Your Shot: Penny’s Epic Metaphorical Tale of Christmas Reconciliation
Christmas ads tend to fall into one of two categories. They can be jaunty, full of festivities, food and twinkly lights. Or they can push home a big, powerful, emotive message. This festive campaign for German supermarket Penny sits firmly in the second camp. Created by Serviceplan, the central element of the campaign is a two-minute film about reconciliation, directed by Stink’s Chiara Grabmayr. It’s a real cinematic beauty, opening on a fight between mother and daughter, before the mother embarks on a metaphorical journey through the most gruelling conditions before patching things up with her daughter.
LBB’s Addison Capper spoke with Serviceplan Campaign’s managing director for creation Christoph Everke and director Chiara to find out more.
LBB> What was the initial brief like from Penny and what were you thinking when you first saw it?
CHRISTOPH> Last year, Penny not only wanted us to talk about their strategy of ‘Closeness’, they also wanted to initiate something new by activating people and supporting them through their paths of reconciliation. It’s as simple and open as that.
LBB> And Chiara, what was the initial script like and why was it something you wanted to get involved in?
CHIARA> I immediately loved the idea. There were three things that stood out for me and made me really want to get the job, come what may:
The protagonist. This strong, brave yet gentle 60-year-old woman; The chance to visualise her inner fears and fight was a real opportunity and challenge. It was something I really wanted to create; The brilliant twist at the end of the story.
After talking to the agency, I knew that together we could create a film that would make you want to reconcile with a loved one; I loved that goal and ambition, that’s what storytelling is for!
LBB> It’s quite a powerful subject matter! And, ultimately, quite negative to begin with. Christoph, what inspired that route?
CHRISTOPH> In the end there were two perspectives on the brief. On the one hand, we thought about Christmas and what Christmas really means – peace and love in their most personal and fundamental meanings. On the other hand, we thought about themes everybody has in mind by the end of the year – looking back and thinking about what was good or bad, about relationships, family and friends.
LBB> How much of the creative came from personal experiences?
CHRISTOPH> When we saw the script for the first time, everybody had a very personal story relating to the theme. That was a very personal moment – even in an atmosphere where we’re used to talking about emotions. And this made it clear very quickly and with no discussion: we had to follow this route.
LBB> There’s the whole idea of reconciliation but then you’ve also got the big, metaphorical journey to get there. Did this part of the idea go through any other iterations or was it always part of the plan?
CHRISTOPH> The idea was written down in two or three sentences and it never changed to the end of the process, which is a great sign for the power of the basic idea. But of course, we worked it out further. For example, we had to figure out how the metaphorical story, ‘The Inner Path’, was told and the background story of the older lady and the reason for the fight she had.
LBB> How does this kind of campaign reflect the Penny brand?
CHRISTOPH> Four years ago Penny started to communicate the brand core value of ‘closeness’ (to their employees and customers) at least once a year. But it was never ‘only’ communication. The most important aspect was not only to talk about it, but also to literally do something, to give and to activate – starting with a big campaign to say ‘thank you’ to each employee in 2015, then bringing customers together for Christmas in 2016 and, now, bringing closeness to families, neighbours and friends with the support of a special gift we give away for free to anybody who wants to reconcile. You can only open it together with the person who gave it to you.
LBB> I’m intrigued to know if there was any reasoning behind making the ad about a mother and daughter? Obviously other relations can relate, but was there specific reasoning?
CHRISTOPH> We wanted to tell a story as close as possible to situations that people can understand, feel and relate to. Chiara, the director, came up with the idea of the mother and daughter in the first meeting we had, and with the situations she wanted to tell on the inner journey, and everybody was caught by this interpretation from the start. As we can see in many comments, people transfer this specific story to their own lives and relationships.
LBB> Why was Chiara the right director for this job?
CHRISTOPH> First of all, Chiara came up with a wonderful interpretation and a very convincing way of sharing her thoughts with us. On the job itself she surprised me with her unbelievable power and her ability to get the best out of everybody. It’s amazing to see her working on a filmset.
LBB> Chiara, from a directorial aspect there’s a lot to fit into this spot, especially the changes of landscape. How did you ensure everything flowed well?
CHIARA> Oh yes, it was challenging to fit all the elements into one spot. When I tell a story I always try to envision it through the main character’s eyes and emotions. So we focused on the character’s inner world, the fight and her images of it. Her emotions became motions, which dictated the camera movements and framing.
LBB> There are some big, cinematic shots too - how did you achieve these? How much did you capture in camera?
CHIARA> Thank you. We tried to shoot everything on set and in camera because, for me, this is the best way to catch true atmospheric moments. I believe that if you can capture the beauty of nature, its inner essence, then magic will always transmit into the shots. We were really lucky with the weather conditions and locations we found in Ukraine.
LBB> I can imagine the casting was especially important for this spot. Why were the two protagonists right for the job? The elder mother goes through some quite gruelling conditions!
CHIARA> Yes, for this spot it was very important to find great actors. There were a lot of demanding acting requests, and a lot of bravery was asked of the actress playing the mother. We looked at a lot of women to finally find the perfect match: Eunice Roberts. She is a wonderful actress and she was also honest about her swimming skills. I liked that she said to me, “I can try to do it but there is a big chance I cannot. So you’d better take someone else.” From that moment I knew I wanted to work with her.
That honesty was refreshing and an essential base for a trustful collaboration, which is needed when you want your actors to dive into a pitch black pool beneath an ice surface with just one way out, hold their breath for as long as possible and then act.
Imagine doing all of that when you are 60? That’s bad-ass! Kudos to Eunice.
LBB> What were you trying to achieve with the overall colour palette and aesthetic of the spot?
CHIARA> We wanted to achieve a cinematic but natural look that indicated to the audience that they were watching a film, not a just a commercial. The story was worth making into a short film. We had a fantastic opportunity to show this 60-year-old woman’s inner journey, and the heroic battle that she undertakes - so that was how Danny Hiele, the DOP, and I approached it.
LBB> Where did the shoot take place and how long was the shoot?
CHIARA> We shot in the Ukraine. Our service production was Radioaktive - they did a brilliant job. In total we shot for three days. Two days around Kiev and one day in the Carpathian Mountains.
LBB> What are your most memorable moments from the shoot?
CHIARA> The most memorable moment was definitely when we all, the whole crew, agency and client, were standing at the top of the Carpathian Mountains overlooking the endless panorama.
The sun was about to go down. The sky looked like it was burning and the clouds were forming to become a massive storm. This spectacle of nature, it was perfect, it was just what we’d wished to shoot for that final image of our heroine’s journey. Everything happened within 30 minutes. That beautiful, energetic, yet melancholic atmosphere was something we will all remember; it was something that only nature could create.
LBB> What were the trickiest components during the development of the campaign and how did you overcome them?
CHRISTOPH> I’d say the trickiest shot was the water scene. We did it in a public swimming pool and used a special kind of wax that looked like ice.
Another was the wolf. Firstly, we thought it would be nearly impossible to shoot with a real wolf but in the end, it turned out that the wolf was a beautiful, friendly grandmother wolf who wanted to make friends with the actress and the DOP. The problem was getting those rare, really wild looking moments and expressions. A third - and maybe the most difficult scene (for me) - was the moment the daughter opens the door and we follow the emotions of the two women and see what’s happening inside without overacting or being cheesy. In the end everybody did a great job.
LBB> How important is the Christmas advertising season in Germany in your opinion? Does it hold similar importance to, say, the UK?
CHRISTOPH> I think it has become more and more important over the last three years – through broader coverage with mobile phones and social networks and also due to some really great ads. But it’s still not yet as important as in the UK, even though I personally like the idea of a European ‘Christmas-ad Super Bowl’.
Category: Retail and restaurants , Supermarkets
Genre: Action , Scenic , Storytelling