Target Is Betting Big On A “Nutcracker” Remix With John Legend And Chrissy Teigen

The eight-minute branded musical will ride the cultural coattails of ABC’s broadcast premiere of Frozen on December 11.

Ever see The Nutcracker as a kid? The beautiful costumes, the mesmerizing music, the elegant dancing, the epic rap battle. Wait, what? Yeah, about that. Of course, the rap battle isn’t exactly in the Tchaikovsky version, but this year Target and agency 72andSunny took a few liberties with the classic ballet for the culmination of the retailer’s holiday campaign.


Set to debut during ABC’s broadcast premiere of Frozen on December 11, The Toycracker is an eight-minute remake of the classic Christmas ballet, this time starring Chrissy Teigen and John Legend as the Nutcracker and Rat King, respectively, and toys like Barbie, Elmo, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Lego Batman standing in for the gingerbread soldiers. Other collaborators include Tony-nominated lyricist Benj Pasek, Grammy-winning musical producer Ariel Rechtshaid, and frequent Wes Anderson cinematographer Robert Yeoman.

It’s the kind of big-budget, swing for the fences you might expect from a major retailer around this time of year (look no further than across the pond), with the Broadway theme giving it a certain old school charm. Old school like debuting a major ad during a broadcast network premiere of a Disney movie. Except in 2016, marketers know that they’re just one boring moment away from viewers flipping over to their already weathered DVD or iTunes copy of Frozen.

So Target started seeding anticipation during the World Series with a fun spot that takes place backstage of a then-unnamed production. The brand’s chief creative officer Todd Waterbury says the production theme is a metaphor for how many families view the holiday season.

“They’re really putting on a production of their very own, there are a number of steps involved getting ready for the season, to make those moments with friends and family as special as possible,” says Waterbury. “That’s what led us to introducing Marisol and Bullseye as the directors of our own production. What people didn’t know at the time was, not only were we creating a series of TV commercials about behind the scenes of a big production, we were able to actually bring that production to life.”

Work on the campaign began in March, and 72andSunny executive creative director Matt Murphy says the final product reflect’s the brand’s desire to use its marketing muscle to make its own cultural mark.

“Look at culture this year, with the success of Hamilton, which is a retelling of a known tale with a modern twist,” says Murphy. “Target always wants to have one foot in culture, so the idea of telling a classic tale like The Nutcracker with a modern twist of our own, that was the idea to create something for culture.”


Waterbury says that eye on culture also significantly informed not just the production, but where and when people would first see it. “When we saw that ABC was going to premiere Frozen for the first time on network television during a really important part of the holiday season, for us it felt like an incredible opportunity for Target to be part of this cultural experience,” says Waterbury. “We know families will be gathering together to watch, and it’s an important audience for us because they’re going to be watching it with a sense of anticipation and joy, and to be part of that experience, for us made a lot of sense in terms of strategic media placement. It’s important to have presence with purpose. We want to make sure we not only have presence during these moments, but real purpose and recognizing what people are there for, and finding ways we can bring something extra special to that moment.”

The media landscape has long become a crowded bar fight for our attention, one that only gets more intense in the days between Halloween and New Year’s–the hallowed fourth quarter holiday season. You can’t swing a bull terrier by the tail without hitting a sign (or banner ad) for a bargain. The Toycracker is Target’s hope to break through all of that clutter.

“From a Target standpoint, The Toycracker is what we call a gift back to culture,” says Murphy. “It’s about togetherness and inclusion, something the world needs more of. It’s one of those brands that sees value in using a holiday campaign to not only drive what they need to do at retail, but also put something back into the world that helps people be optimistic and appreciate what’s right in the world. When you do that well, you can cut through the clutter.”

Check out some behind the scenes footage below.


About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.