Behind the scenes: Virtual reality and the John Lewis Christmas advert


Event spoke to Felicity Garrard, group account director events at Pretty Green, the agency behind the virtual reality (VR) activation of John Lewis' latest Christmas advert.

John Lewis launched its much-anticipated Christmas advert yesterday (10 November) and is hosting a VR experience at its Oxford Street store to bring the ad to life.

Pretty Green started talking to the John Lewis team as far back as June about how its advert could be experienced in-store. From the very beginning the ambition was big, and was always to create a virtual reality experience of the advert in its flagship store, whilst also enabling experiences to be built across the country. 

Garrard says: "The challenge we knew we had to overcome was not, is anyone interested in VR. We all know that VR is no longer the preserve of the dedicated gaming minority; headsets are available from multiple retailers at multiple price points. In addition to that, brands are constantly using VR to develop truly immersive experiences for consumers. The big question was: how do you make a VR experience more than an individual one."

Garrard adds that Pretty Green works to create experiences that have a wider reach than just the people who put on a headset, whilst also remembering the space needed to both accommodate merchandise and provide plenty to see and do for customers who don’t want to engage with the core activation.

Pretty Green wanted to create a "room set" for every customer to experience, with a themed retail space that could be fully merchandised by the John Lewis team.

"This became 'Buster's Garden', where you could see all the animals - who doesn’t love a badger, fox, squirrel and a hedgehog," says Garrard. "Integrating technology into any experience to make it feel seamless was important, which involved setting TVs in to topiary walls whilst introducing the all important trampoline structure to house the VR."

Having developed a space that told the story of the advert and allowed some customers to fully immerse themselves in a virtual world, Pretty Green turned its attention to the ‘lighter touch’ users - those people who might want to interact in some way but perhaps wouldn't have time to queue for virtual reality.

To make the technology feel less 'techy' and more fun, John Lewis developed a 360-degree video that can be viewed via its Christmas hub.

"We decided to add a little extra magic to the viewing experience if you came to the store," explains Garrard. "Using character renders developed for the advert we created 3D printed character masks which encase phone-operated VR headsets. This creates not just a glimpse into the virtual world but also a photo opportunity in the real one."

John Lewis is running a number of activations in the run-up to Christmas, including staging a winter garden on its rooftop and partnering with dining experts Denby to showcase dinner party etiquette

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