The Christmas ad that cost £7.99 (plus delivery)
4 Dec 2020
We codenamed it Project Edgar, after the dragon in the John Lewis ad. Now everyone assumes Edgar's the name of the little boy in #LetterToSanta.
In fact he’s Ashton. He's my son and he’s eight years old. He reckons he’ll soon be internet-famous. The ad also stars my arm and my partner Sarah's torso, but we don’t have similar aspirations of fame.
I’m Terry, Creative Lead here at LifeSearch. And this is the story of the Christmas ad that wasn't. And then the one that was, at a cost £7.99 (plus delivery).
Scene #1 – Take #1
We first tabled the idea of making a LifeSearch Christmas advert in early in 2020. As a company we've never gone this route so it was pretty exciting. Me - I've made videos, podcasts and animations but never a proper, full-production advertising piece.
If 2020 had rolled on as planned, we'd have probably done what others do - use an expensive agency. Major brands generally engage big-name production teams and sink six zeros (or more) into their Christmas campaigns.
We were about to dig in when March hit. Lockdown. Unprecedented became the word of the moment. Trying to storyboard and collaborate via Zoom calls was bad enough but with travel and physical contact limited, we couldn't commit locations, talent and timings to the diary.
We persevered for a bit. But the ups and downs of the situation meant circumstances weren't in our favour. We didn't want to blow time and budget on something second-rate. So we knocked it on the head.
Scene #2 – the lightbulb
Project Edgar was shoeboxed and filed away. Fingers crossed we could wipe the dust off for Christmas 2021, but in truth it was largely forgotten. We had life in a pandemic to contend with. Fast forward a few months of lockdown-living.
As things eased up in late summer, a conversation with Ashton flicked a switch in my head. He was poised to go back to school so I'd asked him if he was excited about returning to some kind of normality.
I was taken aback … he told me he was enjoying lockdown.
He'd loved (and hated) spending every day with his mum and dad. He looked forward to Joe Wicks PE in the morning. He liked baking cakes. He was fine with school in his own space.
Through a child's eyes, lockdown was something else. He'd had a blast. But kids are also perceptive creatures. Ashton caught enough news and chatter to understand that the situation was unusual and worrying.
Speaking with other parents and we realised Ashton wasn't alone. As much as us big people kept brave face on it, the littler ones picked up on the stress vibes ...
It was more accident than design but right then and there … we had something real. We had a concept, a story, a thought-provoking idea. We had something genuine and relatable and perfect. We had a Christmas ad.
Scene #3 – Take 2
Lockdown through a child's eyes … it was a concept we could practically execute too. By September/ October my home town of Liverpool was ground zero for new restrictions as the second wave crashed hard.
Same as back in March, any far-out production ideas would be practically impossible. So it was quickly clear what we had to play with: me, my house, my family and whatever set-pieces I could order online. Turned out I only needed one.
Instead of throwing zeros at an advert, we gave them away. No agencies, no drama, no cost - just a nice Christmas donation to Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Children’s Charity, an organisation we've supported all through Covid.
Star of the show
Sarah wasn't up for playing Santa Claus… I tried. But Ashton was a dream - he nailed it. The entire ad was storyboarded, filmed, edited and produced in about a month.
The budget? £7.99 (plus delivery) for the Christmas tree bauble in the closing shot. Bit pricey, ask me.
I wanted to capture lockdown from that wonderful, child's vantage point. The innocence of seeing it not as turmoil but as a year-long adventure alongside the sacrifice of wanting to give that adventure up to help out mum and dad. The message for the big people comes through too – 2020 has been a crash course in what matters and what if.
I think of our Christmas ad, #LetterToSanta, as the little engine that could. It was the ad that demanded to be made, the story that wanted to be told. It took a conversation with my eight-year-old to light the fuse.
No production budget, no actors. Just me in my Liverpool terrace; my son acting his little socks off.
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