The Spot: Cuckoo for Christmas

Maria Bamford is back as Target's demented Black Friday superfan in Wieden + Kennedy's latest holiday ads

GENESIS: Black Friday is lunacy—a stressful start to a stressful season. Advertisers pretend otherwise, wrapping holiday-sale messaging in anodyne platitudes about joy, love, and savings. Shoppers know better, and Target saw a chance to be honest with them. So, in 2009, the retailer and Wieden + Kennedy introduced one of the most hilariously odd advertising characters of all time: the Christmas Champ. Portrayed with frighteningly manic intensity by Maria Bamford, she's the world's biggest superfan of Christmas—and of Target, whose 2-Day Sale (Black Friday and the day after) represents her retail Super Bowl. Determined to "win" Christmas, the Champ returns this month for a third holiday season with 12 kooky new spots. "She represents the whole notion of Black Friday being a contact sport," says Dustee Jenkins, vp of communications at Target. "Love her or hate her, she resonates with our guests."

COPYWRITING: The new spots go deeper into the Christmas Champ's mad world. She makes her own glitter, quotes from The Art of War, flirts with an electric Santa, and bakes gingerbread men—one of whom, in a spasm of lust, she bites into, then spits out in horror. The agency wrote scripts but gave Bamford room to improvise. "We've stumbled into a lot of great stuff by letting her play around," says creative director Rob Thompson. The humor is sophisticated—the campaign comes close to ridiculing the very shoppers it's targeting, and at times feels like a wry critique of holiday consumerism gone berserk. Thompson says Black Friday shoppers can laugh at themselves, and relate to the character on some level, while also seeing her as a caricature. "In a weird way, I think she makes people feel a little less nuts, to see someone who carries it that far," he says. Those who don't get her, he adds, probably aren't the ones who are crazy enough themselves to wait in the cold at 4 a.m. for a store to open.

ART DIRECTION: The agency shot the new spots over two days in Portland, Ore. The production design is elaborately absurd, with the house wonderfully overdecorated to match the character's personality. Presents, ribbons, bows, and Christmas trees are everywhere. "She probably has 50 stockings hanging, even though she might not even have 50 friends," says creative director Don Shelford.

TALENT: W+K wrote the character without anyone in mind, but wanted a comedian who could improvise. Eric Erickson, the former creative director at Target, suggested Bamford, who grew up in Minnesota (where Target is based) and had done a skit in which she visits Target with her mother. "She has a pretty intense style of comedy, and that lent itself to the manic nature of people obsessed with Black Friday," says Thompson.

SOUND: Cheery holiday music plays in most of the spots—a counterpoint to the character's mania. "It's the music she probably listens to at the gym," says Shelford.

MEDIA: The new spots are running online. For TV, Target is using five spots from last year (directed by Wayne McClammy of Hungry Man), hoping to get more mileage out of them. The character is on Twitter at @ChristmasChamp, engaging with fans more than ever—even sending them props from the ads as gifts (one got her red tracksuit). She also claims to have built goofy single-serving holiday websites, including howlonguntilthetarget2daysale.com, howmanypeoplehavebeentothissite.com, isittooearlytohangchristmaslights.com and whatdoesapanflutemadeoutofcandycanessoundlike.com. "We were amused by the thought that she might want to bring more Christmas to the Internet," says Thompson. "These are her little gift cards to the Web."