In the immortal words of Slade: ‘IT’S CHRISTMAS!!’ I know, like you needed reminding. In fact, unless you’re reading this on December 25th (and if so, fair play), then it’s not really Christmas is it? I mean, not technically. But that doesn’t stop ol’ Santa Claus, looking resplendent in his bespoke Coca-Cola jumpsuit, from leering at us on every High Street. And the media is stuffed full of the usual seasonal greetings.
For me this year’s top hit in the UK has to be, drum roll please…John Lewis’ offering. I didn’t know what to reach for first – the tissues, my wallet or both. Needless to say, it’s caused a frenzy of broadsheet analysis and social media discussion. If you haven’t seen it yet, basically, to the heartfelt sounds of a repackaged Smiths song, some middle-class kid is…You know what, just watch it here. It’s 2011 for God’s sake; you ever heard of YouTube?
Suffice to say, it’s another piece of iconic branding from John Lewis. They also made one of my other favorite ads of the year. You know the one featuring the infamous ‘Only a Woman’ track? But then I’m a proud father – and sentimental as hell – so I guess I’m duty-bound to like them.
Anyway, let’s put sentiment aside for a second. There are some absolute Christmas turkeys doing the rounds. I’ve seen commercials and digital work carrying more than a faint whiff of desperation. It’s like some brands have discarded any notion of customer intelligence, denounced brand loyalty and simply turned consumers into targets that need to be knocked down before Santa packs up his slay for another year. Might as well “bing” up the roundel and bang out the goods for less, rather than tell them you’re doing them a favour - please.
But what do I know? I’ve never even made a Christmas commercial. Not out of choice. It’s just never happened for me. Hell, I’ve filmed summer in January and winter in May. I’ve just not shot Christmas. I remember filming a snow scene in June once – we ended up in a park a few clicks south of the Arctic Circle. Well, we thought it was a park. It turned out to be the forecourt of a UN building. Insert laboured joke about peace keeping on set here.
But what if I was to make my own Christmas ad – what route would I go down? A CG-fest with Santa soaring over houses – part Tim Burton part Coca-Cola? It’s an option. Or maybe something closer to the domestic performance of John Lewis? Probably. And what about the soundtrack? It’s pivotal to the quintessential Christmas ad after all. What would be my homage to the sold-out Smiths generation?
Hmmm, I wondered. Then it hit me like a ten-ton sack of flashing Christmas antlers. I’ve already been involved in a Christmas video. Although this one was more of a video nasty…
It was December 1988 at the St Martin’s School of Art. We were set a project that we believed would give us some invaluable hands-on video experience. Remember, back in the day, everyone was desperate to make a pop video. MTV’s was the grail.
So naturally, every single wannabe director, art director and copywriter on campus applied to be involved with this mysterious Christmas video. It was a who’s who of who’s that.
The day arrived. Finally, a chance to put our stamp on pop culture…when, much to our dismay, we discovered they weren’t after our supple young minds but our nubile young bodies. We were nothing more than extras! And this wasn’t a cutting edge piece for Peter Gabriel or the Stones. Oh no, this was for British funnyman extraordinaire…Ross Abbott.
Before we could back away we were locked in a basement and told to dance.
A quick Google reveals the video in all its horrific glory. Fun fact: I’m not the only known face in advertising immortalised on that dancefloor. There’s a number of now high-ranking media types buried under backcombed hair and ill-fitting dungarees. Keep your eyes peeled. And by the way, the song stayed in the chart for 13 weeks. We should all be ashamed.
Christmas is a time for sharing. But I fear I’ve shared too much. So now you know. I have been involved in a Christmas video – just not one that going on my reel anytime soon. And now that I’ve outed some of my former colleagues and burnt Santa knows how many bridges, I bid you all...
A Merry Christmas. And thank you all for the fun and festivities you brought throughout the year - as the cartoon says, there's more to life than your local doorstep.
See you in 2012. Oh and by the way, if you’ve bought a joke present for the stocking that you thought was funny at the time... well just think again, you’ll never look back.