Santa Rethinks 'Naughty or Nice' in W+K's Remarkable Mental Health Ad

NAMI questions binary labels this holiday

Santa Claus sits on a snowy rooftop and ponders traditional notions of kids who are "naughty" in Wieden + Kennedy New York's stirring PSA for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

"I think I did this all wrong," Kringle begins in the two-and-half-minute spot. "It started with good intentions. A way to motivate behavior, to codify gift giving, streamline deliveries. But—naughty or nice? As if some kids don't have enough to worry about, only to have me judge them without context, without perspective." 

NAMI - "Naughty Or…"

As the camera slowly moves in, St. Nick continues to mull the problem in a quietly intense soliloquy. He touches on issues facing young people today—"the news, the lockdown drills, the internet"—and concludes that a label like "naughty" is just too simplistic. 

"Naughty or nice? Isn't it just as possible that they're nervous or nice? Uncomfortable-in-their-own-skin or nice? I'm-angry-and-I-don't-know-why or nice? My-impulses-are-beyond-my-control or nice? Hurting or nice? … The world is bearing down on them, and we expect these struggling kids to do—what? Speak when spoken to?" 


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An epiphany comes at the end:

"Show me an interesting, fully formed person, and I'll show you a once-'difficult' child. It's only taken me a thousand years, but I think I finally see it. These kids, they're not 'naughty' or 'nice.' They're kids." 

And so, Santa delivers his greatest gift this holiday—a reminder that parents and caregivers should treat youngsters with patience and understanding, especially during this stressful time of year. It's a powerful message, given that 50 percent of mental health conditions begin by age 14, and more than 10 million kids are dealing with issues such as depression, anxiety and ADHD, according to a recent nationwide survey. NAMI begins sharing the film across digital channels today.

"We've all been in those situations where a child is judged," W+K New York creative director Sean McLaughlin tells Muse. "They're often held to rules that even us adults have a hard time adhering to." 

W+K developed the concept after learning about a mentally ill child who threw a tantrum in a crowded store. During that outburst, a shopper scolded the kid's parent. 

"It made us think about how careless and judgmental we can all be, especially in the context of Christmas, Santa Claus, and the 'Naughty or Nice' list," agency creative director Jaclyn Crowley explains.

As the not-so-jolly red elf, Greg Hildreth delivers a spot-on performance. His sincere, thoughtful cadences—sounding more like a sociology prof than Father Christmas—capture the internal struggle of enlightenment pushing outmoded ideas aside. O Positive director David Shane "had seen the actor perform an emotional monologue in a play earlier this year that really made an impression on him," Crowley says. "When we were casting for this Santa, he immediately came to David's mind."

Originally, the team planned a lengthy close-up on Santa's face, but ultimately decided a slow-zoom worked best. "It happened to be the last shot we took, where the actor completely nailed the monologue," recalls McLaughlin. "And we all felt it on set. It felt more like a legitimate confessional, rather than a gag, which let him speak his truth."

"People can feel down around the holidays for many reasons," says Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director for NAMI. "It could be the lack of sunlight, pressures in school, high expectations from family, loss of a loved one—any number of triggering factors which can contribute to the holidays being an emotional time of year. As families gather this season, let's recognize that we're experiencing a mental health crisis for kids in America. We all need to try be more compassionate with our kids and each other."


NAMI: "Naughty Or" 

Client: National Alliance On Mental Illness (Nami) 
Project Name: "Naughty Or" 
Format: Short Film (Online) 
Client Contact: Katrina Gay, Will Jarred 
Launch Date: 12/17/19 

Agency: W+K New York
Executive Creative Director: Karl Lieberman
Creative Directors: Jaclyn Crowley, Sean McLaughlin
Copywriter: Katie D'Agostine
Art Director: Hope Jordan
Head of Integrated Production: Nick Setounski 
Producer: Jordan Leinen
Studio Manager: Jill Kearton
Account Director: Samantha Wagner
Account Supervisor: Jasmine Cogdell
Assistant Account Executive: DeMornay Harper
Brand Strategist: Brian Ritter
Comms Planner: Lizzie Manning 
Social Strategist: Leah Greene
Junior Social Strategist: Faith Daniels
Project Manager: Julie Knight
Business Affairs Manager: Michael Moronez
Pr Partner: The Door
Public Relations Director: Theresa Collins
Public Relations Specialist: Sanam Shah

Production Company: O-Positive
Director: David Shane 
Executive Producer: Marc Grill 
Executive Producer: Ralph Laucella 
First Assistant Director: Ken Licata 
Production Designer Dan Ouellette 
Director of Photography: Berenice Eveno

Editorial Company: ARCADE EDIT
Editor: Geoff Hounsell 
Post Producer: Arlene Perez (NY)
Post Producer: Sarah Schachte (LA)
Executive Producer: Sila Soyer
Editorial Assistant: Chris Angel (NY)
Editorial Assistant: Luke Mcintosh (LA)

VFX Company: 
Shoot Supervisor: Antoine Douadi
Lead Compositor: Anne Trotman 
Compositor: Tara Holland
Matte Painter: Gillian George
VFX Production Supervisor: Colin Blaney
VFX Senior Producer Clairellen Wallin
VFX Producer Andrew Gilson
VFX Production Coordinator: Katharine Mulderry 
Colorist: Fergus McCall 

Mixer: Tom Jucarone
Executive Producer: Becca Falbourn, Alicia Rodgers

Sound Design Company: HENRY BOY
Sound Designer: Bill Chesley
Producer: Kate Gibson

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