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For this year's festive offering for UK high-street staple Boots, WPP’s Team WBA made the daring choice of forgoing the schmaltz and delivering a campaign, and brand strategy, that would help people get the right gift for the right people.

In order to sell the idea, the team, including Ogilvy UK ECD Sam Cartmell and creative consultant Dan Fisher, drafted in Academy directing duo Si&Ad to create a fun and fast-paced commercial extolling the virtues of the brand new 'bootiques'.

We caught up with Cartmell, Fisher and the directing pair to chat about the insight and execution of Boots' boldest work to date.

Boots – #GiftLikeYouGetThem

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Sam Cartmell, ECD - Ogilvy UK and Dan Fisher, Creative Consultant


Where did the insight behind the Bootiques come from?

DF: The High Street is famously suffering and we didn’t feel just doing another epic, schmaltzy Christmas spot would be enough for Boots. In fact, we had learnings that told us this approach was no longer working for the big retailers. So we went to the very heart of the brief – which is essentially around thoughtful gifting – and asked ourselves, ‘How can we do something meaningful with this?’ And we quickly arrived at the conclusion that we’d need to something more than just a comms solution.

We wanted our campaign to drive re-appraisal amongst younger audiences, so we started thinking about how they could present themselves differently.

SC: Boots are in the midst of modernising their offering and had introduced loads of surprising new lines and brands in time for Christmas. We wanted our campaign to drive re-appraisal amongst younger audiences, so we started thinking about how they could present themselves differently. The creative teams got talking about curations and from there pretty soon arrived at the Bootiques concept.

How did you decide on which ‘tribes’ to target? Was there any thought about identifying more or cutting them down?

DF: We wanted to surprise people by coming up with the sort of Bootiques they wouldn’t expect to come from the brand. So we sat down with our planners and looked at a load of search data and cultural trends to see what sort of tribes Boots could potentially cater for.

SC: Our ambition was to speak to as many of these tribes as possible, so as well as the six in-store Bootiques, we decided to use QR codes to convert each of our print ads into fully shoppable Bootiques, each one aimed at a specific audience.

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With a brand like Boots, with whom Christmas gifts are associated in the UK, how do you go about suggesting trying something new? How much of that is agency led and how much comes from the brand?

DF: Part of the brief was to cut through all the noise. So at the beginning we said to them, ‘Look, if you really want to stand out, you can’t just rely on the comms, you’ve got to do something that genuinely sets you apart’. 

We talked a bit about other campaigns that had done this, such as the Sorry, I Spent It On Myself campaign that I worked on for Harvey Nichols a few years back, and they agreed that’s what we needed to do. 

We didn’t have a huge media spend, so firstly we wanted a film that would stand out from all the festive noise.

When we went back with the Bootiques concept, it was like music to their ears.

The spot itself is a break from the norm. What was the inspiration behind that?

SC: We didn’t have a huge media spend, so firstly we wanted a film that would stand out from all the festive noise. 

We also wanted to win over younger people, so we needed a film that would speak their language. We had evidence that there is a bit of Christmas ad fatigue amongst that age group, so we wanted to play into that too.

Click image to enlarge

What drew you to pick Si&Ad as collaborators? 

DF: We were drawn to them because they are impossible to put in a box. Their reel is full of examples of amazing performance, stand out comedy and technical brilliance, which were all the things the film needed lots of. 

It was actually a relatively late decision to go on TV, which meant we burnt a lot of midnight oil in order to get everything right. 

Amongst the many things the ad does right, the casting is terrific. How much prep went into the spot? What took the longest? How was the shoot itself?

DF: It was actually a relatively late decision to go on TV, which meant we burnt a lot of midnight oil in order to get everything right. With the vignettes being so quick, we needed every performance to be pitch perfect, so casting was something we knew we just had to nail. We also wanted the cast to not resemble the type of cast you’d expect to find in a typical Christmas spot. We were auditioning until pretty much the day before shoot.

SC: The shoot itself was pretty intense – we did 3 days in Black Island, a night shoot in the woods near Windsor, and day on location in a disused school near Ascot. We had an editor on set and saw the first cut just three days after the wrap.

The ad is out and is already proving popular. What additional elements are there to the campaign? Anything left to unveil?

DF: We are opening physical versions of the Bootique in some unusual locations around the country. And we are in advanced talks with a couple of tech platforms about opening some Bootiques in really unexpected spaces. 

Watch this space.

Which of the Bootiques would you most like to receive gifts from?

DF and SC: It has to be The ‘what to buy the person who lies awake dreaming of sleep’ Bootique.

What are you after for Christmas?

DF and SC: Sleep!

Si&Ad, directors - Academy


When did you first get involved in the Boots campaign? Did you have to feel festive in Summer?

Actually, it was all a last-minute thing - one minute we were enjoying the joyous colours of Autumn and saying farewell to summer, the next we were knee-deep in fake snow.

The spot doesn’t have many hallmarks of a 'traditional' Christmas ad. What was the guidance from the agency and what were you keen to explore?

The non-traditional approach was the thing that attracted us. We wanted to push that with the agency who were really up for it, as were the client.

We approached it like a one-shot film, whereby we timed out the whole thing well in advance of shooting.

You guys are kings of the transition between setups, and this spot has some humdingers. How tough was the prep? What were the hardest elements of production design?

That’s very kind of you to say. It was a tough one to prep as we had very little time. 

We approached it like a one-shot film whereby we timed out the whole thing well in advance of shooting. We made a very rough version of the film beforehand, featuring ourselves and our mates. 

The hardest elements of production design was simply time. We had to get it together very quickly.

How was the shoot? Any hurdles to overcome?

The shoot went well, nothing major to report. No real hurdles as the prep we did beforehand meant we were prepared for all outcomes.

How long was the post-production process? Any little elements we might have missed?

Like everything else the post production was a mad scramble, but the test film we shot help the post house ETC get ready for the limited amount of time they had to do it. They smashed it as always.

What's your favourite moment from the film?

The saucy innuendo at the start of the film. Can’t believe Clear Cast let that through.

What are you after for Christmas?

We’re both after a resolve to Brexit – one way or the other. That and world peace.

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