The Holiday Ad Tightrope: Moving, But Not Corny

How HP successfully accepted the challenge with “Reinvent Giving”

An unexpected—and truly delightful—gift-giving story is told in “Reinvent Giving,” a holiday-themed HP spot created by BBDO San Francisco that finds the residents of an apartment building coming together to create a surprise puppet show for a little girl that’s performed right on her balcony.

BBDO San Francisco creative director Alex Stainton credits copywriter Adam Balogh and art director Jason Moussalli—who are also associate creative directors at the agency—with writing the script for the long-form spot, which showcases some of the creative things you can do with an HP Spectre x360 convertible laptop while also tugging at the heartstrings without being corny.

“This is a special time of the year when people are more open to stories with a bit of magic and wonder to them, so we wanted to play in that space,” according to Stainton, who says the spot is aimed at millennials. “It was also a chance to subtly show that a piece of technology is only amazing as the person using it.”

As we see in “Reinvent Giving,” the plan to surprise the kid is hatched by a young woman who uses her HP Spectre x360 to create an invitation to the event for the recipient and instructions on how to participate for one neighbor (who happens to be a puppeteer) and another, who is enlisted to make it snow.

Sara Dunlop, who is represented by London-based production company Rattling Stick, directed “Reinvent Giving.” “This was our first time shoot with Sara, and it certainly won’t be the last time we ask her to look at a script. Sara was brilliant, right from the first call and treatment,” Stainton says, pointing out, “This was a challenging script to bring to life in a relatively short format, and Sara worked incredibly hard to make it work. She brought a lovely pragmatism and sense of humor to a tricky project.”

Create Wonder in Your World | Reinvent Giving | HP

“The agency came to me with what was already a lovely script full of charm and emotion,” Dunlop says.

While the story is a simple one, establishing the relationship between the characters, who all live in different apartments, see one another across a shared courtyard and never actually speak to one another, was a challenging task. “If we didn’t get this right, it would be difficult for an audience to make sense of the story,” the director says.

Location was a key factor in making the story work, and Dunlop and her crew found the perfect place—two apartment buildings separated by an alley in Budapest—that looked like it could be anywhere. Dunlop, working with DP Antonio Paladino and shooting on digital, chose to set the action at dusk. “I thought this would be a magical time to shoot—dusk light outside with the cozy, warm atmosphere inside the apartments,” she says, noting, “Obviously, it is impossible to shoot only at dusk—unless you are Terrence Malik—so Antonio’s challenge was to recreate this look at all times of the day and night.”

While most of “Reinvent Giving” was shot on location, Dunlop recreated the interior balcony of the little girl’s apartment on a stage for the portion of the shoot that involved the puppet show.

Four puppeteers—two per character—operated the male and female puppets, who are lowered down from the apartment above in the spot to act out a scene on the railing of the little girl’s balcony. “I wanted them to be a bit mischievous and connect with the little girl,” Dunlop says, adding, “I wanted to bring them to life through her eyes but do this without too much trickery or CG.”

Andrea MacArthur of Lost Planet Editorial in Los Angeles cut “Reinvent Giving,” which clocks in over at over two minutes. “Despite the storyboards and animatics we had done before shooting, when we started editing, we found that there was a lot going on, and the story wasn’t easy enough to follow,” says BBDO San Francisco creative director Jakub Szymanski. “Luckily, Sara gets a lot of coverage and extra footage that she thinks might come in useful in the edit, and it really did.”

Big Foote Music + Sound provided the original track that accompanies the action. “It’s funny because for a long time we didn’t think we would be doing an original composition,” Szymanski says. But after searching for a cover of a famous song, “We just hadn’t found anything we loved, so we thought, ‘What the heck. Let’s try an original track.’ ”

The creative team asked Big Foote Music + Sound to “bring us something a little unexpected with some wonder and magic to it, and they responded with this beautiful track,” Stainton says. “We certainly didn’t expect trumpets, but we knew it was the one when we heard it.”