As Aldi once again strikes advertising gold with its unique take on A Christmas Carol, The Drum heads to work with the US animation studio whose cuddly carrot creation Kevin has captivated the British public.
The humble garden carrot has long been a fixture of the festive season, from being the favored snack of a certain infamous reindeer to fulfilling its dual purpose as a nose for snowmen. But in recent times, there’s been a new Christmas carrot on everyone’s lips; an underdog with a big heart, who we are all rooting for.
Since being introduced by Aldi’s ad agency McCann Manchester in 2016, ‘Kevin the Carrot’ has transformed the retailer’s advertising, earning a place among the great modern-day marketing mascots in the process. Such is the character’s popularity, there was a public outcry when Kevin failed to appear in the supermarket chain’s sneak preview of its Christmas ad earlier this month. To fans’ relief, when the final version of ‘A Christmas Carrot’ arrived, Kevin was duly present alongside new veggie pals Marcus Radishford, Tiny Tom and Peas and Goodwill.
A unique take on ‘A Christmas Carol,’ the ad follows grumpy Ebanana Scrooge who is very much stuck in his ways. Viewers see him trudging through the snowy streets toward his home, and shortly after falling asleep he is abruptly woken by the Spirit of Christmas (Kevin the Carrot), who takes him on a journey through the wintry town to remind him of the true joy of the season.
Continuing to build on “the emotional connection he has with consumers” is the challenge each year, according to Todd Mueller, director at the animation studio behind the work, Psyop. It’s important to keep “blurring the line between advertising and entertainment full of charm, inventiveness and surprise.”
Throughout the years, viewers have been privy to the twists and turns of Kevin’s life, seeing him grow from a little baby baton to becoming a sound family man himself. Animating a 3p carrot and having people emotionally connect with it is every bit as ridiculous as it sounds, and its success, says Mueller, lies in the execution as “the smallest details – shape, eyes, mouth, legs and of course movement” make all the difference.
Sticking to the style of “less is more” and “resisting the temptation to add too much, and instead lean into the fact that making fruit and vegetables into characters is already charming and cute,” is key, adds Kylie Matulick, director at Psyop.
The team at Psyop, which is based in the US, started getting into the Christmas spirit back in June, with the whole filming process taking just over four months from start to finish. Aldi and McCann came to the team with the Dickens theme after it performed well in consumer testing.
Shooting was a mixture of remote participation and a smaller creative team on set. Kevin and all the other characters begin their lives as miniatures and are filmed with the use of a technodolly, a camera crane that allows for precise recorded repeated moves, which allows the team to stretch “the creative possibilities on set,” says Matulick.
One example of this is the town square, which “probably had close to 20 separate passes that were compiled in post-production to create the final result.” The team shot three of the cabins on a fixed plate, and once they captured all of the additional passes they “were able to rotate them all and complete the hexagonal layout,” she adds.
“Originally we intended to create the surrounding buildings in post-production, but decided at the last moment to utilize the existing buildings we had to create the structure around our outdoor market. It really helped keep the consistency with everything else.”
The creative execution of the animation relied on “subtlety and simplicity” to avoid looking too much like a cartoon as already “there is something so sweet, comic and ultimately lovable about a little carrot running around the world trying to do his best with whatever is thrown at him,” notes Matulick.
You need to consider the “real-world limitations of how much a carrot or banana could bend in reality, and find a balance of reality v a more exaggerated cartoon style,” she says.
This year’s new fruit on the block, Ebanana Scrooge, “was such a fun personality to bring to life in both of his forms,” says Kyle Cassidy, staff computer graphics supervisor at Psyop. “Seeing the brief history of how he became his grumpy self in the teaser was a fun glimpse into the past while reinforcing his present self.”
Pulling from historical references to design the setting for the story, the team “needed to arrive at a texture that had a sense of age to it, but without feeling gross,” says Cassidy. Accordingly, there’s a “little homage to the Bridgerton style.”
Eagle-eyed viewers were quick to point out a few Easter eggs in this year’s spot, with a hilarious dig at rival supermarket M&S over the Cuthbert the Caterpillar saga, but there may be some more that people haven’t yet noticed.
“There are a couple of ‘super insider’ ones, which we’ll leave a mystery, but those with a good knowledge of the previous stories should take a look at the little pictures on the wall of Kevin’s house in this year’s spot,” concludes Matulick.