The Deconstructed Brief



Brand: International Committee of the Red Cross
Agency: adam&eveDDB


According to Charity Navigator — the world’s largest evaluator of charities — charitable giving continues to rise: Over the past 30 years, contributions have risen almost every year (excluding 1987, 2008 and 2009), increasing by an average of almost nine billion dollars each year. This includes increases across almost all of the studied sectors, such as health and human services charities.

The only sector that saw declines? International charities — by almost 6 percent.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) needed to create an emotional donation message that captured the meaning of the season without falling into the trap of traditional holiday advertising: joyful images of young children receiving gifts, long-distance relatives reuniting or the simple happiness of a Christmas tree being lit for the first time.

Key insight

A gift not even Santa can deliver.

The idea:

At any given time, there are countries around the world at war. Currently, the Council on Foreign Relations is tracking 25 conflicts that either are, or could escalate to, war. Click here to see these global conflicts.

The ICRC is an organization dedicated to the aftermath that is left in these war-torn areas of our planet, no matter the political actions that led to the destruction. In today’s climate, we’re constantly hearing stories of children orphaned by acts of war or migrants fleeing their countries due to conflict. The ICRC is using this political strife as a platform for its own PSA, portraying its role in picking up the pieces post-destruction.

Given the amount of ad dollars that are dumped into mainstream media this time of year, the brand had to strike a direct tone to effectively break through the ad noise of the season. This resulted in a campaign that features Santa as the protagonist, but in a fashion that opposes how we’re used to seeing him.

The spot features a disheveled Santa stumbling through the rubble of a war zone as gunfire rips across his path, with a ghostly version of “Happy Holidays” as the soundtrack. As the spot progresses, he finds his way to the victim — a young, frightened girl sitting alone on the floor of a damaged apartment. As she reaches for his hand, Santa disappears, and we are presented with the purposeful reminder that, “The only gift some children want this Christmas is their family.”

At the close, we see the feel-good footage of our victim of war being reconnected with her family, brought together by a Red Cross representative. The spot is intended to be a bold awareness/affirmation campaign to remind the general public of the good the organization does, year-round, in all corners of the world.

So far, the spot has been well-received for its hard-hitting visuals and emotional message of giving to an organization that provides the one thing that Santa can’t: a reunited family in a struggling part of the world.

The campaign will run through New Year’s Eve in the U.S., Canada, France, the UK, Germany, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina and Peru. It has already received media coverage from publications in major cities across these countries.

What they said:

“The festive season is usually a time for family, gifts and celebration, but sadly, this is not the case for hundreds of children torn apart from their families by conflict and natural disaster. We wanted to create a film that showed what Christmas is like for these children. At the same time, we wanted to create something that would cut through the usual Christmas schmaltz,” said Mike Sutherland and Ant Nelson, executive creative directors at adam&eveDDB.

Lessons to be learned:

  • Be different. — It’s easy to fall into the same groove of traditional holiday advertising. Sometimes, the best way to stand out is with an alternate or  opposing view that brings messaging to the forefront. The ICRC created an emotionally jarring message that flips the spirit of the holidays on its head and captivates the audience by painting the holiday season in a different light, in a different world, opposing the way most Americans celebrate the holiday.

  • Create impact through emotion. — The brand embraced the darkness at the source of its existence to create a powerful and effective spot. Despite the terrible nature of the situation and the reason for the organization’s existence, the visceral honesty about its origins and the situations that its volunteers and victims face each day play a prominent role in the video’s success. The imagery of the classic childhood character of Santa Claus in juxtaposition with a war zone creates an instinctive reaction for viewers and forces them to contend with their reaction to an imaginary character in this situation versus the normalized — but much more detrimental — image of a child trapped in a warzone.

  • Show, don’t tell. — Making people care can be hard for nonprofits — especially international organizations like the ICRC that do not have a direct impact on donors’ communities. The ICRC uses a blatant demonstration of the issues its organization addresses on a daily basis to connect with viewers:

    • The ICRC is currently looking for more than 100,000 missing people worldwide — the most for the organization in more than 15 years. Its caseload represents just a fraction of missing people worldwide.

    • The impact of disappearances on individuals, families and communities at large is one of the most damaging and long-lasting humanitarian consequences of conflict, other situations of violence, migration and natural disasters.

    The advertisement closes on a clear connection between the ICRC and the solution to the situation — a direct exemplification of the causes to which viewers donate — making sure that the viewer isn't left wondering about what the brand does.

  • Don’t isolate your audience. — The ICRC addresses conflicts in over 80 countries around the world. The war-torn environment featured in the advertisement could be applied to a number of different situations and regions facing the effects of military violence. Its universality allows viewers to imagine the scenes as the source of any number of conflicts they read about in the news or see on TV, establishing a personalized connection that encourages donations.