Soft focus, subversive unease: how Greenpeace parodied the iconic Coca-Cola Christmas ad

Greenpeace’s latest film tackles ocean plastic pollution through spoofing a festive medium known to the entire Western world: the famed Coca-Cola Christmas ad, which each year spawns thousands of tiresome updates declaring “Now it’s Christmas!” after hitting TV screens. The familiarly tied up in the enduring creative made it “ripe for parody”, according to Elena Polisano, oceans campaigner at the charity.

The idea to parody the ‘Holidays Are Coming’ spot (which airs tonight, and after 22 years, remains stubbornly unchanged), came from Greenpeace’s in-house team. A truckload of plastic enters the ocean every minute, according to research, and this visual, tangible metaphor was the starting point of the campaign against Coke’s annual production of 110bn plastic bottles: the ‘truckload’ imagery resonated with the brand’s red, lit-up Christmas truck.

The parody features shots of warm, cosy shots of families at Christmas as they build a snowman and get together for a party. Coca-Cola plastics are subtly nestled among the festive tropes, for instance, hung in the Christmas tree.

The ad ends when the famous red truck arrives in town and magically lights up the scene. However instead of bringing joy with sugared soft drinks, the driver reverses into the ocean and dumps his load of plastics. The distinctly unfriendly Santa steps out of the vehicle and takes a swig Coke as the line reads ‘Don’t let Coke choke our oceans’.

“In a way Coke’s ad was ripe for parody because it’s a wonderland, fairyland concept,” said Polisano. “We wanted to root it in reality and upend the idea of what Coke is the harbinger of.

“We’re taking something that’s iconic and something that’s really precious for Coke in terms of it softening its image and making it look good – we wanted to be cheeky with that and say, this year, how much festive cheer can be associated with their brand?”

 

 

The brand brought in young production shop Weekend to create the disquietingly real universe. For the parody to succeed it was vital that its cinematic quality was on a par with the original ad, explained the agency’s creative director Joe Churchill.

“A good parody works when you play it absolutely deadpan and it looks like the real thing, but there’s something subverted or twisted about it,” he said. “For us, that is this plastic waste you see throughout. We wanted to make sure everything was dead-on, except this plastic waste to give a sense of unease. There’s humour in there too – once you get what’s happening there’s the in-jokes and references you can get too, the iconography of Christmas that we all instinctively understand.

“All of that doesn’t work if you’ve done it cheaply.”

There were certain qualities of Coca-Cola’s version that Weekend earmarked stylistically – soft focus, shallow depth of field, intimate shots. Wide shots were filmed but discarded when the team realised they didn’t fit with the sense of cosiness that ‘Holidays Are Coming’ invokes. The music, composed by Laurence Love Greed, includes the Broadway-like tells of the original, such as sleigh bells, strings and driving pace.

Greenpeace and the creative team believe the hijacking of the drink giant’s yearly marketing push is safe from any legal copyright quagmires. For Churchill, every visual “has just enough difference that separates us from the thing we’re parodying, while letting the viewer in on the joke”.

In any case, thanks to the amount of earned media garnered by the ad, the message has already been sent loud and clear to the conglomerate.

“It’s a legal parody,” said Polisano. “If Coke were to [get it taken] down it would be pretty obvious why. It would be interesting to see how they would spin that.”

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