‘Make it bigger than Christmas’: Myer and Clemenger BBDO Melbourne on how to make a Christmas ad in 2020

Bushfires, drought, flooding and COVID-19: how do you make a Christmas ad in 2020? Mumbrella's Zoe Wilkinson talks to Jim Curtis and Ryan Fitzgerald, the Clemenger BBDO Melbourne creative duo behind Myer's Christmas campaign on the creative process that went into the anthem of 2020 life events, and chief customer officer Geoff Ikin about connecting to customers in a time of turmoil.

“It was continually keeping ourselves honest on both tone and kind of on a national sense… at the start of the year things were still affected, so it was just making sure that we were trying to tell a story that resonated with everyone in some way.”

This year, instead of celebrating just Christmas, Myer has declared that Australians need to celebrate all the significant life events that have occurred (but not adequately been celebrated) in 2020 all at once.

‘Make it bigger than Christmas’ the vocalist sings, whilst accompanied by an orchestra of brides, high school graduates, holiday makers and 50-year-olds. A Chinese dragon dances. A bride in a white dress celebrates Holi. Santa hits a piñata with a cricket bat.

The ad is touching, relatable, darkly funny, and addresses a year filled with pain with sensitivity and unity.


The campaign, from Clemenger BBDO Melbourne’s new ECDs Jim Curtis and Ryan Fitzgerald, was the first brief the pair worked on after joining the agency in March from Droga 5 in New York. Curtis and Fitzgerald made it to Australia on one of the last flights home from New York as national and state borders were closing, people were fighting over toilet paper in supermarkets, and major cities were shutting down. Then they were immediately faced with the prospect of trying to sell Christmas to a nation that was panicked and scared.

Let us also not to forget the year began in the midst of a bushfire crisis, which was soon followed by intense flooding on the east coast.

“It was kind of just this bigger sense of 2020 has been a hell of a year. And at this point it’s March, and we’re kind of saying what else is there year gonna throw at us?” Fitzgerald recounts.

“And so the kind of thought for us was that if 2020 is going to be a year like no other then Christmas has to be a year like no other. And that involves celebrating like we never have before, making sure that all of the things that have been affected by all these things throughout the year, bringing them together on this day and make it bigger than Christmas.”

Ryan Fitzgerald (L) and Jim Curtis (R) joined Clemenger BBDO Melbourne in March

Curtis adds: “I think that when you’re a creative, it’s hard to look past the things that are already kind of bubbling around. So, I think when we cracked the idea of just smushing all events into one day, immediately we knew we were in a fresh space.”

The brief from Myer was left open for the creative team to explore. Chief customer officer Geoff Ikin had a checklist of details for the campaign. First, it had to continue to build an emotional connection. Second it needed to be distinctive. Next, it had to be something that could be ownable and relevant to the department store. And last, it had to be culturally relevant.

“That kind of helps the distinctiveness in a lot of ways, because it’s kind of something that’s far more relevant to this time of year, and given what ended up happening with COVID… we kind of felt like that was a territory that we probably needed to explore,” Ikin said.

The lyrics of the unorthodox carol make note of people who ‘got married in your kitchen’, ‘finished high school in the hallway’ and ‘traded Bali for your backyard’. Myer is one of a handful of brands that has acknowledged the crises of 2020 directly. For Ikin, using a jingle was the best way to speak to the struggles Australians have experienced with compassion, while being a far-cry from the Zoom and user-generated content-heavy ads that emerged at the start of the pandemic.

“There’s no other year that it’s probably felt like we would need something bigger than Christmas,” Ikin notes.

“We were cognisant, when we went through this, there were a lot of brands doing the same ad in April, in terms of the dreary kind of song and the ‘we’re here from you’, and it all was a montage.

“I think that’s the watch out for brands not to just play into the usual vanilla approach and cookie-cutter approach of trying to, I guess, fake sincerity… I think brands have got to be really careful about how they play into that.”

Myer chief customer officer Geoff Ikin

‘Fake sincerity’ was a true danger heading into Christmas, particularly as across the country people experienced the pandemic very differently, and the memory, and threat, of lockdown is ongoing. Melbourne spent over 100 days in lockdown, NSW only a few months. Residents of Adelaide only recently returned to a brief lockdown period after many months community-transition free. Meanwhile, to the rest of the country, life in Western Australia and the Northern Territory looks like it did before COVID-19 was even part of the cultural vernacular.

How do you send a message to 25 million Australians who have led totally different lives this year?

“We had to be really careful,” says Fitzgerald. “Because we didn’t want to be not treating things with the proper respect even though we were taking a bit of a laconic view of things.

“But then also this is a national ad, so we needed to be mindful of how events have been affected throughout the year and across the country.”

Using humour to address a year in which people have lost loved ones, jobs, businesses and been isolated from family and friends, was a delicate process. Ikin notes it was important for them to not be ‘too funny for [their] own good’.

“We played around to kind of directly addressing the Coronavirus and having a bit of fun with it. And I think there was some hilarious lines that we had, but it just felt a little too, you know, too funny for our own good. And I think there is that line in terms of trying to be funny versus being sincere, and authentic, and a bit cheeky, and I think we take that line pretty well,” he says.

Curtis says the song went through ‘12,732’ versions before Myer and Clemenger settled on the final edition.

“We probably sent the musicians mad,” he jokes.

“We got to have fun in the execution and be flexible with the execution. As the months went on and things changed, we were able to amend the lyrics as we went to try and be as on point as we could for the moment.

“So sometimes the lyrics went one way, and then some things happened, we went ‘okay we better dial that back a bit’, and then stay flexible.”

“The Easter bunny rides a sleigh”

Pulling together the film that would go to air was not without its challenges either. Directed by Nick Kelly for The Sweetshop, production took place in Sydney, while the Myer and Clemenger teams remained in lockdown during the shoot.

Kelly had to quarantine for two weeks in Darwin before making his way to Sydney.

It was Plan B, but they held onto Plan A of shooting in Melbourne right up until the end when it took place in October.

But, Fitzgerald and Curtis aren’t convinced that live streaming the production process across states will stick.

“Advertising in general is a team sport, right?” says Fitzgerald. “You get so much from that face-to-face interaction and we’re finding with our teams now that it’s those little personal touches and quirks of conversation that you have that are so important to the creative process.

“It definitely makes things achievable that weren’t before, which I suppose is a great asset to have. Maybe it opens up doors for interesting international directors that might not have been there before. But I think you’re never going to beat that face-to-face contact.”

“There’s certain conversations that you can have, naturally, on set that are really beneficial,” Curtis adds.

“And it’s much easier to communicate certain things with the director or producer or first [assistant director]. So I think that you’re always better off being physically there with someone and speaking to them about what’s happening.

“However, I probably would say that there might be certain members of the team, you know, that could drop in and look at the split… like one of the key clients that can’t make it might have a look and see how it’s going and drop in and drop out. I’d be surprised if that doesn’t happen more often.”

Despite the trials and tribulations that Myer and Clemenger BBDO Melbourne went through for this campaign, it’s reached record levels of engagement and response for the brand. Ikin believes it landed on just the right message for the moment. Customers have even been stopping staff in store to comment on how much they like the ad.

“The commentary I’ve got from people is that some people found it really kind of emotional, like they’ve cried watching and kind of really struck a chord,” he says.

“Some people thought it’s quirky and fun, and some people kind of just love watching it over and over again, because there’s so much going on, ‘cause it’s got a bit of epicness to it.

“It’s an interesting way to do such a big ad… but credit to the guys, we didn’t miss a beat.”

‘We missed a year, but now it’s here. It’s bigger than Christmas.’


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