Even Santa Claus Has His Limits in This Powerful Red Cross Ad About Families in Crisis

Adam&eveDDB highlights one of the most difficult gifts to give

Santa navigates a war zone to find a child who has one wish this Christmas. adam&eveDDB

Some kids ask Santa Claus to bring them toys for Christmas. Others want the latest high-tech gadgets, video games, books or clothes.

But the girl we meet in adam&eveDDB’s stirring spot for the International Committee of the Red Cross makes a request that proves impossible for Kris Kringle to fulfill.

Irving Berlin’s “Happy Holiday”—tinny and ominous—propels the cinematic 100-second film that takes place in a war zone. Smoke fills the air from the burned-out husks of cars as a familiar bearded figure walks into view. His red-and-white garments are disheveled and caked with grime. Looking far from jolly, he strides past soldiers firing weapons and civilians fleeing for their lives.

In a damaged house he finds a girl, traumatized, sitting on some blankets that cover the filthy floor. As they clasp hands, we discover the one gift Santa can’t deliver:

A stirring shot of the girl alone in the room—her arm outstretched as if holding Santa’s hand, but with Father Christmas nowhere in sight—tells us that his visit took place in her mind.

As the image fades, a message flashes on screen: “The only gift some children want this Christmas is their family.” Reunion footage at the ad’s conclusion provides hope without completely dispelling the carefully crafted atmosphere of desperation.

Adam&eveDDB strove to create a film that would cut through the seasonal schmaltz and show what Christmas is like for kids separated from their loved ones. “We love how they subverted festive tropes we’re used to seeing from brands, to remind us of the thousands of families around the world separated due to conflict, migration or natural disasters,” says ICRC communications manager Jenni Smout.

Working with director Gary Freedman, the agency delivers a memorable meditation on a heartbreaking global problem—and puts our comparatively safe, peaceful holidays into stark perspective.

Client: International Committee of the Red Cross
Brand: Restoring family links
Project name: The one gift Santa can’t deliver
Client: Jenni Smout, Communications Manager
Chief Creative Officer: Richard Brim
Executive Creative Directors: Ant Nelson & Mike Sutherland
Copywriter: Mike Sutherland
Art Director: Ant Nelson
Agency Project Manager: Amy Waldman
Head of Film – Ben Sharpe
Agency Producer: Rosie Grayson
Planner: Hannah Mackenzie
Business Director: Mike Stern
Account Director: Emily Stewart
Designer/Typographer: Scott Silvey
Media agency: Client in house
Media planner: Client In house
Director: Gary Freedman
Production company: Independent
Executive Producer: Jani Guest/Verity White
Producer: Jacob Swan Hyam
Cinematographer: same as the DOP
D.O.P: Benoit Soler
Editing Company: The Play Room
Editor: Adam Spivey
Post Production: MPC
Post Producer: Grace Thorpe & Phil Whalley
VFX Supervisor: Dan Lorenzini
2D Artist: Dan Lorenzini, Jack Stone, Fraser Cleland
Colourist: Matthieu Toullet
Social versioning: Gutenberg Global
Music Supervisor: Leland Music
Audio Post Production: Wave Studios
Music Supervision: Leland Music Ltd
Music Supervisor: Codie Childs
Song: Happy Holiday
Composer: Irving Berlin
Artist: Frankie Vaughan
Record Label: Pickwick Group
Publisher: Universal Music Publishing

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@DaveGian davegia@hotmail.com David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.