A chilly window washer accepts a hot beverage from two Jewish penguins. A man takes pity on a shivering reindeer. And yet it is not goofy. It is not uncomfortably saccharine. In fact, it's all so, so lovely.
As Starbucks, the famously advertising-averse street-corner pestilence, rolls out its first ever multimedia campaign for its core products, the effect is strangely calming. Three TV spots from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., imagine silent encounters between anthropomorphic animals and holiday-spirited humans.
Not a word is spoken. The snowflakes float down to a bare and languid instrumental by Badly Drawn Boy, which, but for its gently thrumming two-note bass line, recalls a Christmas music box filled with heavenly peace. The artwork closely resembles the style of "Too Many Mittens," a classic of juvenile excessive-winter-outerwear literature. The drawings are simple and verging on primitive, childlike in their rendering and, it would seem, outlook. They envision a world in which people see a near-moose on a ski lift and don't get out the camera phone to record the WTF moment but instead share their java.
Yeah, sure. It's freezing outside. You have exactly one thermos of coffee. It's Starbucks, so it probably cost you $400. And you give half of it to Blitzen? We'd like to live in that world.
The point is, though, we do. It's the world called Christmastime. As the poet said:
"In the air there's a feeling of Christmas. Children laughing. People passing, meeting smile after smile ... " There is just something about the holiday season which brings -- in addition to expense, heinous sweaters and crippling depression -- at least intermittent episodes of cheerfulness and spontaneous acts of reckless non-hostility.
These outbursts of genuine human sentiment were also expressed very nicely in the Bob Thiele and George David Weiss standard "What a Wonderful World," which isn't strictly about Christmas but nonetheless captures the mood: "I see friends shaking hands, saying, 'How do you do?' They're really saying, 'I love you.'"
That's what these spots do, only rather than forcing emotionally guarded and skeptical viewers to grapple with the idea of actually loving their fellow man, they dramatize people loving their fellow penguin.
So, yes, it's sentimental, but somehow not cloying -- in the way, for instance, that the CVS commercial about the sainted cartoon pharmacist is cloying, as she turns rainbows into hair ribbons and frolics with birdies and turns vacant lots into gardens and comforts her senile cartoon mother and fills your diuretic prescription.
These are more like arty Christmas cards, sweet but understated. And also, not incidentally, exceptionally good advertising.
The brief here, after all, is to elevate into a Christmas gift what is essentially a grocery item. Sure, the likes of Harry & David have made an industry of that trick, but nonetheless, a sack of ground coffee is certainly less like, say, a pair of earrings than it is a can of jumbo pitted black olives. Yet these ads make the product, and the exchange, seem so personal, so thoughtful, so essentially comforting.
And we can personally attest that they make even a hardened cynic have trouble suppressing a smile. We wanted to go after the CVS birdie with a 20-gauge, but after one viewing, we were prepared to risk our dignity and Lyme disease to give a bearhug to a deer.