Coca-Cola's holiday campaign this year focuses once again on the arrival of Santa. But instead of placing jolly old Saint Nick in his red costume center stage, the spot revolves around a young boy and the multicultural community in which he lives.
The holiday campaign, created under Coke's new "Real Magic" campaign platform, includes a two-and-a-half-minute ad created by Dentsu McGarrybowen's London office. The global spot will run in over 90 countries and is supported by activations across digital channels. Those include influencer partnerships, local community initiatives and in-store activations, as well as a North American partnership with Cameo in which consumers can request personalized videos "from Santa."
The spot starts with the young boy and his mother moving into the apartment block, where, in a post-COVID world, neighbors—in particular, an elderly lady—seem at first wary of the newcomers. After watching a cartoon movie featuring Santa putting gifts down a chimney (the only time Santa is actually referenced in the spot), the boy notices they don't have a fireplace in their apartment. But, having just moved in, they do have an awful lot of cardboard boxes, so he starts to put them together to make a chimney.
The boy's mom, neighbors and others in the community rally round to provide more boxes and tape as they build an incredible cardboard chimney that encircles the entire building up to the roof (the final box being an empty Coca-Cola box). But, in a final twist, we realize the makeshift chimney has another, more unselfish purpose; to send an invitation to the elderly neighbor to join them for the holidays. The final scene sees the neighbors all sharing the holiday festivities, cans of Coke on the tables.
The ad was directed by Sam Brown of Rogue Films. As well as the longform film, the ad will run in shorter edits and Coke has also created several 20-second short stories featuring other characters from the story that will run on social media.
“This is our first Christmas campaign under the new Real Magic brand philosophy for Coca-Cola,” Manolo Arroyo, global chief marketing officer at Coca-Cola, said in a statement. “Coca-Cola has always believed in the magic of Christmas and this year, our campaign celebrates the real magic of human connections. With a simple and uplifting message of unity, inclusion and positivity at its heart, it aims to remind us that all we need for a magical Christmas is shared moments with community and the ones we love.”
This is the second global piece of creative work for Coke from Dentsu McGarrybowen's London office; the agency created a Halloween spot for the brand titled "Ghost," also under the "Real Magic" platform. The work was completed as Coca-Cola conducted a global creative and media agency review that ended Monday with the selection of WPP as the beverage giant's global marketing network partner. Coke is putting the finishing touches on a separate roster of creative agencies outside of WPP that are expected to handle about one-third of the company's ad load. A Coca-Cola spokesman could not confirm Dentsu Mcgarrybowen's placement on the roster because it is not final, but said "Dentsu talent performed well across multiple capabilities assessed during the agency capabilities assessment."
Simon Lloyd, the agency's chief creative officer, is a veteran of holiday advertising, having previously worked at Adam&Eve/DDB on several John Lewis campaigns before joining Dentsu a year ago. He told Ad Age that the ad's focus on community rather than on Santa himself, was "something we talked about a lot."
"Coca-Cola is the one brand that really feels like it can use him with real authority. However, when it came down to it, the ‘real’ in ‘Real Magic’ swayed us towards using Santa in a very authentic way: appearing in a cartoon on TV rather than featuring as a character in the film itself, because we wanted it to be clear that the gift was from the community rather than anyone else."
The ad is set to to the tune of the "Mary Poppins" movie's chimney sweep song "Chim Chim Cheree," which Coke licensed from Universal Music, recomposed and re-recorded with a full orchestra at Abbey Road Studios. According to Lloyd, "It was only when we were on set with director Sam Brown, and started playing the song to particular takes from filming, that we started to see its full potential. In the final film, the music doesn’t become recognizable until the ‘idea’ moment, so being so iconic helps with the comprehension of the story."
Filmed in Hungary, the action is meant to take place in a U.S East Coast setting, but the casting is very diverse in order to appeal to a global audience. "We had two simple philosophies; if casting is done well you should not even question it," said Lloyd. "And wherever you are in the world, you should be able to see yourself in this film. It was filmed in Budapest, on an East Coast style set, but could be anywhere. The benefit of shooting this in a ‘block’ gave us all the flexibility we needed to make both of these philosophies happen. We did most of the casting in the U.K., with some extras in Hungary, but crucially we never reviewed cast individually. We always looked at the community as a group, the way the viewer would see it."
That approach fits with Coke's new marketing strategy, which is to build more ads that can scale globally.
Lloyd added that Sam Brown as director, whose previous work has included Christmas ads for Waitrose and Apple was "a calming, collaborative and hugely creative partner."
"His unwavering vision for this story kept everything on track beautifully. Although he has done his share of Christmas films, I think this was one of the most complex in terms of narrative. The tone was always meant to be heartwarming and get back to some of the compelling narratives Coca-Cola has been known for. Well-crafted emotional storytelling will always resonate globally."
Although Santa appears only in passing in the spot, he still plays an important role in Coke's marketing over the holidays. Coca-Cola Original Taste glass bottle carriers are featuring images of Santa, and Coke has also teamed up with Cameo, the online fan connection platform, to allow consumers across North America (U.S. and Canada) to request a personalized Cameo video from Santa himself.
People can request a video by visiting Coke's holiday site; videos will be offered in English, Spanish or French. As part of the partnership, on Dec. 1 Coke and Cameo will also offer a live virtual event open to the public, where Santa will introduce the Real Magic short film and “celebrity guests” will feature in a “holiday surprise gathering.”
While Cameo did not comment on the size of the deal, it is understood to be the platform's biggest brand collaboration to date.
"Cameo exists to facilitate impossible fan connections and create memories that last, and we're thrilled to partner with Coca-Cola to bring a new way for families and fans to interact with Santa Claus this holiday season," said Arthur Leopold, chief business officer, Cameo, in a statement. "We've taken the traditional meet-and-greet with Santa Claus and turned it into a more accessible, authentic, and personalized experience, and we look forward to enhancing future holiday celebrations by providing access to more iconic figures we know and love."
Coca-Cola's Holiday Caravan will also reappear as part of its marketing, visiting cities across the U.S. and this year handing out Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, as well as allowing families to take photos with Santa.