The One Gift Santa Can’t Deliver

And What’s So Great About This ad

Stu Coston

Stu Coston

Co-founder

Most ads with Santa show a happy, jolly, white-bearded man with a contagious belly laugh. In our minds Santa is always clean , wearing a vibrant red suit, and surrounded by excited children. 

This ad by the International Committe of the Red Cross throws almost all of that away.

The suit is still red but it’s very dirty. Santa is skinny, worried, and surrounded by gunfire instead of happy children. Santa is wandering through a war zone in search of a girl separated from her family in this haunting ad by Adam & Eve/DDB.

“While most children eagerly anticipate Christmas for its celebrations and gifts, hundreds more live a life far removed from this ideal because of conflict, migration or natural disaster,” – ICRC Commitee

“The ICRC is currently looking for more than 100,000 people who have been parted from their families by armed conflict or violence.” – PRWeek.com

“The committee overturns typical holiday marketing tropes to raise awareness of its work reuniting missing people with their families across the world.” – ChiefMarketer.com

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Why this ad is so good

There is no doubt that we will see Santa and his helpers in all kinds of commercials and ads this season, but none will punch you in the gut like this one. In this ad, we’re not overwhelmed with warm and fuzzies, but rather empathy and a sense of responsibility to our fellow humans.

Scene 1

Without a single word, the viewer feels anxious waiting to see what’s going to happen with Santa. Our attention is immediately captured by the counter-intuitive aspects of Santa. Bullets and Santa never enter our minds at the same time. Seeing Santa in a warzone first makes us more curious and keep watching the next scene. 

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Scene 2

Next, we see people running out of a building screaming while Santa is running in. This ad keeps us engaged again by making us curious about what’s in there, curious about why Santa is going inside, and curious about what’s going to happen to him once he’s in.

Further tapping on the contradictory expectations of our Santa, we watch him walk in the front door rather than dropping in through the chimney. 

Searching frantically throughout the building, it looks like he might be questioning his decision to enter the building. But determined to find what the viewer assumes is probably a child in need or a lost toy, Santa presses on. 

Scene 3

A tired and dirty Santa finally finds her. A sad little girl, curled up alone on a rug with tears in her eyes. This is only time we see a smile from Santa as he gently walks over and holds her hand. But in an instant, the video cuts to a new angle and Santa isn’t actually there.

Santa can’t help this little girl.  Her Christmas wish will not come true. 

Hope is lost. 

This is where we realize what the only gift Santa can’t deliver is — family. “The only gift some children want this Christmas is their family.”

Punch Line

Immediately after our hearts have sunk and we’ve realized how many children are in this exact same situation without any glimmer of hope, we see a little girl reuniting with her mother as a man wearing a shirt with a big Red Cross steps out of his van in the background. Subliminally, the viewer associates hope with the Red Cross.

Adam & Eve/DDB end the ad by clearly and concisely explaining exactly how the International Committee of the Red Cross is the glimmer of hope for so many children in just 1 sentence – “Every year we reunite hundreds of family’s torn apart by conflict, migration, and natural disaster.” 

Thank you Red Cross for reuniting families, and thank you Adam & Eve/DDB for crafting an ad that tells the stories of so many families so well. 

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