Farmers tells a Christmas story via FCB

Sitting down for a chat about Farmers’ Christmas ad for this year, FCB executive creative director Tony Clewett says the agency set a bold objective from the outset.

“Unashamedly, our goal was to create New Zealand’s favourite Christmas ad,” Clewett says. “That was our challenge, and we’d like to think we’re in the running.”

Backed by a soundtrack featuring the voice of Tiny Ruins singer Hollie Fullbrook, the 60-spot spot tells the story of a grumpy retiree, played by celebrated actor and director Ian Mune, who emerges as something akin to an undercover Santa.

“We really wanted to tell the story of a noisy family that moves next door to a grumpy old man, who softens during the story,” Clewett continues.

While the story centres on the protagonist, there’s a theme of duality running through the narrative. You have the grumpy man who is actually kind, the frustrated mum who tries her best for her family and the naughty kid who ends up giving the neighbour cookies and milk.

Clewett says that squeezing all these characters and their respective narratives into a cohesive 60-second story made for an interesting creative challenge.

“We knew during the shoot, looking on the monitor, that there was lots of gold, lots of beautiful moments. And I walked away from that wondering how we were going to cut it into 60 seconds. Were we just going to leave these beautiful bits on the cutting floor? And interestingly enough, it all ended up working perfectly as a 60. By the end, you could really see a transformation in all of the characters.”

The decision to run an emotional TV campaign was a deliberate strategy that came directly from Farmers marketing team.

Clewett says the strategy was so clearly defined that before work had even started on the project, Farmers had already booked media placements for the Christmas campaign.

This is the first time 100-year-old retailer has invested in this type of brand work, and Farmers head of marketing, Dean Cook, says it was enormously important for the campaign to reinforce the role the company plays in New Zealanders’ lives.

“We chose FCB for their proven strategic leadership, and ability to connect emotionally with New Zealanders.”

In its previous retail work via 99, Farmers has already taken a big step away from the traditional retail approach by presenting its products more creatively.  

The aim here, however, was to take that a step further by telling a heartfelt story.   

The decision by Cook and his marketing team to invest in emotional storytelling wasn’t made on intuition but rather in response to a number of factors.

FCB chief strategist David Thomason says in addition to being influenced by the work done by Peter Field, Cook had invested in a major piece of Colmar Brunton research focused on evolving the brand.

“Colmar Brunton’s study just clearly directed them to the opportunity to create a more emotional connection with customers,” Thomason says.

The research showed that Farmers already a trusted brand with a strong connection to New Zealanders across all the important life moments—be it getting married, having a big occasion or major annual events—but the only thing missing was a clear emotional pull.

“It was all positive and New Zealand really trusted Farmers, but this was just about getting the icing on the cake,” Thomason says.

Beyond having the opportunity to create interesting work, Thomason says he also sees this as an important step for an industry still over-reliant on short-termism.

“We’ve gone through a phase of having to relearn the significance of branding.”

He says the messages of thinkers such as Mark Ritson and Peter Field are finally catching on and reminding marketers of the important role emotional storytelling plays in advertising.

Thomason goes on to say that being emotional doesn’t mean cutting the brand out of the narrative.

By way of example, he points to the way in which Farmers is an ever-present force throughout the new ad without interfering with the narrative.  

He says it was important to make a Farmers Christmas ad rather than just a Christmas ad with Farmers at the end.

The ad first aired this week and will run through the Christmas season. 

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