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By Amy Houston | Senior Reporter

November 27, 2023 | 8 min read

The retailer bags one of this year's best Christmas ads, but how did it land on it? The Drum asks the hard questions of Uncommon's Benny Everitt, Quba Tuakli and Shaun Savage.

Amid a sea of fanciful, often farfetched, Christmas campaigns, JD Sports’s ad instantly stood out for its relatability. It’s the work of the creative ad agency Uncommon, centered around one simple item: the retailer’s iconic duffel bag. Throughout the past 25 years, the plastic carrier has shuttled home new trainers, lugged PE kits to school, carried leftover food, held books and more.

So, how did a humble bag come to star in a festive campaign?

Quite simply, Uncommon was among three or so agencies pitching for work. “The brand has always been famous for doing these films that have lots of talent,” explains executive creative director Benny Everitt of Uncommon. “It has a model and we felt that, actually, JD is more authentic than maybe the work it was doing.”

The Uncommon team sensed that it would be a good time to have a bit of a reset on the tried and tested formula and make something that was “built on the streets” and “understood what Britain was like” in 2023.

Tinsel on steroids

JD Sports has masses of insight into its own audience’s wants and needs. The “tinsel on steroids” approach just wouldn’t cut it for its consumers, who prioritize time off and quality moments with family. Forget the typical scenes of huge tables laden with masses of food.

“It’s the white snow, it’s the sea of presents under a tree. It’s all these things that many people don’t actually have in their Christmas,” adds senior creative Quba Tuakli. “But they still have something else, which is love and togetherness, friendships and warmth.”

The sports bag came to center stage pretty much from the moment the brief went into the studio. Further research found that those who see a JD Sports bag under the Christmas tree know they are getting a good gift.

“You’re always trying to chase down an icon,” says creative director Shaun Savage. “And for us, we immediately understood the power of the bag.” Over the years, the design may have changed, but the silhouette on people’s backs hasn’t. It’s an asset that brands would die for, as he puts it.

“It’s the ultimate leveler of being the same as our heroes. Other brands are always trying to hold their stars up high, above us,” continues Everitt. “We thought it’s really important that JD is probably the only brand on the high street that allows kids to dress exactly like their icons.” It felt like something for everyday people and carried a sort of emotional weight.

The idea seemed so obvious, Savage jokes: “I couldn’t believe that something so ubiquitous, so much part of the brand ID at street level, hadn’t been kind of used in the way it was before.”

Hitting that sweet spot between modernity and nostalgia was a tricky one. The trio admitted that, after the ad was released, they saw a lot of comments online from older generations reminiscing about the bag, which made them question if they had hit the right audience. The team realized that young folk rarely post their thoughts about an ad on social media but instead give props in real life, which has transpired. Tuakli says that the fact that everybody sees something in it is probably the main payoff.

“To their total credit, 16-year-olds are not reading LinkedIn or reading The Drum [We have a few] trying to work out if something’s good or not,” adds Savage. “They’ll see it when the pre-roll comes up on a Central Cee video on YouTube, and they won’t be commenting.” The London-born rapper is featured in the ad, as well as Kano and Davido, Ronisia, Ella Toone, AntsLive and Kirbs.

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It was always the intention to make a festive spot; that was never in question. Comparisons to it being like the Die Hard of Christmas ads have the team smiling; it's exactly what they set out to do. “That sums it up perfectly,” says Everitt. “It’s that tradition that’s not got anything to do with Christmas, the togetherness and warmth.”

Kano’s real family features in the ad. And many of the cast members had relationships before filming. That helped the team find the authenticity they were after.

“You get that extra touch; someone leans on someone’s shoulder a little more, they wrap their arms around, rather than stand next to each other,” continues Everitt. “There’s just those little touches of authenticity that come out when you’ve got real bonds that exist.”

Confidence breeds authenticity

JD Sports was dead-set on authenticity and not having unnecessary branding crammed into the ad.

“The team had a confidence about them,” says Tuakli. “Which comes from a real knowledge of how synonymous their bag and brand is with the culture they’re trying to speak to.”

Even when it came to framing the bag, it’s rarely front and center. Brand execs kept talking about ‘life being lived’, which informed each shot. A lot of the scenes almost feel like those in-between moments of life. Don’t be fooled though. There’s nothing mundane about those shots. Tuakli continues: “There’s so much in this film that is magical realism, borderline surrealism, but because the story you’re telling is true, we could tell it with a layer of artistic imagery.”

Horse riding

One of the moments that captured imaginations features a horse. The creatives cleared up what that was about and iterated they were not trying to chase down some kind of naff nature meets suburbia idea. The teenage boy riding it is known as The Blessed Equestrian on Instagram. He has high hopes of going to the Olympics one day. It was filmed at Vauxhall City Farm, and they simply liked that it existed and that kids could go there.

And then there was the soundtrack, it was tricky to nail down. The team must have listened to hundreds of options. They knew they definitely didn’t want to choose a 60s or 70s soul track (predictable). Instead, they chose the 90s classic 'Sweet Harmony' by Liquid that had been in their back pockets since the start of the creative process.

“There's also a line that's come through a lot the work, which is the past, present to the future and forever,” concludes Savage. “Nodding back to that era through music felt like a way of joining up with the ubiquity and the history of the bag.”

In the end, the creatives reiterate that all the best things that come from the UK are from the youth culture, and the film is a celebration of that.

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