The Best Holiday Commercial Ever

The Best Holiday Commercial Ever

By Staff Writer
In December 13, 2011

I’ll never forget the first time I saw it. I was staying in my wife’s hometown around the holidays. When it came on the television, she quickly grabbed my attention and shifted my gaze to the TV. It was animated, lacked an over-abundance of dialogue, and felt like a replay of something from my childhood. It was the famous Eat’n Park holiday ad – the best seasonal commercial ever.

The ad speaks for itself – and manages to say so much without actually saying much at all. It’s almost elementary in its simplicity: The star wants to get to the top of the tree, but can’t make it up itself. So the tree bends over and lifts it up, helping itself by helping someone else. It was enough to get me choked up then, and it still does now.

If you’re from the Pittsburgh area, chances are you agree. Though Eat’n Park is now a large regional chain, it was only starting to explode in 1982. Then, the restaurant’s top brass wanted to create what amounted to a holiday card to thank Pittsburgh for their support.

So, as legend goes, the chain went to its then-agency, Ketchum, to craft a message that would “last for 20 years.” I can only imagine the reaction of the young art director/copywriter team of Craig Otto and Cathy Bowen when they heard that at the start-of-work meeting. Here’s what happened next:

The pair worked for 3 weeks to generate over 30 ideas, none of which were met with approval. Eventually, they hit upon the idea of an animated commercial, but they still weren’t sure where they were going with it.

One Sunday shortly thereafter, Craig decided to come into the office. He sketched out a star, a traditional holiday image, and then stopped. “How does the star get to the top of the tree?” He played around with a few ideas until deciding that, of course, the star would need some help from the tree itself. In a fateful coincidence, Cathy had also decided to come in to the office that Sunday. So, while Craig worked out the illustrations, Cathy devised a simple, yet perfect sentiment to wrap up the commercial.

The rest – and when does this ever happen – is actually history. The restaurant loved the spot. And I can think of no better testament to the power of the commercial that it has aired unchanged every year since 1982 – now nearly 10 years past the chain’s hope. In fact, it’s so beloved by people in the region that the chain actually announces on its blog the runtimes for the commercial each holiday season.

Here’s why I consider it the best holiday commercial ever: It sells an emotion, not a product. It champions caring for those around you, as opposed to championing showy greed (like slapping a bow on a car worth a multiple of the average American’s yearly pay). It’s also unabashedly old-school – here’s to Eat’n Park for not updating the look with the latest computer animation. And in that it instantly brings me back to feelings from my childhood, when the holidays felt a lot more magical and a lot less jaded.

Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what some others feel about it:

Of course, this is just one guy’s opinion. What about you? What’s your favorite holiday commercial?

Staff Writer

So who is this mysterious staff writer? Could be anyone really, as long as they meet our very strict criteria. 1) Worked with us in one capacity or another. 2) Have something pretty interesting to say. 3) Want to use our blog to say it. See? Told ya they were strict!