‘We didn’t think Will would do it’: how Asda pulled off Buddy the Elf Christmas ad
We catch up with the supermarket’s creative agency to hear all about the Christmas miracle that led to Buddy starring in its fantastic festive film.
Asda today premiered its jolly Christmas campaign starring Will Ferrell’s lovable character Buddy the Elf from the Warner Bros film Elf. It was a wildcard for Asda, but one that is bound to raise a smile – which is exactly what the creative team at Havas London set out to do.
“We want to bring Christmas cheer this year – that’s your brief,” says Vicki Maguire, chief creative officer at Havas London and self-confessed Elf fanatic.
Originally, the team didn’t set out to use a character. “We were playing this game, which was basically, ’if Asda at Christmas was a person, who would that be?’” The thinking was that, whoever that person is, they would have to be optimistic, love Christmas, be funny, cheeky and, ultimately, green. “That’s Buddy. But we were like, ’yeah, Will won’t do it.’”
So, with the seed firmly planted, Maguire’s team presented all their ideas to Asda. Out of the three or four routes that were suggested, the supermarket excitedly gravitated towards Buddy. Now it was time to convince Ferrell.
The actor is notoriously precious over the character. It is widely reported that he frequently turns down a sequel to the hit movie, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year.
Havas “tentatively” approached Will’s team and Warner, and both were interested in the logistics of making it happen. “We couldn’t get excited. We were really excited, but we couldn’t, just in case,” laughs Maguire. Before anything could happen, Ferrell wanted to make sure the footage was in safe hands. “We were almost kind of tested on our love for it. I mean, it’s my favorite film ever. Will and Warner are really protective around it – they were asking what our favorite parts of the movie were.”
After proving their dedication and respect for the character they got the green light, which is when they brought renowned director Danny Kleinman on board. “We needed somebody who was going to geek out on taking the footage and re-mastering it and dropping the original into an Asda store. His attention to detail is next level. When he said it could be done, we went back to Will’s team and to Warner and said we’d found a way to do it and that’s when things got real.”
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Firstly, a digital Asda store was then created using lidar remote sensing technology, scanning a real bricks-and-mortar location as well as an existing studio set. Buddy himself was snipped from the original film background while an on-set double was used for eyeline reference and to provide shadows and natural interactions. The team had to then seamlessly integrate Buddy into the ad footage.
Everything you see in the film is original dialogue and action. Kleinman even went so far as to find out what cameras were used to film the 2003 movie, the film stop that was used, whether it was shot inside or outside. The attention to detail was immaculate.
And the meticulous approach didn’t stop with the creatives. Ferrell’s team was involved every step of the way. Every script iteration, every scene and even what Buddy could eat was considered.
“We wanted to show Buddy eating something, but just like the film we only had four food groups to choose from. We wanted him to eat pigs in blankets and, luckily, Asda sell maple syrup-covered ones. That’s the ones he would eat because he covers everything in maple syrup. That’s how much knowledge I have got about this. If there’s ever a pub quiz on Elf, I’m your girl.”
It has been a long but rewarding process, with the project taking around four months to complete. “I’ve watched that film more than 100 times since May and I could still watch it. I’m not sick of it yet.”