The teams at CHI&Partners and Argos tell LBB’s Laura Swinton about how their whimsical Christmas ad is rooted in truth
A diligent elf spots a stray toy on the floor at Santa’s North Pole HQ and races to make sure the little robotic dog makes it onto Super Sled before it takes off; the Argos 2017 campaign may feel like a scene from a big budget family Christmas film, but it’s rooted in the human truths at the heart of the pioneering British retailer.
“The inspiration was really the Argos story and the speed of delivery coupled with the personal touch and colleagues,” explains Sarah Golding, CEO of creative agency CHI&Partners. “That’s the feedback you get from customers and that’s what they love. It’s the efficiency and effectiveness of the service but with someone they recognise that they can go back to if there’s a return or a problem. They want a human face and human contact.”
According to marketing director Gary Kibble, the campaign is as much about communicating that humanity as it is about the convenience and technology that underpins the retailer and allows them to operate services such as a four-hour Fast Track Delivery service. In the run up to the Christmas period, the retailer recruits around 10,000 seasonal staff across the UK – many of whom end up staying at the company for years – and the main elf encapsulates the spirit of the retailer’s employees. The combination of physical retail space and online shopping services gives them, the team believes, an edge over rivals like Amazon.
“One of the things we know from our customers is that one of the things they truly value is that physical and personal interaction that they get from our brand that arguably they don’t get from pure play retailers,” says Gary. “While [the campaign] is not part of the recruitment, it is effectively to some extent a USP for our brand over some of our competitors out there on the high street, really playing out that point that we’ll do anything to ensure that we can get customers what they want at Christmas. So, it’s a happy coincidence but it is based on a customer truth and insight.”
Argos CEO John Rogers agrees. “We talk about Argos being a technology-driven company and it very much is – 55-60% of sales start online, it’s a very important part of our business, but we mustn’t forget that 80% of all of our orders are fulfilled in our stores. That’s a really important point because it provides an opportunity for us as a retailer to have that human interaction with our customers. [When I talk about Argos], I love the phrase ‘technology with a human touch’ and that very much encapsulates what we’re trying to do as a business.”
And that human touch goes right through to the production of the film, with Independent’s Gary Freedman, who directed the spot, pouring over the details. For fans of modern classic Christmas movies like Arthur Christmas, there’s plenty to enjoy. “Gary cared deeply about every element of the film. He sweated as much over the casting as he did over the design of the super sleigh. He brought scale, nuance and most importantly, storytelling. Because of him we have a film that you can watch over and over and find something new in it every time,” says CHI&Partners creative director Laura Rogers.
But while the story has humanity at its core, don’t imagine that they’re trying to do an epic weepy, says Laura. “Argos isn’t a brand that pulls at the heartstrings at Christmas. We want joy. We want thrills. And we want to get your heart pumping. Yetis did that and this year’s ad, Ready For Takeoff, takes it full throttle.”
And that energy also rings true with the Argos team. “I’ve been in retail all my career, 22 years. You don’t lose that incredible buzz that you get at Christmas,” reflects Gary, who has been at the brand for about five months. “I’ve worked for some businesses that weren’t massively seasonal; I spent a few years as chief customer officer at Mothercare – it won’t surprise you that ladies giving birth isn’t massively seasonal! Actually in this business [Argos], Christmas is even more important than some of the other businesses I’ve worked for. So that level of excitement really, if anything, is amplified in this business. And that’s speaking from the heart – one of the reasons I joined the business was I could see so clearly the role that Argos plays in our customers’ lives at Christmas. It’s so influential and I wanted to be part of that journey we’re on.”
Argos CEO John also likes to get hands on and immerse himself in the Christmas buzz – he visits up to 50 stores across the country, speaking to managers, staff and customers. “What’s interesting is that working in the retail business you don’t get much of a break!”
The team at CHI&Partners were just as busy and will be as the campaign unfolds. The TV spot integrates with social media activity – parents will be able to apply through social media to have their kids cast in new versions of the TV spots. And these will be broadcast, which Sarah Golding says is a real ‘media first’. “I think it’s really exciting and a testament to the innovation that sits at the heart of the brand,” she says.
Laura Rogers says that the team will have lots to do in the coming weeks. “Making a bespoke advert for each of the winners is a big task with a small turnaround time. From the moment the winners are chosen we have less than a day to turnaround a one-of-a-kind advert. The pre-planning is important to its success, from monitoring social media entries to working closely with TV channels to agreeing late delivery of the winning ads.”
With its combination of considered craft and social media ingenuity, the strategy gets to the heart of what Argos is all about at Christmas. “There’s no better brand than Argos to tell a space-age Christmas story because Argos knows that even in this world of high-speed delivery, it’s really about the joy of giving that special present. Our world has become faster and more high-tech but it hasn’t lost its magic, especially at Christmas.”