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Merry Marketing! Behind Some Of The Best Holiday Ads Of 2017

From Aldi to the USPS, the creatives behind some of the top holiday ads explain what makes them tick.

Merry Marketing! Behind Some Of The Best Holiday Ads Of 2017

The holidays are upon us once again, which means there’s more than enough cold weather, warm fireplaces, and, of course, festive adverts to go around. As is our annual tradition at Fast Company, we’ve picked some of the spots to highlight as the cream of the crop from 2017’s holiday ad season. But instead of telling you why we love them so much, we spoke to the creatives behind the ads themselves to find out why they think the ads stand out this season.

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New York Lottery “Bodega Cat”

Mat Bisher, Executive Creative Director, McCann New York

“For this year’s New York Lottery Holiday Scratch-Off commercial, we wanted to craft a holiday story that was distinctly New York. It had to be emotional, but in a way that rang true with the people who live here. So, we chose an adorable lead character New Yorkers would immediately recognize–the bodega cat.

“Walk into almost any New York corner store wherever scratch-offs are sold and you’ll see a bodega cat lounging on a shelf in between the paper towels or perched on the counter. In the ad, our bodega cat embarks on a long journey into the cold night, and through a festive and snowy New York to deliver a lottery scratch-off in the most magical way possible.

“And because we love old holiday movies, we couldn’t help paying homage to one of the best. Look closely and you’ll find a couple references to Miracle on 34th Street. First, the street sign next to the bodega. And second, the cane leaning against the mantle in the ad’s finale–a nod to the ending of the film where the characters find evidence that maybe Kris Kringle is actually Santa Claus. Or perhaps, in this case, he’s just a cat.”

eBay “Don’t Shop Like Everybody Else”

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Matt Murphy, Executive Creative Director and Partner, 72andSunny Los Angeles

“The conformity of modern gift giving is ruining the way we give gifts. eBay is sort of the antidote to all that–a more vibrant shopping alternative that lets you get more individual, more unexpected gifts, that really get them.

“I think it captures attention because it’s true. And I think this sort of phenomenon of beige gifting behaviors wasn’t as bad two or three years ago, but the culture of modern shopping has shifted behaviors so much that now we’re all starting to feel it. So it rings true and makes you laugh.

“For the films, we were like, ‘What does it really say when you give someone a beige gift?’ Then asked ourselves, ‘What if people actually said that to you when they gave you your gift? It would be horrible, let’s make that!’

“It is a campaign about being different, so we wanted to make sure we made something that was actually different from the rest of the holiday work you see out in the world. It’s less than an overwrought emotional long-form piece you watch from afar, and while it’s still human and personal, it’s more these bites that speak right to you.”

Macys “Lighthouse”

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Marcos Kotlhar and Danilo Boer, Executive Creative Directors, BBDO New York

“This is the very first piece of work to come out of Macy’s recently formed partnership with BBDO. It’s also part of a new marketing model that balances promotion with love and authority to help elevate the brand toward more emotional high ground. From the start, we knew that to get there first we needed to find a powerful and universal message to communicate. A message that felt as big as the enduring relationship that Macy’s has with Christmas.

“A story of togetherness felt like a message that all Americans would love to hear this holiday season. And, to make sure this message would resonate universally, we chose to tell it through the pure and unjaded lens of a kind boy with a big heart.

“We always draw inspiration from films that drive all their resources (like casting, location, music, etc.) toward supporting powerful storytelling. In our work, our goal is to always try and make the viewer feel like they are not watching an ad. Especially during the overcrowded holiday season where retailers are on a mission to share their brand message with millions. We decided to take a gentler approach and tell a beautiful story that’s elegantly branded without breaking the magic built by the storytelling. An approach that we believe is far more effective at evoking a real reaction, generating a couple of tears and ultimately connecting consumers to the brand.”

Cost Plus World Market “The Performance”

Phil Fattore, Senior Copywriter, Barrett SF

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“Way back in February 2017, we took a trip to Cost Plus World Market’s ‘test store’ where all their future holiday products are kept. This was the brand’s first entry into the ‘big holiday ad’ space, so we were hoping to feature something that would help express the brand’s quirkiness amidst the traditional holiday imagery. We were looking to feature something that felt like the holidays, but wasn’t too traditional because Cost Plus is anything but. Then we saw it: llama-themed stockings, dinnerware, books, toys, and the exact llama ornament in ‘The Performance.’ We figured when life hands you llamas, you should use them in a holiday ad.

“The llamas are obviously a huge reason for the ad’s success. After all, who doesn’t love llamas? But it’s also about how the llamas are presented. With all the CG that can be done with animals, there’s sometimes a tendency to create cartoonish actions that can take you out of a story. So, very early on we decided that everything the llamas were going to do, were actions we could get in-camera. To figure this out, we watched hours and hours of llama videos, videos of various animals responding to music, and our director even took multiple trips to a llama farm in Utah to see how well they took direction. Every llamas’ reaction is ‘all them’ without any CG, which we think helps viewers feel a deeper connection to the animals, and in turn, with the story.”

United States Postal Service “Biggest Gift”

Nir Refuah and Chris Mitton, Executive Creative Directors, McCann New York

“The story of a boy and his bear is a timeless one. But it’s also a timely one. This spot concerns a boy who wishes his teddy could be whole again and parents who want to make that a reality. USPS delivers more online gifts to homes than anyone else in the country, and from the moment the parents order the gift from an e-commerce site we follow the whole journey.

“We see the computerized sorting machines, the new fleet of trucks, and even the informed delivery app used to track the package. And we learn that the ability to deliver even something as small and specific as the perfect teddy bear nose in time for the holidays can be a powerful emotional moment as well as a very modern one.”

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McDonald’s “Reindeer Ready”

Chaka Sobhani, CCO, Leo Burnett London

“We’re all fans of the blockbuster Christmas ad, but sometimes the most epic stories can be the simplest ones with the biggest heart. As a place that provides a perfect (and delicious!) respite from all the Christmas hustle and bustle, McDonald’s is always a favorite for everyone over the festive period, especially families.

“This year, we concentrated on one little girl’s love for the Christmas reindeer, as she carefully brings home a single carrot from her lunch, only to be told by her brother that that won’t be enough. With heartbreak on her face, Dad gamely wraps up again and heads back to McDonald’s to make sure she has enough carrot provisions to feed all the reindeer.

“The campaign has really struck a chord with families and adults alike as it so perfectly captures the true spirit of Christmas, which simply put, is love. In this case, the love of a Dad for his little girl and the lengths he’ll go, to make sure the magic of Christmas isn’t broken for her.

“Simple, honest, and understated, the brilliantly deft direction of James Rouse has delivered a perfectly pitched festive tale, at once so universally relatable, endearing, and heartfelt.”

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Audi “Parking Lot”

Will McGinness, Partner/Executive Creative Director, Venables Bell & Partners

“The brief was to tap into emotional truths of the holiday season–but most holiday commercials are so sickly sweet, it’s like the scripts were printed on kittens and gingerbread. That felt like an opportunity to us. So, we set out to make a spot that mined other universal truths and spoke to a different set of emotions like frustration, anxiety, competition, and the deadline-driven, last-minute panic buying that characterizes so much (mostly male) shopping during the holidays.

“We had a vision of a parking lot as a gladiatorial arena, and of two high-powered Audi Sport cars battling for a single, elusive parking spot. In the pressure cooker of the holiday season, what starts as a simple search for parking, is slowly amplified until both drivers are driven to the edge of madness. It’s just what everyone needs for the holidays: truth, humor, and badass stunt driving.”

ALDI “Dig In Doug”

Alex Derwin, Creative Director, BMF Sydney

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“We try to change up the tone of our Christmas ad every year so we don’t get stuck in a formula, but we always make it about a distinctively Australian Christmas. It’s belting hot here, there’s no snow, and Aussies are more likely to be in the pool than around a log fire. The fact that we steer clear of the northern hemisphere clichés makes the ad instantly stand out from other retailers.

“This year, we picked the most Aussie Christmas tradition there is–backyard cricket. It’s a simple story of a guy who goes into bat and doesn’t get out for 40 years, so never gets to enjoy the Christmas grub. It’s a traditional narrative structure too–a man overcoming his ego and pride, building to climax and a resolution–it’s surprisingly rare in commercials these days, but that contributes to people’s affection for the story.

“There aren’t as many Christmas ads here as in the U.S. or U.K., so anything that’s a little odd or interesting gets attention, and all Aussies remember backyard cricket at Christmas so it’s got the right level of nostalgia and warmth. We also crafted the bejesus out of it. The cinematography, the music, the talent, we sweated all that stuff in a way that you can’t often do in Australia because of our budgets. Having a great client also helped.”

Asda “The Imaginarium”

Sara Rose, Group Creative Director, Saatchi & Saatchi London

“For Asda, Christmas isn’t just one day a year. They spend every day of the year putting all their creativity and energy into developing new products so each Christmas is better than the one before. Our campaign brings this to life in a fantastical way, but it is very much rooted in the way the brand really works.

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“People are looking for a bit of escapism this time of year, and the way we approached the Imaginarium makes it feel as if this place could be right around the corner from them. Directing duo Los Perez had the idea to combine real locations with bespoke set builds to give the space a real sense of architecture and root it very much here in the U.K.

“I think people have responded to the campaign because of its optimism. Yes, Christmas can be a sentimental time of year, but it is also a lot of fun. We really embraced the playful, childlike side of the holiday.”

Penny “The Path”

Christoph Everke, managing director creation of Serviceplan Campaign

“I think the ad works because we are talking about a very personal and common theme: reconciliation. Especially on Christmas at the end of the year many people are looking back and thinking about what was good or bad, about relationships, family, and friends.

“It got attention because there is always a lot of fighting and arguing going on and Christmas is about love and peace–so the direction is set. The main reason is the simple and emotional insight that a story like ours happens in every family and many people can relate to it. Also, I think it may have had a positive reception because it’s not the conventional style of Christmas ad. It addresses the more uncomfortable subject of family disagreements, with clever metaphors and great storytelling from the director.

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“The idea was written down in two or three sentences, and it never changed to the end of the process, which is a great sign for the power of the basic idea. Chiara Grabmayr, the director, came up with the idea of the mother and daughter in the first meeting we had, and with the situations she wanted to tell on the inner journey, and everybody was caught by this interpretation from the start.”

Old Spice “Ye Olde Exploding Yule Log”

Ashley Davis-Marshall and Matt Sorrell, Creative Directors, Wieden+Kennedy Portland

“We longed for the days of yesteryear when we could all gather our friends and family together to sit by the exploding fireplace, brought to you by Old Spice, while enjoying some holiday cheer. But the hustle and bustle of modern life have slowly eroded that quaint holiday tradition of sitting by an exploding fireplace, brought to you by Old Spice. We wanted to give today’s youth the chance to enjoy an exploding fireplace, brought to you by Old Spice, like we did as kids. After all, that’s what the holidays are really about. Brought to you by Old Spice.”