Marketers turn up 'toons in holiday ads

Playful polar bears. Grouchy gingerbread men. Generous penguins. An under-the-weather Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. These are just a few of the animated characters appearing in holiday TV ads.

The cartoon parade comes as companies try to foster good will — and sales — in the key holiday retail season. Consumers are expected to shell out $474.5 billion in November and December, says the National Retail Federation.

Some of the animated ads are touchy-feely sweet: Penguins give hot coffee to a cold window washer in a Starbucks' TV spot.

Others have edge: A gingerbread man is annoyed by humans who eat his home in a commercial for AT&T's prepaid GoPhone.

But they all have the same mission: to stand out from the glut of holiday promotions.

"A lot of parents say the holidays will be a good time to give a phone," says Daryl Evans, head of advertising for AT&T's t wireless unit. The offbeat cartoon will help AT&T "break out from all the other holiday ads," he says.

Rival Alltel Wireless had similar thinking. It recreated its live-action TV commercial stars — handsome Alltel spokesman "Chad" and nerdy sales guys representing its wireless rivals — as cartoon caricatures using stop-motion animation. In one ad, Santa consults with Chad on gift ideas.

The Alltel ad's style creates an "emotional connection" for viewers who recall stop-motion holiday classics such as 1964's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, says Mark Simon, executive creative director at Alltel agency Campbell-Ewald.

Alltel's ads may be fun, but making them certainly isn't child's play. The process involves frame-by-frame manipulation of figures made of clay or other flexible material.

While a live-action commercial can be done in as few as two weeks, Alltel's holiday effort took seven weeks.

"The process is pretty laborious," says Simon. "Even with technological advances, it's essentially the same process that (was used) for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Some themes from marketers tapping into animation for their holiday ads:

•Reviving cultural icons. Aflac afl re-created characters from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for a TV spot The insurance company's ad agency, The Kaplan Thaler Group, licensed the rights to images such as Rudolph, Hermey the Elf and The Abominable Snow Monster. Their twist on the idea: The Aflac duck leads Santa's sleigh.

Coca-Cola's ko holiday polar bears are back. This year, it is reprising the ad first aired in 2005 in which the animated bear family joins a group of partying penguins.

•Animating "real" people. Like Alltel, teen clothier American Eagle Outfitters aeo turned humans into caricatures for online promotions. Animated versions of TV celebrities, such as Friday Night Lights' Adrianne Palicki and Heroes' Milo Ventimiglia, star in holiday-themed webisodes at

•Sweet, sincere characters. Starbucks' sbux Pass the Cheer campaign shows animated humans and anthropomorphic animals spreading good will. In one TV spot, a man gives a chilly reindeer a cup of coffee. In another, a woman gives a brown bear a big bear hug.

•Characters with grit. When a gingerbread boy in the AT&T ad says he wants a GoPhone, his dad replies, "Well, I want people to stop eating my house, but that ain't gonna happen." Then the father adds, "I'm just yanking your chain, son," and tosses him a GoPhone.

Former Saturday Night Live star Norm Macdonald is the voice for the son, and actor Steve Buscemi (The Sopranos) is the dad.

"We didn't want to go the expected route," says Susan Credle, executive creative director at AT&T ad agency BBDO New York.

She believes the ad stands out because viewers think, "Wow, I wouldn't have expected AT&T to go there."


Here's looking at you, kid.

Health provider Kaiser Permanente appeals to the heart and funny bone in a new TV ad promoting healthy habits for kids.

The spot features adorable 5-year-old Pete Wiggins in a pint-sized business suit. He confesses: "In my younger days I made lots of mistakes." He recalls his "drinking" problem (too many soft drinks) and "bad habits" (chips and doughnuts). But as the scene changes to a T-ball game, he declares, "Now I'm older, I take better care of myself."

His cuteness earned him a spot in the Jan. 1 Rose (Bowl) Parade, as well as a recent appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. He confessed to Ellen, "I love Cheetos." The spokes-kid also showed his healthy side, however, by doing push-ups on the stage.

Seeing red over the Bull.

A Catholic priest in Sicily was none too joyous over a holiday ad for Red Bull energy drink that aired in Italy. The animated ad showed a fourth Wise Man bringing the gift of Red Bull to a baby Jesus. The other three Wise Men show up with the expected frankincense, gold and myrrh. The priest wrote that it was offensive.

The ad is off the air, but not because of the priest's protest, says Patrice Radden, U.S. spokeswoman for Austria-based Red Bull. It was scheduled to end, she says, but adds that Red Bull didn't "mean to offend anyone or hurt any religious feelings."

"What we do is take well-known stories, facts or real-life situations and look at them with a twinkle in the eye," she says.

Reel 'em in with cash.

Pro-fishing tournament organizer FLW Outdoors is casting for more recreational and sport-fishing fans. The gill group has created an online fantasy-fishing competition in which participants create their own "team" by ranking pro anglers. Free sign-up at begins on Dec. 21, but players make their picks until January.

As bait, FLW is offering a boatload of prizes. The biggie: $5 million for the person who signs up before Dec. 28 and picks the top seven anglers of any tournament in order. If there are multiple winners, they'll divvy up the dough.

Great gift, hard to wrap.

Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but as holiday gifts, cars beat the sparklers for her — and for him, too — according to a survey by

Among women, 85% made a new car their top choice vs. 13% who wanted diamonds. For the guys, a new ride topped hard-to-score Super Bowl tickets as a gift by 92% to just 6%.

Sounded like a good idea at the time.

Brandweek magazine just announced results of its annual reader poll for best and worst brand extensions (putting a well-known brand name on additional products).

Named most inappropriate was a brand-licensing deal between the maker of a famous brand of teardrop-eyed collectible dolls and a funeral supplier: "Precious Moments Coffins."

They are the real thing. And for the cremation-inclined, there are also precious urns.

By Laura Petrecca and Theresa Howard


Q: I traveled through JFK Airport on Thanksgiving weekend and was mesmerized by the Xbox 360 ad I saw along the moving walkway. I know the music is from a famous symphony or song. Any chance you know the name?

A: Universal McCann, San Francisco, which created the 7,000-square-foot ad, says the music is Flower Duet from the opera Lakmé, created by Léo Delibes in 1883.

The clip runs in a continuous loop and lasts 75 seconds — about the time for a passenger to pass through the 600-foot corridor.

The music also was used in recent British Airways advertising, as well as in the movies The American President and Meet the Parents.