A commercial for Cingular Wireless done in the style of “A Christmas Story,” a movie from 1983, with the main character getting a cellphone.
Shorthand for a Holiday: Ralphie, the BB Gun and the Flagpole
By STUART ELLIOTT
Published: November 27, 2006
AS the holiday shopping season begins, Madison Avenue is paying tribute to a movie that has become a perennial for the generations that grew up after popular Christmas films like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”
The movie is “A Christmas Story,” in which the humorist Jean Shepherd offers a rueful look back at his boyhood, circa 1940. The film presents the comic misadventures of Ralphie Parker, whose most fervent wish — nay, obsession — is to receive an “official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle” as a Christmas gift from his parents.
“A Christmas Story” was no huge success when it came out in 1983. Some were put off by its wry, even sardonic tone, so at odds with traditional holiday fare.
But in the last decade, the film has become as much a part of Christmas as “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and jokes about fruitcake. A big reason is the annual marathon showing by the TBS cable network, which starts each Christmas Eve; in 24 hours, the movie is shown a dozen times in a row.
In 2003, Macy’s, which figures centrally in “Miracle on 34th Street,” saluted “A Christmas Story” in a holiday window of its flagship store in Herald Square. This year in particular, advertisers and agencies are demonstrating how much the movie inspires them.
A commercial for Cingular Wireless by the Atlanta office of BBDO Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group, recreates the central narrative of the film in 30 seconds, replacing the BB gun that Ralphie desires with a cellphone.
Adults in the movie discourage Ralphie from insisting on the air rifle by declaring, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” In the commercial, the refrain becomes, “You’ll run the bill up.” A happy ending ensues when Ralphie’s parents buy him a prepaid Cingular cellphone, the GoPhone.
And among 20 whimsical holiday games that will be sponsored online by Office Max, the retail chain, one is called “Don’t Shoot Your Eye Out” (dontshootyoureyeout.com), featuring the “Red Wrangler authentic pump action saddle carbine” BB gun.
Another Office Max online game, “Stuck to a Pole” (stucktoapole.com), evokes a scene from “A Christmas Story” in which a classmate of Ralphie’s, Flick, gets his tongue stuck to a metal flagpole on a frigid day. The Office Max online games are created by a New York boutique agency, Toy.
The ads inspired by “A Christmas Story” are another example of the persistent interplay between advertising and popular culture. That interaction is becoming increasingly common as marketers seek to capture the attention of distracted consumers by infusing ads with entertainment value.
“We are always looking for ideas for holiday ads,” said Rich Wakefield, executive vice president and executive creative director at BBDO Atlanta, “and who in America hasn’t seen ‘A Christmas Story’?”
In creating the Cingular commercial, Mr. Wakefield said, BBDO Atlanta obtained rights from Time Warner, which owns “A Christmas Story,” and from the Shepherd estate. “It was one of the easiest shoots,” he said of the production of the spot. “We screened the movie and said, ‘Here’s the scene; let’s play it,’ and matched it shot for shot.”
Since the commercial began running on Nov. 14, “I’ve gotten a ton of great response,” Mr. Wakefield said, adding that the spot was scheduled to appear through the holidays.
The commercial for Cingular Wireless, a unit of AT&T and BellSouth, also seems popular with visitors to video-sharing Web sites. Comments on YouTube include presumably sincere remarks like “Best Christmas commercial this year” and “This is one funky parody.”
Bob Thacker, senior vice president for marketing and advertising at Office Max, recalled a popular promotional campaign some years ago when he worked at Target, centered on the 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“For the ‘greatest generation,’ ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was their ‘Christmas Carol,’ ” Mr. Thacker said, referring to the veterans of World War II. “The zeitgeist has changed.”
“Fun is a big part of what our culture is,” Mr. Thacker said, contrasting the humor of “A Christmas Story” with the sentiment of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The humorous approach of the online games helps the company “connect in a more meaningful way” with consumers, he said.
The online games, presented under the rubric “Spread the cheer. Office Max,” are being promoted in grass-roots fashion. The Web addresses are appearing in Office Max holiday circulars and bag stuffers, said Anne Bologna, partner and president at Toy, and on banner ads on Web sites like AOL, MSN and Yahoo.
The “Stuck to a Pole” game will have a page on two social-networking Web sites, Facebook and MySpace, she added. That game and three others will be the subject of teaser video clips to be available on youtube.com.
“An office-supply store as a gift destination wasn’t exactly an easy leap,” said Ari Merkin, partner and executive creative director at Toy. “If we were going to ask people to get a gift at Office Max, we felt we would have to start by doing a little giving of our own.”
The other games satirize various seasonal mainstays like themed apparel (myholidaysweater.com), snow globes (shaketheglobe.com) and meal choices (roastaturkey.com).
Several games are inspired by the nonhuman characters that populate the holidays, including reindeer (everythingsareindeer.com, reindeerarmwrestling.com) and elves (yougotelfed.com, elfyourself.com and elfinterviews.com).
This year’s marathon of “A Christmas Story” will begin on TBS at 8 p.m. Dec. 24. It will be the 10th annual presentation, said Ken Schwab, senior vice president for programming at TBS in Atlanta, part of the Turner Broadcasting System division of Time Warner.
The viewership during the marathon last year was the largest to date, Mr. Schwab said, as 45.4 million people tuned in during the 24 hours to watch all or part of the movie.
One reason TBS started the marathon, Mr. Schwab acknowledged, was that its parent owns the film. But a more compelling reason was that the movie has always “showed some recurring strength” in the ratings, he said. “We run thousands and thousands of movies, and usually ratings tend to drop off as they’re repeated,” Mr. Schwab said. “But the ninth time for ‘A Christmas Story’ was the most watched.”
He added that “it plays across all age groups,” because the older viewers appreciate the nostalgia and “the kids like a little bit of attitude.”
The marathon will be sponsored by the Weinstein Company, promoting the coming film “Arthur and the Invisibles.” Weinstein sponsored the 2005 marathon with commercials promoting the movie “Hoodwinked.”
Advertisers may like “A Christmas Story” because of all the brand names in the film. Besides Red Ryder, there are references to vintage products like Lifebuoy, Lux, Ovaltine, Palmolive and Tinker Toys.
And Ralphie’s traumatic confrontation with Santa Claus and his helpers takes place at Higbee’s, a department store that, alas, unlike Macy’s, is not around for Christmas 2006.
mercredi, novembre 29, 2006
Is nothing sacred?