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Junior creative duo reimagines the John Lewis Christmas formula for McDonald’s

Christmas is a time of magic and wonder, or at least it was when we were younger. With this insight, McDonald’s is wrestling John Lewis for control of that hallowed hard-hitting Christmas ad formula. Meet ‘Imaginary Iggy,’ the brainchild of a junior creative team at Leo Burnett worth keeping an eye on.

The latest installment of the ‘Reindeer Ready’ campaign dropped this morning and marks the fifth time the fast-food brand has worked with creative agency Leo Burnett on the art direction and script.

This is the heartwarming tale of a young girl, Matilda, and her lifelong relationship with her imaginary friend Iggy. The pair bond over their love of Christmas and all the rituals that occur around the season. As the film progresses we see Matilda grow into a confident young woman and, unfortunately, Iggy gets slightly forgotten about. If you‘ve seen Toy Story, you‘ll get it. The concept comes full circle when a scene in a McDonald‘s restaurant reminds her of her old friend once more.

The making of

The brief from McDonald’s was clear: it wanted to explore a make-believe world.

“Escapism felt like the right kind of a message, it felt like that‘s what the nation needed,” says Andrew Long, creative director at Leo Burnett, noting that they wanted to encourage a “moment of imagination” among viewers.

After seeing “hundreds of scripts” Long says that they ended up going with one of the first, which was written by two relatively new creatives at the company, Amy Bushill and Cristina Rosique Gomez, adding that “the best idea should always be the idea that wins.”

Animation has played a huge role in the last couple of McDonald’s Christmas ads, but that wasn’t a factor that really influenced their execution this year. As Gomez mentions, the whole concept is around imagination and the beautiful way that “children see the world.” It’s notably much easier to get down to a set and shoot an ad this year, after all.

Iggy is the standout character in the video. To tap into that childlike wonder of having an imaginary friend, the agency began the process by looking at kids’ drawings. They trialed “getting kids to draw their imaginary friend and what they thought it would look like,” says Bushill.

Of course, filming anything in person during Covid-19 times can result in a few hurdles to overcome, which can lead “to a few nervous producers” jokes Long, but thankfully the process went through without a hitch.

The true test was tapping into imaginations on set. “We’re making a film about imagination. It certainly takes a lot of imagination to go on that journey,” adds Long. “A lot of times you’re looking at edits where there’s weird cardboard cutouts and big sponge inflatable Iggys.” So naturally, the unfinished product looked understandably underwhelming.

The combination of emotive storytelling, compelling characters and a lovable ‘monster’ is a winning formula that many brands use at this time of year, but watching the ad would have you wondering if there’s a slight rivalry this year between McDonald’s and John Lewis for the top spot. Long says this is a compliment to the work the brand has done building on this campaign over the last five years, but also notes there’s a “source of competitiveness as well.”

The overarching message is to encourage everyone, no matter what generation, to lean into their creative side this Christmas and not be afraid to channel some of that child-like magical spirit.

“You’re never too old to make-believe,” concludes Bushill.

If you want to compare how this campaign fares to John Lewis throughout the years, click here.

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