Mondelēz's Milka chocolate hits the holiday sweet spot in heartfelt fashion with "The Unsung Hero," a film created for European markets by Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam and Cake directing duo Dr. Bowman (Herman Van Den Bosch and Laurens Jans).
At an Alpine school, kids are rehearsing a choral arrangement of the soul/gospel track "You Got the Love." One of the young singers forms a special bond with a white-haired custodian she sees toiling on the sets and lighting to ensure the show's success.
On the big night, with the recital in full swing, she steps forward for her solo, and ...
… performs the song in International Sign language for the custodian, who is deaf, so he can fully appreciate the words and share in the love the choir feels for him. The line "Give to those who give most" comes up at the end.
"The team was researching how empathy manifests itself in our lives and how it is communicated and shared on social media, when they stumbled on a video of a young girl signing for her deaf dad while they attend a concert together," W+K creative director Edouard Olhagaray tells Muse. "It seemed to encompass everything we wanted to communicate at Christmas—the caring, the importance of sharing. That prompted us to tell this story."
Though perhaps a tad predictable, the ad packs a wallop that drives its point home.
"It's just a reminder of how good it feels to care and to thank the people who care," says Olhagaray, who doesn't view the commercial as a tearjerker per se. "Rather than making people cry, we hope it will prompt people to thank those around them. From a brand perspective, it felt right for Milka to go beyond the charming fables we've been telling and tackle more raw emotions. There is a deficit of empathy in the world, and as a brand that stands for tenderness ["Tenderness Inside" has been an overarching theme] it's a natural place for Milka to be."
Milka's fondly remembered Christmas-themed time-travel epic from 2016 ranks among those fables. Though far simpler in story and execution, "The Unsung Hero" feels more vital, thanks to its realistic style and timeless message.
As it turns out, empathy was also the watchword during production.
"Because our hero actor was deaf, we had to change our routine and learn to communicate in different ways—through interpreters, of course—but also through any means we could find, like writing on our phones and doing a lot of expressive gestures," Olhagaray recalls. "It created a great atmosphere where everyone was really focused on listening to each other. It was a special experience we won't forget."
W+K and Milka consulted with the European Union of the Deaf while making the ad. Below is a sign-language interpretation of the soundtrack, which can also be viewed as an embedded window in some versions of the commercial.
Global Director Milka : Godert Van den Heuvel
Associate Marketing Director: Ciara O'Connor
Milka Equity Manager : Agnes Posa-Somos
Executive Creative Director: Eric Quennoy, Mark Bernath
Creative Director: Hannah Smit, Edouard Olhagaray
Art Director: Teresa Montenegro
Copywriter: Christopher Cryer
Head of Broadcast Production: Joe Togneri
Broadcast Producer: Elissa Singstock
Group Account Director: Eleanor Thodey
Account Director: Hannah Heider
Account Manager: Kristina Jorgensen
Head of Planning: Martin Weigel
Planning Director: Nusara Chinnaphasaen
Planner: Alex Jeanneau
Head of Comms & Digital Strategy: Danielle Pak
Comms Planning Director: Wes Young
Digital Strategist: Kieran Kenlock
Art Producer: Stacey Prudden
Head of Design: Joe Burrin
Studio Director: Lizzie Murray
Lead Designer: Malia Killings
Project Manager: Gabriela Cimenti Moreira
Business Affairs: Fiona Fan
Production Company: Cake Film and Photography
Director: Dr. Bowman- Herman Van Den Bosch, Laurens Jans
Director of Photography: Herman Van Den Bosch
Producer: Annemien Lijfering
Executive Producer: Clarisse Venekamp
Editing Company: Final Cut London
Editor: Ed Cheesman
Audio Post: Wave Sound Studios Amsterdam
Sound Designer/Mixer: Randall MacDonald
Artist / Title: You Got the Love (publishing licensed, master by Massive)
Post Production: MPC Amsterdam
Flame: Ricky Weissman
Colorist : Jean Clement, Matthieu Toullet
Producer: Gwenn Hardouin