Talking Brands: With Elf gracing the small screen for Asda, which other characters could be a good fit for ad campaigns?

Lightbulb Licensing’s Susan Bolsover, Rainbow Productions’ Simon Foulkes and Caroline High Consultancy’s Caroline High share their picks for characters with the right qualities to front an ad campaign.

In the annual battle of the Christmas ads, one has used licensing to cut through and score a hit.

Asda’s ‘Have Your Elf a Merry Christmas’ advert sees Will Ferrell’s Buddy the Elf spread Christmas cheer throughout an Asda store.

The ad was developed by Asda’s ad agency Havas, with Born Licensing managing the IP licensing with the team at Warner Bros. Discovery Global Consumer Products, with Talent Republic working with Will Ferrell’s team.

“The idea came about when thinking about who encapsulates the spirit of Christmas,” said Sam Daley, Associate Creative Director at Havas London. Rob Greaves, Associate Creative Director at Havas London, added: “It’s been a tough couple of years so we thought ‘Is there anyone more joyful than Buddy the Elf?’ I’m not sure there is.”

The strategy paid off, as according to market research firm System1, Asda’s Elf advert is the year’s most effective Christmas ad. System1 uses a one-to-five-star scale to predict adverts’ commercial effectiveness, measuring emotional responses and the intensity of responses. Asda came out on top with a maximum score of 5.9 stars.

Asda are not the only firm to call on a beloved character from an ad campaign. Earlier this year, Ladbrokes, along with creative agency Neverland and MGM, used Rocky for its latest ‘We Play Together’ campaign.

The ad takes the ‘Rocky’s Run’ moment from Rocky II, but updates the crowd that runs behind the iconic character to reflect different sports available to bet on through Ladbrokes.

“This campaign is going to elevate Ladbrokes to being one of the most loved entertainment brands out there,” said Ben Reeves, Senior Brand Manager at Ladbrokes.

With these ads in mind, we asked Lightbulb Licensing’s Susan Bolsover, Rainbow Productions’ Simon Foulkes and Caroline High Consultancy’s Caroline High for their picks for characters with the right qualities to front an ad campaign.

Talking Brands, Susan Bolsover, Simon Foulkes, Caroline High, Ian DownesSusan Bolsover, MD, Lightbulb Licensing
I really believe that TV advertising is in a golden age right now, which is a strange thing considering so many of us are watching streaming services with no ads at all. What I really am loving is the way character brands, or even actors, are using ads to tell stories as opposed to simply advertising a product.

Ads are short-form storytelling content that people really get involved in when they are done well. I mean, I’m old enough to remember being invested in whether the Nescafe Gold Blend couple got together! That was a series of 12 ads running between 1987 and 1993 and honestly, the nation was gripped!

I think good ads do two things that make them memorable and a water cooler moment. They either tug on your heart strings – enter John Lewis stage left – or they make you laugh in an unexpected way. I am currently loving Daniel Craig’s new post-Bond alter ego showing up in the latest Belvedere Vodka commercial. It’s directed by Taika Waititi non-the-less, in what is surely a riff on Christopher Walken in FatBoy Slim’s ‘Weapon of Choice’ music video.

I also think for a TV or film character to truly work in an ad, it has to be iconic and recognisable otherwise the storytelling just isn’t going to work, so nostalgia plays a huge part in the mix too.

Given that background, who do I think could cut it in a TV ad? Well, given the Eighties seem to be making a comeback on the big and small screen, it’s time to revive the cult classics. Top Gun and ‘feeling the need for speed’ surely has a car insurance or breakdown cover commercial in it. There is something quite amusing about Tom Cruise in his Maverick get-up standing on the side of a wet and rainy M1 of a Friday night not speeding anywhere and waiting to be rescued by the AA man.

I’m also certain that the Eighties reincarnated in the guise of Stranger Things would make for a memorable TV commercial for pizza delivery. I can imagine even Vecna would go for a Dominoes on a weekend if there wasn’t anyone to traumatise. After all there’s a funny image that Jamie Bower Campbell – Vecna himself – posted on his Instagram account of him in full on make-up drinking a Starbucks… It seemed so incongruous as to be hilarious, so why not call up for a pizza?

Or how about Bill and Ted getting to grips with the latest smartphone technology given phone boxes are no longer a thing… Not to mention the endless opportunities to sell fence paint or floor sanders that a DIY chain like B&Q could cash in on, if only they asked two-time all valley karate champion Daniel Larusso and his buddies over at Cobra Kai to lend a hand.

Music also plays a huge part in making ads, especially those featuring TV and film characters, a success. Feature the iconic song from the TV show or movie as your backing track and it just ups the nostalgia value, not to mention higher consumer recall for your product. The Top Gun / AA ad I’ve now created in my own mind is propelled along by ‘Highway to the Danger Zone’ – albeit the danger zone is likely to be junction 19 for the M6!

Talking Brands, Susan Bolsover, Simon Foulkes, Caroline High, Ian Downes

Talking Brands, Susan Bolsover, Simon Foulkes, Caroline High, Ian DownesSimon Foulkes, MD, Rainbow Productions
I love a bit of reminiscing, so I am going to propose a classic TV favourite of mine from the Seventies and suggest an association with a travel organisation.

Holidaying in Japan was a pipe dream in the Seventies – as my family didn’t get further than Anglesey – so it may sound a bit odd to pick a Japanese television drama based on a 16th-century Chinese novel… But ask anyone of a certain age who saw Monkey and they’ll know you’re talking about a cult classic that pretty much kicked off the ongoing western obsession with Asian fantasy action shows.

A quick recap for those not familiar with Monkey. It’s the story of a skilled fighter, imaginatively called Monkey, who is gifted with magic powers and a stinging attitude. Having incurred the wrath of various gods, Monkey is sent on a number of quests, recruiting a couple of equally eccentric characters to help him on the way.

Thanks to a catchy theme song, pantomime-esque dubbed dialogue, dodgy accents, mad-cap plots and some hiding-behind-the-sofa fight scenes, it was a big hit in the UK – especially for a nine year old boy from Stafford.

So, what could a cult Seventies TV show offer an ad campaign? First of all, and most obviously, there’s nostalgia and aspiration. The exaggerated facial expressions, over-the-top acting and outlandish dubbing would add humour and charm.

However, for my chosen campaign I would particularly highlight the show’s emphasis on travel, linking it to a holiday company like TUI or an airline like British Airways. It seems appropriate given not just the wonderful landscapes through which the characters trek, but the very contemporary messages about saving the world, meeting – and uniting – different nations and cultures. The characters mainly travel on foot, but Monkey often uses a magic flying cloud, which could be used as a nod to air travel; albeit slightly more environmentally friendly and carbon neutral.

I should also mention that most of the time it was sunny in the programme, something that would be a great reminder to UK viewers that not everywhere is being lashed by torrents of rain.

Of course, the music would have to be Dance Monkey by Tones and I – unless there are any J-POP devotees who can suggest better! Not only would it be a great way to combine the nostalgic and the contemporary to hook in the modern family, but I am envisaging some wonderful holiday-imbibed dad-dancing.

Talking Brands, Susan Bolsover, Simon Foulkes, Caroline High, Ian Downes

Talking Brands, Susan Bolsover, Simon Foulkes, Caroline High, Ian DownesCaroline High, Brand Licensing Consultant, Caroline High Consultancy
I am a huge fan of Christmas and the whole holiday season – and I’ve worked in licensing long enough to know that Christmas plans are well underway with retailers and manufacturers at least 18 months in advance… Nothing is as coincidental or ‘lucky’ as it may be perceived by the consumers!

It has received mixed reviews – some people felt that they should have used new content of Will Ferrell – but I personally think Asda’ Elf Christmas commercial is absolutely genius. Not only does the movie have almost 20 years of heritage – and therefore appeals to children, grandparents and all ages in between – but it’s also very funny and as such, will be loved by many.

The advert brings back nostalgia of merry Christmases past and highlights the beginning of another twinkly festive season and all the fun that comes with it. Even if you don’t shop at Asda for groceries, it’s a great way to get the whole nation talking about your brand.

If I was looking for next year’s festive commercial hit, I would definitely continue to tap into the nostalgic archive and focus on the huge appeal of movies from the 1980s and 1990s; decades which are very on trend at the moment mainly down to hits like Stranger Things.

Imagine a commercial featuring Kevin from Home Alone and his iconic house. The reboot for Google in 2018 was great, but we need another one! Or Love Actually and The Holiday for some comedic Christmas romance? I’d love to see Martine McCutcheon and Hugh Grant coming together for another twist in the romantic plot!

I also feel that certain kid’s animation brands have been around for long enough now to fully justify a Christmas advert, for example, Peppa Pig… Daddy Pig could get stuck coming down the chimney and Rebecca Rabbit would have to come out in her helicopter on Christmas Eve and rescue him!

In the meantime, I’m going put up the Christmas tree, open the sherry and enjoy a nice mince pie while re-watching some classic movies…

Talking Brands, Susan Bolsover, Simon Foulkes, Caroline High, Ian Downes

Stay up to date with the latest news, interviews and opinions with our weekly newsletter

Sign Up

Enter your details to receive Brands Untapped updates & news.

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.