been 49,562 tweets on the subject in the three hours since the ad went live. Typical of the responses are the following:
help I'm not strong enough for the #montythepenguin ad— Laura Gibbs (@Laura_Gibbs_) November 6, 2014
Past John Lewis Christmas ads have featured an animated bear and hare, before that a snowman in love, and before that a truly haunting cover of The Smiths' "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want".
Despite the ads only having been going in earnest since 2007, and then only truly tugging the heartstrings since 2011, John Lewis has turned its season advertising into a national event.
John Lewis itself is an established part of UK commerce -- the employee-owned John Lewis Partnership, founded in 1929, employs 91,000 people and also operates posh British supermarket chain Waitrose. The store (or "shop" if you will) on London's Oxford Street has an official warrant from the Queen as "Suppliers of Haberdashery and Household Goods". In short, it couldn't be more British if it voiced a strong opinion upon which stage in the tea-making process milk should be added.
That doesn't quite raise John Lewis' marketing exploits above the level of a cynical cash grab, of course -- the retailer is already selling plush versions of Monty the penguin alongside Monty cufflinks, bedsheets and more, or it would be if its website hadn't crashed following the ad's debut. But seeing as corporate giants have already well and truly wheedled their way into our festive celebrations (think Coca-Cola's "Holidays are coming" Christmas trucks or Starbucks' seasonal red cups), at least this particular offering lets us watch a CGI penguin on a London bus, and have a bit of a cry at work.