A sullen teenage girl declares, "It doesn't even feel like Christmas," and berates her younger sister's tree-trimming skills in a seasonal spot from retail chain Meijer.
"It's all wrong," the girl sulks from her spot on the couch as the family looks on. "They might as well just cancel Christmas. They've canceled everything else."
This takes place on a notably silent night, giving the scene a somber feel that captures the tenor of these Covid times. No carolers. No jingling bells. No chestnuts roasting. Just a sad girl in a quiet house—and who needs Christmas anyway?
She does, of course. Or at the very least, she requires a revival of the human spirit. That comes later, when the sisters join together in song:
They sing a few bars of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," which is utterly transformed by their halting voices into a statement of hope for a brighter tomorrow. As the word "Believe" flashes on screen, the girls share the deeper meaning of the holiday—not its religious significance, but an abiding faith in goodness, giving and better days to come.
"I'd say the vibe we were going for was honest and real," says John Condon, founder and creative head at independent agency The Distillery Project, which developed the nearly two-minute film with Biscuit Filmworks director Noam Murro. "There's an emotional journey here that takes time to play out. If we didn't give it that time, it would feel contrived or unrealistic, which is exactly the opposite of what we were going for."
Most longer-form spots pack in extra plot points and pathos, especially during the holidays. Here, however, Murro uses the leisurely run-time to let the story unfold with understated power.
"At one time or another, I think we've all felt a bit like the teenager on the couch," Condon says. "So much has been taken from us all this year that it's hard not to feel beaten occasionally."
The ad stands out among a slew of yuletide commercials by acknowledging our struggles, while showing how we can rise above the fray by coming together and celebrating special moments in life.
"Meijer's Christmas commercial isn't a traditional attempt to target a specific buyer, or to sell anything at all," Condon says. "It's a Christmas wish for the communities that Meijer serves. In a year like this, for so many reasons, there's a massive need for empathy and understanding. We wanted to be honest about what we're all going through, and how hard it often seems."
"We can also honestly remind ourselves that there are some things that can never be canceled—like our capacity for simple kindness and our ability to hold hope in our hearts," he says. "It's a unique reminder, particular to this year, that we're at our best when we believe."
In addition to the 1:50 running online, 60- and 90-second edits are breaking across network and cable TV in the markets where Meijer operates, including Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. Buys include NBC Sunday Night Football, Fox NFL games and, appropriately enough, ABC's Dec. 20 showing of The Sound of Music.
Agency: The Distillery Project
Founder/Copywriter: John Condon
Founding Partner/CSO: Ben Kline
Head of Operations/Partner: Kim Tanner
Head of Production/Partner: Nik Traxler
Producer: Brenda Cortés
Creative Director: Chris Pollock
Account Director: Annie Gray
Business Affairs Manager: Bonnie Kalaf
Production: Biscuit Filmworks
Director: Noam Murro
Partner/Managing Director: Shawn Lacy
Executive Producer: Andrew Travelstead
Producer: Emily Skinner
Head of Production: Rachel Glaub / Sean Moody
Director of Photography: Eric Schmidt
Production Designer: Brock Houghton
Editorial: Rock Paper Scissors
Editor: Damion Clayton
Assistant Editor: Sebastian Zotoff
Producer: Sasha Grubor
Head of Production: Dre Krichevsky
Executive Producer: Shada Shariatzdeh
Managing Director: Eve Kornblum
Color: a52 Color
Colorist: Daniel de Vue
Producer: Jenny Bright
Exec Producer: Thatcher Peterson
Music Company: JSM Music
CEO/CCO: Joel Simon
VP/Executive Producer: Jeff Fiorello
Producers: Norm Felker/Andrew Manning/Sharon Cha
Audio House: Margarita Mix Santa Monica
Re-Recording Mixer/Sound Designer: Nathan Dubin
Assistant Engineers: Sean Melia & Mike Murzyn
Operations Manager: Brian Frank
Executive Producers: Whitney Morris & Paula Arnett