Ben Mooge and Lynsey Atkin from Havas London describe the process behind creating the airport’s nostalgic flight through the ages
When London Heathrow Airport’s Christmas ad came out in 2016, introducing us to Edward and Doris Bair, it took everyone by surprise. Most people probably hadn’t thought of the airport as a brand, let alone one that competes with the department stores and supermarkets for the chance to be associated with the festive season. The elderly ursine couple were a roaring success, though, stimulating tear ducts the world over.
This year the Bairs are back. And the prequel film they’ve made to follow up on last years is a nostalgic treat, revealing the many decades of reunions that the airport has been host to. Flying in the face of difficult second album syndrome, Havas assembled the same team (Outsider’s DOM&NIC and The Mill’s VFX expertise) and might have even surpassed last year’s offering.
LBB’s Alex Reeves asked Ben Mooge, ECD, and Lynsey Atkin, Creative Director, at Havas for a peek behind the scenes of their festive epic.
LBB> How did you come to the decision to continue with the Bair family, rather than starting with a completely new concept?
BM & LA> In what’s been a sometimes contentious year for Heathrow (with expansion debates and public scrutiny), the Bairs had a massive, positive impact on the business internally. Heathrow had never had something so succinctly represent the sheer emotion that Heathrow reunions can bring. Our clients were therefore keen to bring them back for some feel-good fur a second time around.
LBB> Can you talk a bit about the effectiveness of the original campaign? I read that it worked wonders!
BM & LA> Last year’s Christmas ad came from nowhere, and racked up over 100 million organic views, spreading to the other side of the Atlantic (the US being a key Heathrow audience) and far beyond. In a playing field of department stores and supermarkets, we had a singular point of difference that we were only really ‘selling’ coming home to family at Christmas.
LBB> What was the key insight that fed into the idea for this year's story in order to take the idea forward?
BM & LA> The decision to go from sequel to prequel was quite an easy one. The most charming elements of last year’s campaign really came from the small moments Edward and Doris shared as they navigated the airport – the glances, the quiet understanding. You see a partnership of two people (bears!) that’s clearly been years in the making. By the end of last year’s ad, you knew they were parents, knew they were grandparents. But you didn’t quite know how they’d got there. The story brief quickly became not ‘what happens next?’, but very much ‘what happened before?’
In tandem with this was presenting Heathrow as the unique and unchanging element. It has played the same role in people’s moments of Christmas reunion for seventy years, and being able to ‘go back in time’ celebrates that.
LBB> How did you decide what what would be in the different nostalgic vignettes? There's a lot out there you could have drawn on!
BM & LA> Our story spans fifty years in just two minutes, meaning we needed to cut back to the same Arrivals area and Christmas tree each time to show the passage of time clearly. Art direction was key – a tree adorned with lametta in the ‘60s switches through the ‘70s and ‘80s to a red and gold ‘90s number to a white tree from the ‘00s (the decade condemned as the time taste forgot) meaning it was all about what gives the fastest visual read for each decade. The bears’ fashion evolutions are clear markers for the passage of time: from ‘70s Roger Moore Safari Suit; to the ‘80s Beastie Boys / Deely Boppers / TV AM jumpers and the ‘90s Stone Roses / Geri Halliwell - the Bair family shared all of our sartorial triumphs along the way.
LBB> Did you know the directors had to be DOM&NIC again, or did you consider others?
BM & LA> It was DOM&NIC all the way. No contest. Along with producers Kiri Carch and John Madsen plus of course Neil Davies and his ludicrously talented crew at The Mill - the same team just knew what to do and how to make furry magic.
LBB> What were the major challenges in writing the script and then in the production?
BM & LA> The script was the easier bit. Telling a story over 50 years in two minutes is fun, but you have to be economical with the writing and use call-backs and cut points smartly.
The production is the real challenge… especially with central characters who don’t employ facial expressions. The sheer logistics of the production, from sourcing original ‘60s aircraft, turning around the DC-10 aeroplane for a better angle, employing an entire collection of buses, vans and luggage transporters, then rebuilding an authentic mid-century arrivals area in a disused terminal, and finally bringing to life thirty different bears who change outfits, haircuts and age just like the rest of us. Just insane.
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