British mall owner Intu pulls some serious strings to deliver seasonal cheer in one of the most striking and delightful holiday ads of the year so far.
Created by London-based agency Now, a 45-second spot shows a flighty group of "customers" flocking into the aisles. They are, in fact, gorgeously crafted and finely detailed bird puppets, inspired by stage shows such as War Horse and The Lion King. They mimic the behaviors of typical shoppers, ranging from bargain hunters and early planners to those who search for gifts in a last-minute panic.
Throughout the ad, shot on a stylized white department-store set, the puppeteers are clearly visible and take part in the action—a creative choice designed to give the film an overtly theatrical feel.
This unusual approach works amazingly well, as Intu foregoes most of the familiar yuletide trappings (Santas, elves, snowflakes, candy canes) to create a magic all its own:
"We had to find a way of portraying these personalities without defaulting to just showing people shopping, which is very generic," Now creative chief Remco Graham tells Adweek. Ultimately, the creative team "went back to the heart of the brand and embraced its logo—a bird—and decided to make the different shopper types birds. The puppets then came fairly quickly after. A lot of advertising has used CGI, but we wanted to do something a bit different to stand out at Christmas."
Building the spot's featured feathered players was no easy task.
"It took a team of 15 people two months to test, sculpt, cast, paint, fabricate and stitch the puppets that were all developed from a set of original drawings," Graham says. "It was incredibly full-on, with the team spending weeks at the studio developing them and then carrying out movement tests."
It took two puppeteers to control each bird, and four such professionals labored on set during the week-long shoot. The puppeteers were all specialist performers from Henson and War Horse.
"Having the puppeteers as part of the performance is a technique only seen before on stage," Graham says, "so we had to make sure every movement was perfect."
This making-of clip shows the processes and techniques involved:
Blinkink's Joseph Mann, known for his fantastical Cravendale and Churchill films, directs with a suitable sense of whimsy. He establishes a relaxed, fluid pace—and cool visual bits abound. These include the bargain-hunter bird of prey swooping to grasp a tie in its talons, a mama duck wheeling her egg in a pram, and the Intu logo-bird topping a festive tree.
Meanwhile, the storybook-style rhyming voiceover keeps the narrative grounded and explains the spot's avian concept in a fun, accessible way.
"We needed to create a more emotional role for the brand," says Graham, "and shoppers had to be able to see themselves or their friends in the different shopper types."
Intu succeeds on that score, crafting an unconventional Christmas ad that has plenty for bird watchers to savor.
Roger Binks, Customer Experience Director, Intu
Richard Bailey, Head of Group Marketing
Izzie Peskett, Regional Marketing Manager, South
Charlotte Ullathorne, Regional Marketing Manager, Midlands
Executive Creative Director: Remco Graham
Creative Team: Juliet Kent and Clint Harding
Head of Film & Content: Jeremy Methane
Planner: Amelia Wood
Account Director: Jack Howker
Account Manager: Katy Stanage
Production Company: Blinkink
Director: Joseph Mann
Producer: Ben Lole
DOP: Matthew Day
Editing House: Stitch
Editor: Max Windows
Audio: Wave Studios
Music: Simon Pegg