Around the world, Christmas is ruled by old family traditions. Every family has their unique way of doing things and the food we eat on the special day is central to this. So when a key family member dies – particularly the traditional family cook – the festive season can never be the same again. Someone needs to step in to keep the traditions alive.
J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam’s 2018 Christmas spot for Plus Supermarkets explores this reality that, sadly, many of us are familiar with. The film shows a woman lovingly preparing a Christmas meal under the watchful eyes of her mother. To get it just right, the younger woman frequently checks an old and battered family recipe book – one just like most families have tucked away at home. But during the film it becomes increasingly clear that Christmas this year is different than any other… The woman’s mother has in fact recently passed away. But by way of her family recipes and traditions, she lives on. And is represented in a ghost-like form, guiding her daughter while she honours her mother by preparing the meal in exactly the same way as her mother always did.
LBB’s Alex Reeves spoke to J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam’s creative partner Bas Korsten to find out the thought and strategy behind the moving campaign.
LBB> What was the initial brief from the client on this and how did that lead to the eventual idea?
Bas> The initial brief came out of last year’s Christmas campaign, which was very successful for Plus Supermarkets. It was the first time that they abandoned their old approach and went for a big emotional film. So that was the brief for this year.
LBB> Strategically, what were your main considerations?
Bas> This year we wanted to focus on family traditions. Especially around Christmas time, family traditions come to life. Especially in the kitchen. A rich domain for Plus Supermarkets.
LBB> Christmas ads are often emotional but rarely this sad - why did you decide to take such a tearjerker approach?
Bas> Like our previous Plus ads, this film focuses on the emotional side of food and eating together. Having to miss someone during the holiday season is something everyone can relate to, unfortunately. It’s part of life. So we don’t see it as sad but as a celebration of family.
LBB> It seems like an emotional script to write. Did people in the agencies draw on their own experiences much?
Bas> Creative people always draw from life. But specifically, the opening scene on the graveyard literally stems from an experience the director and his wife have had for years. They would always visit the grave of her grandfather and pay tribute before going to the family Christmas dinner.
LBB> What were discussions like around the decision to include the grandmother as a ghost?
Bas> When somebody passes away, they still have a presence in the hearts and minds of the people that loved them. Filmically, the way that you portray that presence is through a physical presence. They’re there until they’re not.
LBB> How did you settle on the music - choosing the iconic track from Robbie and then getting Frances to cover it in just the right style?
Bas> Like always, you try lots of different tracks. In this case, the lyrics and the mood of the Robbie Williams track fitted so nicely with the story. The guys from Amp.Amsterdam did such a great job with recording artist Frances.
LBB> Once you had the script, how did you decide on who'd be best director to tell the story?
Bas> For Plus Supermarkets we’ve been working with one director over the last years. Ismael ten Heuvel is a master at capturing the mood and the emotion that comes with scripts like these.
LBB> What were the key decisions in casting?
Bas> We didn’t want to go for the typical grandma/grandpa. We wanted a couple that is or was living a full life. That’s also why they’re relatively young.
LBB> There are loads of emotional touches in the final film. Are there any moments that you think are particularly effective?
Bas> I personally love the hug that the brother gives his sister in the kitchen. You feel the deep empathy between the two.