BBH's Lawrence Bushell and Luke Till talk about the defiant comedy of the UK supermarket's festive campaign. Directed by Academy's Si & Ad, the campaign is packed with Christmas chaos and even has a nod to the global supply chain crisis, as the supermarket opts for honesty, humour and helpfulness
It’s a long time between now and Christmas, and after nearly two years of Covid-19, the people of the UK are not so much braced for disruptions to their Xmas expectations as fully expecting them. And between global supply chain crises and the memories of last year’s last minute Christmas lockdown, who can blame them?
That’s why this year, supermarket Tesco and its creative agency BBH have chosen to acknowledge the uncertainty and approach it with a dash of honest, hearty humour. Set to a brass rearrangement of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, the spot follows a woman as she scoots home in the snow on her way to the family festive meal with the precious cranberry sauce. On her way, she zips through numerous chaotic scenarios that appear to be on the verge of catastrophe - but that are quickly fixed by a bit of clever thinking. The message is ‘This Christmas, Nothing’s Going to Stop Us’.
Daringly the spot is the only one to acknowledge the supply chain crisis. In a quick gag, a lack of carrots mean that a trio snowmen have to go noseless - until our intrepid heroine swaps in alternative fruit and veg. It’s an ad that’s all about finding a way through together.
Tonally, this campaign continues and amps up last year's wry humorous tone. In 2020, after a tough year of Covid lockdowns the brand declared 'There Is No Naughty List' and poked fun at national talking points like hoarding loo roll and fumbling home schooling. In 2021, there's more of a rallying call but it's aimed at a country that has become accustomed to uncertainty and has grown a new appreciation of what's really important during the holiday period. Where most brands lay on the sentiment with lashings of syrup, but rather than trying to squeeze our tear ducts, Tesco is standing out by going straight for the funny bone. Lead creatives Lawrence Bushell and Luke Till reckon it’s more in tune with the mood of the UK around the festive period, particularly after another uncertain, Covid-y year.
“Every Christmas brings its fair share of saccharine spots, so for us, building on the irreverent tone from last year was a no brainer,” say the pair. “Tesco campaigns are at their best when they perfectly capture the mood of the nation.
“Not everyone wants to have a cry at Christmas, and by showing we can laugh in the face of what’s been quite a shit year, and even overcome it, shows we’re rooting for the public.”
Indeed, Tesco’s 2021 festive ad may be soundtracked by Queens’ Don’t Stop Me Now, but it channels the spirit of the quintessential British Christmas song - Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody. It’s all about people muddling together to make sure Christmas happens - and enjoying the imperfections. It positions Tesco as a helper through the chaos, rather than concocting empty promises of festive perfection.
Alessandra Bellini, Chief Customer Officer at Tesco, explains that creating an honest and resonant campaign was particularly important. “We know that Christmas is a hugely important time for many of our customers and, after last year’s events, that is truer now than ever. Whenever we set out to create our campaigns, we want to be sure that we capture how the nation really feels and reflect that. Our research revealed that people are looking forward to meaningful get-togethers with their loved ones again and given the backdrop of cancelled plans of last year they won’t let anything stop them having a proper celebration this year.
“This got us thinking about all the little things that have the potential to get in our way – from running out of mince pies to running late to a Christmas party - and the nation’s determined spirit that ensures we’ll overcome them all. We hope our joyful festive ad will resonate and put a smile on people’s faces as we prepare for a season of well-deserved celebrations. Afterall, this Christmas, nothing’s stopping us.”
The hero film is packed with visual gags and ideas. When it came to developing the creative it was an exercise in generating as many ideas as possible, refining and refining, in order to get to the most impactful jokes. According to Lawrence and Luke, in total the team (and there are several creatives credited in the project including Uche Ezugwu, Tom Chancellor and Shruti Veeramachineni, Kevin Travis and Marion Cohen) wrote over 100 scenarios.
So how did they get there? “Through a lot of head scratching. The music track was locked in pretty early on so it was a case of writing, rewriting, and rewriting again to make sure we had the best balance of scenes on the table... We must have written over 100 in total,” they say. “Ultimately the scenes that felt topical to this year, made us laugh and above all captured that spirit of defiance we were trying to convey were the ones that made the cut.”
As well as having creative directors Kevin Masters and Christine Turner, and ECD Helen Rhodes to bounce ideas off, the team had a secret weapon when it came to making sure they’d hit the right tone. “Pitching ideas to your Mum is always a good way to see if you’ve gone too far,” they laugh.
Eagle-eyed viewers and ad nerds (who? us?) will note that this is also the second time Tesco has shown Father Christmas dealing with travel issues. Last year in the ‘Naughty List’ ad, a bronzed Santa confesses he “might” have gone on holiday… this year he faces quarantine. So is it the same Santa?
“Of course it’s the same Santa, there’s only one!” say Lawrence and Luke, aghast at the suggestion that it might not be same Mr. S Claus. “During the script writing process we were trying to think of things that have been stopping us this year, so when we started considering COVID passes it was only going to be a matter of time before we brought the big man back.”
2020's Naughty List ad
With so much going on creatively and in terms of the jokes, the team had to make sure that the Tesco products themselves weren’t lost in the Christmas chaos.
“Christmas is all about eating lots of gorgeous food, so it wasn’t enough to just write funny scenes about people being unstoppable at Christmas - It was important to make sure food was being properly showcased and weaved into the story too,” explain Lawrence and Luke.
But this is where a bit of ingenious thinking came into play. “This was where ideas like the chain reaction of enflamed puddings and elfs being bribed with mince pies came from. They show the defiant spirit, but with Tesco right at the heart of them.”
Just as the creative and jokes were an exercise in persistent refinement, so too is the craft.
“This was where our wicked directors Si & Ad really came to the fore. Their treatment was littered with loads of lovely extra touches, like the flats being above the clouds, and the door knocker being able to speak - a Labyrinth reference, I think?” they explain. And they’re full of praise for Final Cut editor Joe Guest, a ‘ledge’, who turns the festive fiascos into an entertaining roller coaster.
It all comes together to create an upbeat, rallying call that doesn’t shy away from people’s real world concerns. As BBH creative directors Christine Turner and Kevin Masters say: “After the last one, this Christmas had to be a cracker, so our campaign is a rallying cry to show we’re made of harder stuff this year, and nothing’s stopping us. And who better to show this than our scooting gran weaving her way through a joyfully defiant nation as they tackle anything thrown at them”.