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Amazon Prime Video debuts smiling hyena Christmas ad to stand apart from Amazon

Amazon Prime Video has gone solo in Europe with a Christmas ad campaign distinct from Amazon for the first time. Helen Cowley, Amazon Prime Video EU’s director of marketing, explains why.

For its first solo Christmas ad distinct from the overall Amazon brand, Amazon Prime Video EU has stuck to the established industry formula – a minimalist cover of a classic song (Nat King Cole’s Smile as performed by Joy Crookes) and a tale of togetherness featuring a CGI sidekick. But it isn’t without subversion. While Amazon and Lucky Generals ran with a touching story of kindness, scored by none other than Adele, Amazon Prime Video worked with Spanish Agency CYW to make audiences fall in love with a snarling hyena called Hattie.

The plot is familiar but weird. From her zoo enclosure, Hattie becomes hooked on TV and is cast aside by her peers as a result. She moves in with zookeeper Carl, who just wants a pal to watch the TV with. Our fluffy Christmas mascot bares her teeth several times – she’s either smiling or snarling. This adds some much-needed tension missing from more saccharine works.

The hero film clocks in at a fat two minutes, but will clip to 60 and 30 seconds where appropriate.

Helen Cowley, the director of marketing at Amazon Prime Video EU, tells The Drum that the Christmas ad was born out of its ‘Every Smile Tells a Story’ brand campaign. “The idea grew fast. We realized that it was quite a timeless story about how people come together. And it felt timely.”

The ad was directed by Chris Balmond (behind Guinness’s celebrated ‘Welcome Back’ spot), conceived by CYW and produced by Blur Films. VFX specialists The Mill brought Hattie to life, accompanied by the sometimes unsettling sound design of Ballad (hyena laughter is unsettling, but that’s not Hattie’s fault, is it?)

Cowley says: “CYW had a ton of passion and had the nugget of the idea.” Meanwhile, in post-production, the lead character depended upon the work of around 80 people to come to life. “Animators from all around the world worked to make her as real.”

Last year, as a result of the pandemic, some advertisers chose to go all-in on CGI when in-person shoots proved to be difficult. This year, many have opted for real-world shoots with CGI lead characters melded into the world (including John Lewis and McDonald’s). This process can be stressful, constructing scenes around characters who are not present on set.

Cowley says: “It can be nerve-racking at times. It takes real-time to build and develop. You get the sense of the very rudimentary body at the beginning but it takes a long time to animate.” Working with an Oscar-winning team alleviates some of those sleepless nights, she adds.

Meanwhile, pet owners will find the scenes familiar, settling on the couch to watch a show with their pooch. As a result, Prime Video will donate £100,000 to Pets As Therapy, a UK charity that works with volunteers and their therapy pets.

It represents a change of European strategy at Amazon. In the UK Prime membership costs £79 per year or £7.99 a month. Prime Video is one of the biggest benefits of the deal, but it’s also a standalone video product competing fiercely with the likes of Netflix and Disney+. A successful campaign will be additive and help drive a significant amount of Amazon purchases throughout the Christmas period. This is a pan-European ad launch, so there’s not a lot of spoken dialogue, which lends itself well to localization.

Cowley differentiates. “Amazon will have a beautiful global campaign, meanwhile Prime Video will really focus on the stories that we had to tell and showcase the great content that we have on our service.”

Video plays “a really important part of Christmas” and Prime Video needed the platform to showcase its offering.

Watch the global Amazon ad ‘Kindness, the Greatest Gift’ below, or check out all of the top Christmas ads here.

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