The John Lewis Christmas advert has come under fire this week, for bearing more than a little resemblance to a 1986 picture book by acclaimed author Chris Riddell, Mr Underbed. The writer and illustrator took to periscope to show his own version of John Lewis’ festive ad, using a copy of his book to highlight the similarities between the page and screen.
After a few moments, it’s not difficult to see that it’s not just the scenes that are comparable, but the monsters themselves. Moz the Monster and Mr Underbed look like they could be related! From their general demeanor to their physical appearance, the differences between the two is like comparing the first generation of the Simpsons to their current digitally remastered, HD iterations.
John Lewis helps themselves to my picture book. https://t.co/mrVHmalTwh
— chris riddell (@chrisriddell50) November 16, 2017
Mr Riddell had this to say on the matter, when speaking to The Guardian:
The idea of a monster under the bed is by no means new but the ad does seem to bear a close resemblance to my creation – a big blue unthreatening monster who rocks the bed and snores loudly, Needless to say, I think Mr Underbed is a lot more appealing than Moz, but of course, I’m biased. I’ll be fascinated to hear John Lewis’ thoughts on the matter.
Chris Riddell is not a man who needs to promote himself or his work, being a political cartoonist for The Observer, holding the title of Children’s Laureate from 2015-2017, and has awards coming out the kazoo. So it’s not as if the author is bashing them to get ahead in life.
It was the first picturebook I wrote and illustrated and was published in 1986. Subsequently, at the publisher’s request, I re-illustrated it in 2009. During my time as children’s laureate I spoke about Mr Underbed often at public events, as my first book.
(Supposed) thievery is never a good look, especially around the holidays, and we suppose we could put this down to coincidence or a misunderstanding by John Lewis’ agency Adam&Eve, however this is not the first time the retailer has been accused of stealing content from creators.
In 2014, the Christmas campaign of #aboyandhispenguin — known officially as Monty’s Christmas Day — which tells the tale of the inseparable duo of young Sam and his ‘pet’ penguin. A tale that is conspicuously close to that of Oliver Jeffer’s best-selling book, Lost and Found. Both stories revolve around the little boy and his lonely penguin.
A spokesperson for John Lewis brushed off the accusation, stating that “stories about penguins at Christmas time are not new, and the story in our advert is totally unique.”
Even as far back as 2013, the retailer was hit with accusations of plagiarism with regards to its Bare and the Hare festive commercial. Bear Stays Up for Christmas, by Karma Wilson, shockingly enough has a remarkably similar plot to the advert, a bear, known for hibernating during the Winter months, is awoken by his animal friends, including a hare, so that they could spend Christmas together.
A spokesperson for the company denied any connection to Wilson’s story, “Stories about animals at Christmas are nothing new. A key difference was that in the advert, the bear’s present was to wake him up, not help him sleep.”
Been there, done that. I wish John Lewis would just start openly working WITH children’s book creators to promote literacy during the holidays. It’s a great opportunity for them. Pick one book per year for a tie in. Simple solution. https://t.co/gK8vghs2yz
— Karma Wilson (@KarmaWilson) November 16, 2017
The thing is, it’s not as if retailers haven’t collaborated with authors before, take Sainsbury’s 2015 campaign for example, Mog’s Christmas Calamity by Judith Kerr. Working with writers, instead of ‘borrowing’ stories and concepts, would create a more conducive environment for all.
Also if you’re going to blow £7 million every year on an advert, the least you could do is come up with an original idea.