[Who stole Christmas] Vlad Boerasu: The Christmas gift voucher giver is the real modern Grinch
There are several clichés that bother Vlad Boerașu, Creative Strategist, Minio Studio. And he doesn’t shy away from saying that no matter how much we enjoy holiday meals with family, someone will still annoy us. In fact, that’s pretty much what he says Romanians do at Christmas: meet, eat, have fun and annoy each other. Naturally, we’re talking to a Grinch.
But Vlad can always get emotional if he sees a dragon who manages to make a friend and is invited to the Christmas table. It’s his favourite John Lewis ad of the season. Because we’ve been talking about favourite spots, what’s hot in this year’s festive campaigns, and how their creative process differs:
Christmas campaigns, unlike the rest of the year, allow you to draw more on personal experience: because most want to create a special atmosphere, it can become much more relevant to think back to childhood experiences and the general mood of wonder.
Vlad goes on to tell us about how he does his research, how he negotiates inspiration, the excitement of Londoners at the holidays and the December atmosphere in the office.
Campaniile de Crăciun în 2021 sunt mult mai funcționale, tacticizate, mai ales că am văzut puține branduri care chiar au făcut lucruri în mod special pentru această perioadă. Pandemia a reușit să lovească tare în tradiția comunicării de Sărbători, care oricum era mai puțin dezvoltată față de Vest.
Suntem curioși să vedem cu ce ne vor provoca clienții noștri în perioada următoare. Iar campaniile care urmează în decembrie sunt o provocare în sine, prin restricțiile generate de perioada pe care o trăim.
Christmas campaigns in 2021 are much more functional, tactical, especially as we’ve seen few brands actually doing things specifically for the period. Pandemic managed to hit hard on the tradition of holiday communications, which was less developed than in the West anyway.
We’re curious to see what our customers will challenge us with in the coming period. And the campaigns coming up in December are a challenge in themselves, with the restrictions of the time of year.
This year’s trends
From what we’ve seen so far, brands have been looking for ways to ease the tension of a second year of having to enjoy the holidays with restrictions. More relaxed in illustrating people-to-people contact, which last year wasn’t even an issue, they’re keeping a responsible message of social distancing.
At IKEA, for example, it’s about finding other ways to enjoy contact without losing sight of the importance of contact itself.
Coca-Cola is even more relaxed about communication: it dramatizes the efforts of organizing a no-touch Christmas holiday, but the most important moment – the Christmas meal – is physically with loved ones.
To me, they are perfect examples of adaptability to context, whatever that context may be. But at the same time, I’d like to see more ownership in seasonal communication and not shying away from different topics. In my view, any topic is approachable, as long as you’re careful about how you do it.
Christmas campaigns in the pandemics
Like any campaign in a pandemic context, holiday campaigns are different: in BTL you can’t come meet-and-greet with Santa anymore, now he virtually greets you on Zoom, gift exchange is desirable without contact (the joy of stores offering gift vouchers) and so on.
One of the biggest challenges, I’d say, is how do you manage to keep a positive and cheerful spirit without ignoring the elephant in the room: the pandemic.
In the UK they’ve solved it creatively by treatment – few crowded places and humour: in Tesco’s Nothing’s Stopping Us TVC they even joke that Santa might be quarantined, but luckily he’s in charge at airport check-in. Obviously that’s what the whole endeavour is about, no matter what, Brits don’t want to give up their Christmas and do whatever it takes to make it happen.
Christmas campaigns, unlike the rest of the year, allow you to draw more on personal experience: because most want to create a special atmosphere, it can become much more relevant to think back to childhood experiences and general state of wonder.
The research is very simple: the same as the rest of the year, except you’re listening to the Hrușcă. Besides, part of the research is to see how other industries solve similar problems.
On an insight level, I find it very important to empathise with the period and not just the target audience. That means you want, you don’t, you take out the November beers, in town only mulled wine is an option, and at home they no longer clink prosecco, but boiled peppered brandy.
Unlike Santa Claus, inspiration doesn’t know to come until it wants to. But, if you want to fire it up the chimney of your creations, start with UK campaigns because the market there is braver than the local market and go as far as searching forums about Romanian traditions.
And if it really doesn’t want to come, although it should, you look for tensions in Romanian society that can be addressed contextually at Christmas.
There are also tools you can use: we at Minio integrate elements of design thinking to overcome inspiration bottlenecks. We organise ourselves in mixed teams (creative, account and strategist) and brainstorm where everyone is free to have their own input.
This is my first Christmas at Minio and… Well, our colleague Ana Velea was waiting for us with a decorated tree, tinsel everywhere and she was as magical as Santa Claus: she teleported on the night of 5 to 6 December and brought some of Santa’s presents to the office.
All in all we are happy to see each other again, we work hybrid: the first week of the month is at the office and until the end of the month at home. Otherwise, we gobble lots of sweets and fuel our conversations with dad jokes: basically, we’re all getting ready for Christmas dinner with our families.
Coolest Christmas memory
Not necessarily a memory, more of an experience: we caught a Christmas in London. I was absolutely amazed by the hustle and bustle and light on Oxford Street and the effort everyone was putting into the winter holidays: all the shops were trying to be festive, each in their own way, and people had turned into a mass of Christmas jumpers (there’s Christmas Jumper Day there, and people really do keep up with it).
Best Christmas advert
Obviously any from John Lewis. But of them all, my favourite is the 2019 one made in partnership with Waitrose, Show them how much you care, featuring the Edgar Dragon.
I’m both a fantasy fan and interested in history, so a dragon who is misunderstood, but manages to make a friend who also invites him to Christmas dinner, then managed to give me that festive and hopeful air.
Basically all that are used for more than 3 years, but I have a special place in my heart for a few. I’ll even explain what’s wrong with them.
Santa coming down the chimney: less used, though (some have thought of teleporting him like in Star Trek), but it’s annoying because in Romania, Santa doesn’t come down any chimney. And the Christmas tree doesn’t really stand next to the fireplace either. In our communist blocks, Santa simply appears, which makes him all the more magical.
The smell or taste that lures relatives to the table and the joy of spending time with loved ones: yes, we enjoy sitting down with family at the table. A few hours, a day at most, after which we remember what annoys us about our siblings, parents ask when we’re getting married, and couples get name suggestions for their first-born – which are taking longer and longer to appear.
The problem with them is that they’re outdated and overused. Not to mention that many have been taken over as form without substance.
Craziest Christmas campaign idea rejected
It’s not mine, I’ve heard it myself, but I really wish this trend of fair representation in advertising would translate to BTL holiday activations. Even though we’ve progressed in recent years and Santa has been represented by an older person, we still have a problem with elves – they’re a bit tall for my taste and their ears are questionably short.
Grinch or Carols of September
I’m a mix of grinch and carols, in the sense that I’d suggest Santa put a pin in his cousin from Germany, Krampus, to pop up in various places.
For me, this time of year can be heartwarming, but at some point it gets nauseatingly overdone and repetitive altogether: the same 3 carols in English, the same reindeer ears on cars in town.
Yes, the ultimate Grinch answer!
What a Romanian Christmas means
To me, a Romanian Christmas tastes like warm rinds, is heard through the speakers of the Urban Bears and is spiced with tons of dad jokes. And obviously spiced alcohol, because you’re free and can go to bed at any time anyway.
I’ve picked up most of the communication themes, the reality at home is that Romanians do what they’ve always done: meet, eat, amuse and annoy each other.
Yes, sometimes we can go overboard with shopping and sometimes we actually forget why we do it: to show appreciation to others.
But overall, this drive to buy forces us to be more empathetic to others: because I have to buy something, I have no choice but to find out what they like, what they want, and so on.
Unless you send vouchers. The Christmas gift voucher giver is the true modern Grinch.
What do you like best at Christmas
Grandma’s warm cozonacii, from her own recipe with a Dobrogio influence, in which she puts lots of walnuts and the first glass of wine from her own harvest.
What you dream of in 2022
After 2 years of pandemonium, I wish for more freedom: to be able to travel abroad freely, to be able to sit more with my beer. Wishful thinking, yes.