UK retailer John Lewis has made a unique musical choice this year, forgoing the expected use of classic holiday music for this commercial. Instead, they’ve chosen a somber-sounding cover of The Smiths’ “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” by Slow Moving Millie.
For all the reasons it shouldn’t work, this actually works extremely well. The song written by Morrissey & Johnny Marr and recorded by The Smiths 27 years ago is a sad depressing song about unrequited love. In fact, I’ll bet that every version (She & Him, Muse, Deftones, et al) has been heard and understood in this way — until now.
It’s amazing the way visual context can effectively change the meaning of lyrics. This ad takes Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of montage to a new audible level by juxtaposing the song with images of a boy waiting impatiently for Christmas to come. It’s no longer about being forever alone, rather now about childish desires. But, quite unexpectedly, at the end even that changes; the ad, and now the song, morphs into one about generosity and giving.
The choice to use a cover song allows the ad to be one step removed from the well-known 80s classic. In fact, a YouTube user recut the ad with The Smiths version and, for me, the tone and quality of Morrissey’s voice and the decades-old sound just doesn’t work as well as Slow Moving Millie’s female voice and soft piano.
Holiday ads need not always rely on cliche seasonal tunes, sleigh bells, or carols to be effective. More creative and possibly risky music choices can payoff well, as seen and heard here.