Delta and Virgin Tell a Peculiar Christmas Story About a Dead Yak, Socrates and Karate

The return of the Prodigal Brother

Headshot of Angela Natividad

You know the fun uncle or auntie? The one Mom or Dad vaguely hate, but children love the most—especially when they’re too young to understand how utterly irresponsible their parents think this human being is?

“The Prodigal Brother,” released by Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic, is about that guy. Created by Figliulo&Partners, and marking the first joint holiday campaign from the partner companies, it follows an unwelcome visitor who debarks on his brother’s family home, to the delight of the latter’s young kids.

Because presents are how you show love on Christmas—especially when you’re rarely around—the kids demand their just due. What do they get? Three identical adult-sized red scarves.

Worst. Gift. Ever. But like all fun uncles and aunts, Prodigal Brother knows how to sing for his supper.

In silence, Mom and Dad endure the man’s story about why these scarves are actually an epic treasure. Say what you want about a tale involving siblings lost in the Andes, who find a sherpa, who cuts open a yak for them to sleep in, who later dies, but who has taught them karate, which they will ultimately need to survive the day that follows—the kids are nevertheless captivated. Plus, he’s taught them a few critical things:

• Socrates is smart. Look that guy up.
• You really can use another animal’s innards for survival if ever you’re trapped in hostile climes. Leo did it, and The Revenant turned out better for him than Titanic … so who are we to argue?
• Moths are the greatest enemies of wool (handy scarf-care tip! It took us decades to learn that).
• It never hurts to learn a martial art.

None of this is really the point of the ad, however. This comes later. Perhaps predictably, Prodigal Brother winds his tale down and weaves in a bit about loving your siblings always, even if one (him) shows up on your doorstep after his girlfriend’s shafted him, also having never apologized for having ruined your (Dad’s) wedding.

I would not personally call this an apology. But because this is an ad, and it’s holiday time, and the overarching theme of all holiday ads is Togetherness, the kids are mollified by their crap gift and the adults wrap things up with a group hug.

“Together, we make togetherness,” this 3:30 colossus concludes. Fade to logos.

“Christmas advertising is filled with big, emotional storytelling. We wanted to deliver that feeling, so we went with the classic Christmas story about a dead yak, a magic spider, Socrates and karate,” says Scott Vitrone, partner and chief creative officer of F&P.

Delta and Virgin hoped to break some marketing category rules with this piece, which notably features no airline porn—unless you count the gift bag the scarves came in. We wouldn’t call that a plus, though; a gift straight out of some equivalent of a Skymall catalog is our favorite way of saying, “I think about you almost never!”

But in its own funny way, the ad’s job is to illustrate that “traveling to be with family and friends is what matters most during the holiday season,” per Corneel Koster, Delta’s svp of Europe, Middle East, Africa and India.

“With over 40 nonstop daily flights and more than 200 connections between the U.S. and the U.K., combined with our industry leading operational performance, the partnership between Delta and Virgin Atlantic makes it easier and more enjoyable for our customers to get together with their loved ones.”

And it marks just the first installment in a longer marketing journey that the brands plan on taking together. “As partners, we’re excited to co-create a better experience for our shared customers and a brighter, flying future,” says Virgin Atlantic svp of marketing Claire Cronin.

“The Prodigal Brother” was directed by Tim Godsall, whose reel includes ads for Old Spice, Southern Comfort and ESPN. The campaign will run in the U.S. and the U.K. through Dec. 25 in :15, 2:10 and full-length variants. It will also be shared across Delta and Virgin’s social channels, and on on-demand video in the U.K.

Clients: Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic

Creative Agency: Figliulo & Partners
CEO/Partner: Mark Figliulo
CCO/Partner: Scott Vitrone
Head of Production/Partner: Robert Valdes
President/Partner: Judith Carr-Rodriguez
Head of Strategy/Partner: Caroline Krediet
Creatives: Kerry Keenan, Ian Reichenthal, Scott Vitrone
Executive Producer: Jill Landaker Grunes
Director of Integrated Business Affairs: Sara Jagielski
Account Director: Kristin Postill
Account Supervisor: Rafa Husain
Group Project Manager: Amy Blitzer

Production Company: Anonymous Content and OPC
Director: Tim Godsall
Executive Producer: Eric Stern
Head of Production: Kerry Haynie
Line Producer: Merrie Wasson
Director of Photography: Andreé Pineaar
Production Designer: Jay Pooley
Production Services Company: OPC
Executive Producers: Harland Weiss, Donovan Boden, Isil Gilerdale
Production Manager: Scott Rudderham

Post Production Facility: Final Cut
Editor: Patrick Colman
Assistant Editor: Geoff Hastings
Head of Production: Penny Easley
Executive Producer: Sarah Roebuck

Colorist: Tim Massick – Company 3
Visual FX: Dirk Greene + Betty Cameron
Sound Mixer: Terressa Tate

Music Supervision: Future Perfect / Little Ears
Music Supplier #1: BMG Production Music
Music Title & Artist #1: “Deck the Halls” by The Craig Gildner Sextet feat. Tony Liberto & The Liberto Sisters
Music Supplier #2: Sony Music (Master)
Warner Chappell Publishing (Publisher)
The Music Sales Group (Publisher)
Music Title & Artist #2: “There’s No Christmas Like a Home Christmas” by Perry Como

@luckthelady Angela Natividad is a frequent contributor to Adweek's creativity blog, AdFreak. She is also the author of Generation Creation and co-founder of Hurrah, an esports agency. She lives in Paris and when she isn't writing, she can be found picking food off your plate.