For most people in the U.K., Christmas is a big deal, full of food, friends and family. But for many of the elderly, it’s a day just like any other. A lonely one.
A new ad from nonprofit Age U.K. seeks to raise support for senior citizens around the holidays. In it, an old man named John repeats his daily routine—getting out of bed, getting dressed, having a morning cup of tea, walking to the grocery store, walking home, settling into a recliner to watch TV before turning in.
The seasons change in the background. Birds sing in the spring; neighbors spray their kids with garden hoses in the summer; the leaves turn as trick-or-treaters go door-to-door, squealing with glee. Eventually, John drags himself through the snow to the supermarket, only to find the parking lot desolate.
“No one should have no one,” reads the onscreen tagline, tying the PSA into an ongoing campaign from the organization.
Created by agency Drum and directed by Philippe Andre, the minute-long ad is a deft piece of filmic storytelling. It conveys the man’s loneliness with incredible efficiency through subtly shifting scenery and other heartbreaking details—John might get a friendly smile from the checkout clerk, but nothing in the way of substantive contact—all while a happy couple is joking in line behind them.
Passersby on the street blankly go about their business—jogging, texting, talking. His neighbors seem not to even realize the man exists.
Key to the ad’s success, meanwhile, is the voiceover, delivered in the style of the greeting on John’s answering machine. Hesitant and pleading from the get-go, he keeps changing it, trying alternate combinations in increasingly desperate hopes someone will actually leave him a message—no one does.
That angle is particularly powerful in light of one of Age U.K.’s many services—putting volunteers on the phone with older people for weekly “befriending” calls. It’s the sort of small gesture that illustrates the kind of crushing isolation the population in question might be facing.
Some 1.4 million older people in England say Christmas is a day that just passes them by, reports marketing website The Drum (not to be confused with the agency behind the new ad). And that’s just one data point speaking to the larger issue.
Media shop Manning Gottleib OMD is also involved in the campaign, expanding its reach through a partnership with Channel 4, as well as through digital billboards, and on social media, with messages carefully timed to maximize impact during the busy holiday advertising season.
All in all, it seems like a better way to address the problem than one German supermarket’s dark take about how elderly men should get their distant offspring to visit for Christmas. Though that brand, to be fair, has taken a less bleak approach on yuletide this year … everything being relative.