“The Beginner”

This year’s John Lewis Christmas advert is centred around a middle aged man who starts skateboarding. My initial reaction was a gigantic cringe, but as the advert went on, I found myself chuckling, and by the end, I… err… found there was something in my eye. It’s very clever, and it’s a rare instance of a mainstream brand using skateboarding in a way that remembers to focus on skateboarders rather than a cynical attempt at street cred and appeal to youth culture.

The advert is posted above, but to summarise:

  • A middle aged bloke tries to learn to skateboard.
  • He instantly falls off on his first go.
  • A montage follows with him repeatedly falling off.
  • There are clips of his wife rolling her eyes at him as she talks on the phone about an upcoming big event (Christmas maybe?).
  • He spends his time watching skate videos at work.
  • Eventually he learns to do some stuff with his board and seems super pleased.
  • One day the doorbell rings, and a foster agency worker has arrived with a teenage girl, who is a skateboarder as well.
  • The big event hinted at earlier was the couple becoming foster parents.
  • The girl is invited in, and the bloke and her new foster daughter bond over skateboarding.

The beauty of this advert isn’t the emotional gut punch at the end (although that is good), it’s the earnest and realistic depiction of the weird, lonely pursuit of skateboarders, and the way in which we are so excited and eager to bond with other skaters. Skateboarding is better with others, and I don’t know about you but I can talk (or write) about it forever. I can think of constant subjects to wax lyrical about it until the cows come home. The thing I love about this advert is that it understands the bond skaters have: if you know someone you’ve just met skates, instantly the two of you converse like old friends.

The point of the gut punch at the end is to signal how much this guy cares for the teenager he and his wife hope to foster. It calls attention to the number of kids who are in care in the UK, and brings awareness to the charities who put in tireless effort to support them. I remember a time when skateboarding was depicted as anti-social and a reason for kids to be deemed “problematic”, but here we are with skateboarding being used as this wonderful bonding tool that forms the basis of a new family relationship. Forgive the sentimentality, but that’s a beautiful thing.

And all of this is wrapped up in the familiar plight of any skater over 30 – the cold, lonely, solo sessions spent in car parks trying to land that one thing you could do perfectly well when you were 16, the afternoons spent feeling like you stick out like a sore thumb dodging teenagers who are better than you at skateparks, the eye rolls and laughs from others your own age when you describe your latest slam. This advert understands and celebrates the fact that skateboarding has “grown up”. It isn’t just for kids now.

Some will sit there and roll their eyes at a big corporation like John Lewis “cashing in” on skateboarding. In a perfect world any company that is not core to skateboarding would keep its nose out of what we do, but we don’t live in that world, and we, just like everyone else, are a demographic to be marketed to. I think I was just surprised that they did this advert with such care and love for this silly thing we build our lives around that it hit harder than I expected it to. So, well done John Lewis, I guess.

I’m still not gonna switch to buying Christmas presents from John Lewis though. They’re too expensive.

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