Can Spice Maker McCormick Recreate a Lost Family Recipe? R/GA Finds Out This Holiday

Savoring the spirit of Christmas past

For some folks, it's just not Christmas without Julekake. 

But, what if Grandma's special recipe for this sweet and savory seasonal bread from Norway has gotten lost in the mists of time, and your best efforts to replicate that particular flavor, texture and aroma don't quite rise to the occasion? 

In the nearly four-minute film below, Kristian Rex finds himself in this very predicament. Well into middle age, he fondly recalls the yuletide treat, but hasn't been able to savor a slice of proper Julekake—the kind his grandma used to make—since he was a boy. 

Luckily, his daughter Faye, spice maker McCormick & Co., and ad agency R/GA make the scene. They arrange for a visit from New York chef Daniel Holzman, who rattles the pots and pans in a heroic attempt to delight Kristian's tastebuds with a Sandinavian blast from the past. 

Will they send Kristian's palate on a sentimental journey of epic proportions? Check out the clip for the solution to this kitchen conundrum:

Cardamom, of course! That's what the mixture needed. It seems so obvious now.

Because this is a feel-good holiday campaign, a happy resolution was never really in doubt. (And it seems Kristian could've just experimented with recipes until he found one to his taste, instead of waiting 40 years for a celebrity chef to show up and figure it out, but whatever.)

"We were inspired by a bit of science," R/GA executive strategy director Jaime Klein Daley tells AdFreak. "It's a fact that smell is the main sense that directly links emotion and memory. That's why certain aromas can evoke a memory of decades past, and why our food rituals at holiday time are so important to us."

Like most good longish-form branded content, there's no overt sales hook. And spices are essential to the narrative, so the whole setup makes sense for McCormick.

"Many people have their own lost family recipe, so despite our primary audience being millennials, we felt many generations would connect with the idea of a lost recipe, from Gen-Z'ers to baby boomers," says R/GA associate creative director Troy Leyenaar. (Indeed, McCormick is inviting customers to share their own such experiences via social.)

As for the film, Holzman's role is crucial, Leyenaar says, "since we needed someone who'd be able to use flavor and aromas to trigger peoples memories, like a sketch artist."

Just before the three-minute mark, Kristian unfurls a recollection of playing in the snow at his grandmother's house, then coming in for some freshly baked Julekake. He closes his eyes and inhales deeply, as if breathing in the warm, reassuring scent of that long-ago time and place.

This particular show of emotion really passes the smell test. The overall mood gets a bit sugary, but never boils over into a treacly mess.

"Although you don't see it in the film, the lost Julekake recipe took a few attempts to actually get right," Leyenaar says. "There were tension points throughout the day as to whether we'd be able to rediscover the holiday bread. Yet, whether we got it exactly 100 percent perfect or not, we were able to help make his memories real thanks to the right spices, even if just for a short while."


Agency: R/GA New York

Client: McCormick & Company


Chief Executive Officer: Lawrence Kurzius

President North America: Brendan Foley

Group Vice President & Commercial Leader, U.S. Consumer Products Division: John Bennett

Vice President Marketing, US Consumer Products Division: Virginia Jordan

Business Director: James Seidl