‘We felt the pressure’: can Asda replicate its ‘Elf’ hit with Michael Bublé Christmas ad?
We catch up with the brand’s marketing director and Havas’s executive creative director on the follow-up to last year’s ‘Buddy the Elf’ campaign.
Asda surprised people last year with its standout Christmas spot that used footage from the movie Elf, introducing Will Ferrell’s character as an employee at a store. It was a bit of a wildcard from the brand that creatively paid off.
At the beginning of this year, barely a month after its release, the team was back brainstorming about the follow-up. There were big, Buddy-shaped boots to fill.
“There’s probably a reason Hollywood hasn’t done an Elf 2,” laughs Havas creative director Dan Cole. “We had some nice stuff, and we definitely chatted about it [doing a sequel]. But we felt that it was another opportunity to move on and surprise again. That was important.”
Stephi Brett-Lee, Asda’s marketing director, adds that they knew people were expecting to see a second part but that the ‘surprise’ element was something integral to the 2022 brief. But its goals were different this year.
“We obviously looked at last year, and we all felt the pressure because it was so successful and so loved,” the marketer admits. “It’s the first time in my career when strangers were messaging about my work, I could hear people talking about it in the street, it was a surreal kind of moment.”
She explains that one of Asda’s focuses this Christmas was on quality products and that was an element that it couldn’t explore too deeply last year. Buddy, of course, only eats from certain food groups and if it isn’t covered in maple syrup, then it’s probably a no-go.
“We’ve got award-winning products that have beaten all supermarkets, we’ve got 200 products that are taste-matched to M&S,” Brett-Lee explains. “We wanted to tell that story this year, but we wanted to keep hold of the love, joy, fun, tone and wit that we got from Buddy and tell a slightly deeper story. So, it was a challenging and evolved brief.”
No pressure for Havas, then. The joyfulness that Buddy evoked led the team to brainstorm which other Christmas icons were out there. “It’s not Christmas ‘till you hear Bublé singing,” says Cole. “He brings that touch of quality to the occasion, finesse and showbiz if you like. We loved the idea that Buddy was one of our colleagues. When we started talking about someone like Bublé as the chief quality officer, it just threw up mountains of material that we could play with.”
In theory, the idea sounded great, but Cole admits there was a bit of a worry. Sometimes when you have non-actors in an ad you just never know what you’re going to get. Thankfully, the Canadian crooner was completely up for it and made the spot entirely his own.
According to Cole, the singer was also a dab hand at improvisation. Many of the lines that you see in the ad were riffed off-the-cuff by Bublé and were not part of the original script.
“He just had a lovely sort of warmth about him that, I don’t know, just felt like a colleague,” he recalls. “He fitted in, didn’t feel like standoffish it. It was lovely.”
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Bublé is not someone who does a lot of ads and doesn’t show up across different sectors, so the Asda team had multiple conversations with him about the brand and its values. “He’s massively down to earth,” recalls Brett-Lee. “He came and sat with us as a team to eat. It was a fun and smooth shoot.”
The light-hearted vibes on-set transpired into the ad, it’s fun and cheerful, which was especially important to the brand this year amid the ongoing cost of living crisis. “Consumers don’t necessarily want a mirror held up to them of how their life is at that moment. Things are tough for people right now,” says Brett-Lee. “People are looking for something that’s going to make them smile, going to lift them a little bit or give them a bit of an escape.”
The message that Asda wants to hit home with this campaign is that it has such a wide range of products at different price points that people don’t need to shop elsewhere; having Michael Bublé convey that stance was the “cherry on top” as people love to hear him sing.
Writing the vocalist in as the brand’s chief quality officer was a stroke of genius, it could show all its festive foods quite naturally. “The story was around quality, so it just made it a whole lot easier, and it didn’t ever feel forced,” adds Cole. “Even when he’s doing that awkward bit when he tries the mince pies and goes ‘bring me more,’ it feels natural. And he did keep nicking some of the food.”
With so many product stories to tell, the team was intent on not doing the bog-standard, supermarket, big, long table that all looks a bit beige. Asda opted for a more magical take, with a fantasy cheese room, for example.
“But we do have real experts who work on developing products,” says Brett-Lee. “We wanted to show you that there is a lot of wo, love and care that goes into creating these products.” Both she and Cole admit that one of the favorite moments of working on the Asda brief is when they get to go down to HQ and try all the food.
Asda’s festive spot will break on ITV, but there’s no rest for the wicked. The team will soon be thinking about Christmas 2024: “We brief in January, the guys will already be thinking about next year and we haven’t even launched the main ad yet,” says Brett-Lee.
“We’re never not thinking about Christmas, from either the marketing perspective or even just internally. There will already be people thinking about the products and developing things for next year. It’s such a huge process so it’s never not on our minds.”
Before the decorations are even down, it’s on to the next one.