By Jim Lansbury

Let’s face it, 2017 was not exactly a warm and fuzzy year. Everything seemed more polarized, more controversial, more divided than ever. Even brands. Some scored points by taking sides. Some faced boycotts. Others tried to stay above the fray, only to be pulled into the drama through circumstances beyond their control. So as the holidays arrived, most brand managers were probably breathing a huge sigh of relief. After all, what could be safer than wishing people “Happy Holidays”? (Or should it be “Merry Christmas”?)

Not surprisingly, “Bringing People Together” became one of the most common themes among this year’s holiday campaigns. Of course, in this business it’s about the execution. So at the risk of sounding divisive ourselves, here are our thoughts on which campaigns got it right and which missed the mark.

Virgin Atlantic and Delta’s The Prodigal Brother

This holiday spot tells the story of a wayward man named Jacob who turns up unexpectedly at his brother’s home for Christmas. Things quickly take a dark turn as Jacob seems unwelcome here, and he then launches into a bizarre tale about “The greatest gift in the entire world,” involving magical red scarves, a plane crash and a disemboweled yak. Ultimately, the story twists into an apology for ruining his brother’s wedding. The tagline reads, “Together, we make togetherness.” It’s surprisingly real and you find yourself drawn to the flawed character much more than you would if everything was perfect from the start. Speaking of which…

HP’s Togetherness

HP tries to make the same point, but in reverse. Everything starts out fine. An extended family happily gathers for the holidays. As the evening goes on, they watch divisive political news and the two sisters at the center of the film get into a heated debate. Finally, the homeowner sister yells at her other sister to leave. Of course, they make up at the end, thanks to some sort of beautifully printed apology, but the story is so obvious and literal that it falls flat.

Air New Zealand’s A Very Merry Mistake

This spot takes something that often divides people – language and accents – and turns it on his head with hilarious results. A Scottish-accented Santa keeps messing up the wishes of kids from New Zealand because he can’t decipher their Kiwi accents. That is, until some helpful Air New Zealand flight attendants arrive to save the day. Simple. Silly. Totally distinctive.

Samsung’s Giving Is a Gift to Be Shared

A diligent doorman in an apartment complex works around the clock to ensure all of his tenants are happy for whatever holiday they are preparing to celebrate – Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas or the Chinese New Year. He always goes the extra mile without expecting anything in return. One kid notices that while spending so much time catering to others, he has neglected to take care of his own needs – i.e., updating his very outdated phone. In the end, all the tenants come together to give him something he will truly appreciate – a new Samsung phone. Having the product as a key plot element seems a bit on the nose, but the beautiful film and spot-on performances give this spot a magical feel.

Macy’s The Wrong Size

In this slightly different take on bringing people together, Mom is out shopping with her teenage son and notices him eyeing the girl behind the counter. Cut to Christmas morning as he opens his gifts, all of which are somehow the wrong size. “Guess you’ll have to return them,” Mom says, and we end on the boy talking to the girl in the store. A small, relatable story, well told.

NBA on ESPN’s Santa Claus

Admittedly this is a bit of a stretch on the theme, but I just love these spots featuring NBA stars Ben Simmons, J.R. Smith, John Wall, Nick “Swaggy P” Young and Bradley Beal sitting on Santa’s lap. Pure deadpan comic genius.

Here’s hoping you bring together the people that matter most to you this holiday season. Happy Holidays and we’ll see you next year!

Jim Lansbury is Founder and Chief Creative Officer at RP3 Agency, a Capitol Communicator sponsor.

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