Aldi’s latest Christmas spot comes from creatives, directors and producers at McCann, Psyop and Riff Raff, a few of whom spoke to LBB’s Nisna Mahtani about the campaign
This year, Aldi’s Christmas campaign teaser had us shaking in our winter boots. No Kevin the carrot?! It was a hot topic across social media as admirers of our tiny orange friend were worried about where he’d disappeared to. But we didn’t have to wait long to see that while Ebanana was the main character, we weren’t going to be missing our leafy topped friend.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was of course the inspiration for A Christmas Carrot, which took us on Ebanana’s journey of destruction through the Dickensian city. From toppling off the heads of snowmen to generally being grouchy, he wasn’t a dinner guest you’d like to have over. But not to worry, Kevin the carrot turns up as the ghostly Spirit of Christmas who changes Ebanana’s ways.
Featuring a spot from Marcus Radishford (I know, we love it too) and containing plenty of brilliantly time-consuming details, the team behind the campaign brought it to life in a way that made it one of the classics - again!
For an insight into the ten-month process of creation, LBB’s Nisna Mahtani spoke to McCann Manchester’s creative leads, Andy Fenton and Clive Davis, Psyop’s directors, Todd Mueller and Kylie Matulick and Riff Raff’s producer, Paz Parasmand.
LBB> Firstly, we’re so relieved to see that Kevin is back! You really teased us with the promo to the ad - we’d love to hear about the creative process which led to the use of A Christmas Carol and the creation of Ebanana Scrooge. Can you tell us about it?
Clive> First of all, thank you. It’s always nice to know that people are happy to see him again. In terms of the creative process, we had the idea of ‘A Christmas Carrot’ but we hadn’t quite nailed it somehow. It was only once Charles Chickens got involved that it really started to take shape. The introduction of Ebanana Scrooge, with Kevin as the Spirit of Christmas, just felt right and was a great addition to the creative.
LBB> Marcus Radishford - the Christmas pun we didn’t know we needed! How did the partnership come about and why was it so important to share that Aldi will be donating 1.8 million meals this Christmas?
Andy> After the disappointment of last year due to COVID, we wanted to create a meaningful, purpose-led campaign in the true spirit of Christmas. Something that would really resonate with people at a time of year that’s all about giving and being kind to others.
We knew Aldi already had a relationship with Marcus through their support of his charity work for Neighbourly. So he was a perfect fit. But not in terms of scale. He would never have been able to walk down our miniature street set without leaving giant stud marks all over the place. That’s when we came up with the idea of turning him into a radish. He was a good sport for giving us permission and agreeing to voice the character. We owe him a big ‘thank you.’
Crucially, as Kevin the Carrot said, “Christmas is a time for peas and goodwill”. This is why Aldi are donating 1.8 million meals with the help of Neighbourly this Christmas. They are also donating £10,000 from the sales of the Marcus Radishford plush toys to ‘Magic Breakfast’, another charity that Marcus supports.
LBB> How was the process of creating the script and all the wonderful puns we hear - did you plan on rhyme always being the narrative?
Clive> Achieving a ‘narrative arc’ is crucial to writing a compelling and engaging story. The scripts are subjected to rigorous testing by System1 to ensure that there are enough points of interest, jeopardy and emotion to really draw the viewer in and take them on a rollercoaster journey.
The wordplay comes from a more informal process. We basically sit down in a room and say things to each other all day, until we come up with something that makes us both laugh. We present them to our Chief Creative Officer, Dave Price, who then doesn’t laugh.
So we go away, sit down and continue writing things again. This goes on for a few months (slight exaggeration) until eventually, we arrive at a script that everyone’s happy with.
The rhyming narrative is a style that’s been with us since Kevin’s inception, in 2016.
We initially tackled the script in various ways, but the favoured execution was always rhyme. It’s a much more effective way of telling a story in a short space of time. It’s shorthand rather than full sentences, which allows us to keep it concise and get from A to B without making a feature film. Although a feature film would be nice.
LBB> There is so much detail within the animation of this campaign, such as the use of the ‘Neighbourly’ logo on the wooden cart. Can you talk us through the crafting process and some of your favourite parts?
Andy> A big part of Kevin’s success is down to the animation and how he looks. We’ve been privileged to work with Psyop for six years on all the Aldi Christmas Kevin campaigns.
Back in 2016, their initial treatment document blew us away, and they continue to do so. Kylie and Todd, together with lead CGI, Kyle Cassidy, really bring the story to life, adding an extraordinary level of detail to every shot. Little things like the candles extinguishing when Ebanana lands back on his bed.
The set is designed by the wonderful Kem White, and is gorgeously styled and dressed by Penny Markham. We had incredible scale models in 2019 when Kevin became ‘The Grated Showman’. Somehow, this year’s Dickensian street and Christmas market set were even more astonishing. ‘Mattes and Miniatures’ are the team who spent hours and hours creating our doll’s-house-scale Victorian world.
Clive > When we first arrived on set, it was a goosebump moment to see the months of planning come together. The doorknocker that transforms into Kevin was sculpted and 3D printed. It took days to make! The brickwork on the houses was painted and ‘aged’ by hand. And even though the street was covered in snow, there were tiny cobbles underneath.
Then the animation began. It was a long process, which started with basic ‘blocking’ and ended with what we call ‘magic button day’. That’s when everything is rendered and the film really comes to life. Although Todd and Kylie assure us that there is no such magic button and there is a lot more to it than that.
Todd> One of our favourite aspects of this project is that we get to design and build these huge amazing miniature sets. This brings so much more detail and realism to the look and feel of the films. Once these incredible miniature sets have been built then we can go about lighting and filming them. It’s such a joy to see the basic blocky 3D shapes from previz transform into detailed physical elements. Once the scenes are filmed we bring the lighting setup directly into the software which allows us to light the animated characters so that they perfectly integrate into the scenes.
Paz> With McCann and Psyop having the initial idea, after that so much credit has to go to our Production Designer Kem White and the incredible model team at Mattes and Miniatures.
One of the biggest challenges we had was that everyone wanted this to be as authentic as possible. The level of detail might be missed at first glance. For the opening street scene, we created some amazing shops such as ‘Grape Expectations’ a greengrocer’s, a hardware store named ‘Jimmy’s Nails’, an antique shop called “David Dickensian” and but it wasn’t just the shop names, it was the style of items only sold in that time period, the typography only seen in Dickensian time.
As this was set in Dickensian times, every model set, every design, all interiors were based on this time period. Even the food market set we had to distress and warp the wooden structure so it looked authentic and not like a normal factory build.
And our biggest challenge? There was no electricity in the 1830s so how would we light up the streets, the food market and not forget the main town Christmas tree? We used oil lamps and candles throughout – sounds simple now but it was a real head-scratcher. Maybe this is the first time a Christmas commercial has had a Christmas tree that did not use any fairy lights.
LBB> Ebanana, Kevin, Marcus and every other character have so much personality. How did you achieve this within an animated video and were there any unique challenges?
Kylie> Great question! Kevin is such a well known and beloved character we were a bit hesitant to make him a ghost. But of course, his charm was able to shine through his gaussian form. I’m not sure exactly why it’s so much fun to bring grumpy characters to life but Ebanana is our favourite. When Santa ignores baby Ebanana in the teaser it’s just so endearingly sad. He just jumps off the screen in the best way possible. Then, in the full spot, we had an absolute blast figuring out how he should swat the heads off the snowmen and grumble his anti-holiday rants. The trickiest bit for Marcus was how best to bring his particular style and gesture into an animated radish!
Clive> Character development began in the early stages and went through numerous rounds of alterations until everyone was happy. The characters have to be likeable or lovable. Unless, of course, we’re talking Pascal the Parsnip or Russel Sprout from previous years!!
There’s a certain cute look to all the characters in Kevin’s world, with simple black eyes and a mouth. But this can also be quite limiting, especially as most fruit and veg don’t have a neck. Psyop has a knack for making them incredibly charming and expressive (or nasty in the case of that evil Parsnip and Sprout).
Credit must also go to Bob Goulding, the voice of Ebanana, who injected a lot of character. His versatility and talent for doing numerous accents and character voices allowed us to experiment in the early stages until finally settling on our favourite. He’s great fun during the process too!
LBB> What was the process of song selection and how did you land on A Fairytale of New York as the backing track to the campaign?
Andy> We’re always on the hunt for good music and have a dedicated Spotify playlist with possible tracks. ‘A Fairytale of New York’ was voted the Nation’s favourite Christmas song in 2012 and continues to rate highly in festive song polls.
So we’ve had it on our list for a good few years. Once we had the storyline mapped out, there was almost no other choice. It was the perfect fit. A little bit sad at the start, then more joyful, building to an emotional ending.
Through Nick Payne at SixtyFour Music, we worked with Mike and Dan (AustenCorbin) who got involved early on to produce demos. Once approved, the score was written with the help of Guy Farley and we listened in wonder as Guy conducted an orchestra and choir of 85 musicians. Recorded in small groups due to Covid!
Clive> Next, Parv Thind at Wave added just as much detail to the sound design, as Psyop did to the animation. He has an incredible ear. In fact, he has two!
Another moment we savoured was hearing Jim Broadbent read our script for the first time.
He brought such a warm, Christmassy feeling to our narrative, and he’s been a pleasure to work with over the last six years. Although it’s usually a different story when Kevin gets in the sound booth, with his tiny microphone! He sometimes gets quite nervous and Parv has to be very patient with him.
LBB> When did you begin working on this ad and how long did it take, from the initial idea to what the audience sees now?
Clive> The entire Christmas campaign (which includes all the shorter product TV ads, various social media spots, POS, Press ads, Merchandise design) started in January and carries on until the end of December.
We will just about have time to wolf down a Christmas dinner and celebrate the New Year before next year’s brief arrives. From concept to completion, the main launch ad takes about ten months. Longer than it takes to have a baby. An irony that isn’t lost on us.
LBB> Are there any Easter eggs that we may have missed in the background of the video?
Andy> Easter eggs? We’d say they’re more like chocolate reindeer.
The Pea from the opening scene (the one that ends up with a snowman’s head) can be seen walking down the pavement, still with a snowman’s head, on the end frame.
Cuthbert is being arrested by two lemon police officers in the street on the opening frame.
The Geordie Gingerbread family, the stars of the Aldi ‘Great British Bake Off’ idents, also have a little cameo.
Then, there are the shop-name fascias, from the Dickensian Village:
B. Humbug – Confectioners, Cratchit’s Curiosities, Mr. Bumble’s Toyshop, Grape Expectations – Grocery Store, David Dickensian Antiques, Penny Sillin – Apothecary, Jimmy’s Nails – Hardware, The Best of Thymes – Watchmaker, and a street sign ‘St. Nicholas Place’.
We also reskinned Charles Dickens’ Tiny Tim as Tiny Tom, and on the opening frame, you can just about see sneaky Pascal the Parsnip on the left, as he turns around.
LBB> Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share about the ad?
Clive> We’re always amazed by the love people have for Kevin the Carrot. The response to this year’s ad has been overwhelming, with countless messages and kind words on social media. We really do appreciate this as it makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Being Kevin’s parents can be exhausting. (And if it wasn’t for Hana Gerrard, McCann’s Creative Service’s Director, organising our schedules so that we know what we are supposed to be doing and when, we’d probably be in a small padded cell by now).