#Heimkommen: Expat holidays & sobbing over supermarket ads

Weihnachtsbaum vor dem Brandenburger Tor. Copyright: Caitlin HardeeOnce again, it’s December in Berlin – the month in which snow falls and Christmas markets spring up like mushrooms, the scent of Glühwein wafting from every corner store. A lovely, atmospheric month. The month in which sometimes I fly home to my family, and sometimes I don’t.

In the years I stay in Germany, my reasons for not flying home have been a blend of timing issues – perhaps I’m visiting three months later – and odious things like tax law or work obligations. If I could teleport, I’d drop by my parents’ or my sister’s place every weekend for coffee, a hike, a long hug. But transoceanic flights are expensive, and I usually top out at two visits per year, time them as I will.

But that’s adult life, right? It’s not a problem unique to expats living abroad. We grow up, we leave the nest, settle in another city, get jobs, always mean to visit and somehow don’t manage it half as often as we should. And freeze with terror upon imagining the bitter regret these decisions could ultimately cause, if we fail to spend precious time with the people we love most.

Edeka and Jung von Matt keep slaying the ad game

The universal nature of that dilemma is why an ad spot for a German supermarket chain, of all things, is currently making millions of people dissolve in tears all over the globe. This is actually no longer surprising, because it’s Edeka, and they have what seems to be an extremely creative and mutually profitable working relationship with the agency Jung von Matt. The ad gurus previously produced viral hits for Edeka like “Supergeil,” starring the iconically quirky Friedrich Liechtenstein, as well as amusingly irreverent spots like this one, featuring hungry stoners stocking up on snacks. The former broke 15 million views on the original upload, the latter over a million.

Still, this current advert is a little befuddling. It’s a clip that really brings the waterworks, deriving its power from ruthlessly sad scoring and widely shared experiences of grief and love. An ad with the power to make the viewer take action – except that action is most likely to be either traveling home, or calling home. If the masterful little spot had been commissioned by an airline, a railway, even a phone carrier or some new paid app for facetiming with family, it would be tangible commercial gold, because all that emotional resonance could be translated into sales. With the timing of the ad, dropping on the first Advent weekend in Germany, some weeks left until Christmas – pure brilliance.

Except it wasn’t. Edeka is a supermarket. They sell food. In Germany. Which puts the undoubtedly expensive production into a different light. The chain is clearly aiming for a different sort of capital, for the continuation of the vaguely ubiquitous goodwill and awareness the “Supergeil” spot succeeded in triggering around the planet. A worldwide blanket of warm, fuzzy feelings for an unlikely corporation, which will play no real role in the day-to-day lives of most viewers.

For the domestic market, there is a chance that the evocative ad could actually inspire its audience to choose Edeka rather than some other supermarket when shopping for holiday dinner fixings, but again, it’s more of a reach than if this particular message was coming from, say, Lufthansa. This sort of marketing decision involves taking the long view, investing in the public’s ability to build an emotional bond with brands rather than focusing on a specific and immediate return. Hard to quantify that kind of ROI.

Multimedia mastery

So you really have to hand it to them for going out on a limb, especially considering the vast creative energies and pricey agency hours that went into this thing. Take the music, for example. Jung von Matt partnered with Supreme Music, an obscure band based in Hamburg that specializes in arrangements for film and advertising. The vocals came from a likewise little-known German singer and producer, Neele Ternes, whose distinguishing feature on this track is an uncanny ability to imitate the inflections and breathy, soulful sorrows of pop goddess Adele. Pair that with bittersweet lyrics and a piano chord progression closely akin to Adele’s “Someone Like You,” and you have bargain-basement pop platinum – except it still can’t have been all that cheap to commission.

Here’s where the multimedia savvy becomes truly apparent. This campaign is firing on all cylinders, running on all platforms. Having paid the money for a compelling track, the creative masterminds decided to go one step further than most ad spots and put the backing music up for free download. The Youtube video of the advert includes a link to the Soundcloud track. Youtube viewers click the description to see if just maybe that was Adele after all, follow the link, download the song for free, and are henceforth reminded of that oh-so-poignant Edeka commercial from December 2015. That’s how you extend the emotional bonding effect with the consumer into the indefinite future.

Even the casting choices reflect a highly finessed decision to pitch to a global audience, rather than a purely domestic target group of consumers. The clip’s grandfather protagonist is portrayed by a Brit, Arthur Nightingale. He was filmed speaking in English, so his vocals are dubbed by a voice-over artist. The difference in lip movements is noticeable. And yet there doesn’t seem to be an English version of the ad – it was written, produced and distributed in German, with English subtitles. It’s not like there are no German actors capable of portraying sad, lovable old men – so why the import? In my opinion: A conscious tweak, a bit of clever inception to plant the impression of a global phenomenon, before the ad ever became such. A self-fulfilling prophecy, tailored for consumption by all of humanity, emphasizing the universality of our longing for home.

The video also designated a fitting hashtag, #Heimkommen (Come/coming home), saving users unnecessary effort and confusion and further fueling its own viral spread. The campaign ran with efforts tailored to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, a contest, a condensed version for television – this is what we would call a true social media happening. Many attempt it, few can pull it off so seamlessly, attaining the reach and avoiding the backlash. Even as I sniffled over my keyboard for the third time, I couldn’t help but admire the ice-cold Machiavellian orchestra of manipulation from the folks at Jung von Matt. This is obviously an agency that intimately understands human nature as well as the workings of Internet culture. Whatever astronomical bill they sent Edeka, they earned it.

So what can we take away from this

Unfortunately, this is not one of the times I’m going to run with my gut and book plane tickets. I made that kind of last-minute leap this past June, and it was perhaps the best single decision of my year – a perfect and irreplaceable week with family, and a surprise to boot. But this winter, it makes more sense, in that dull, hollow, responsible adult way, to stay in Europe for Christmas and fly to Seattle in March. And in this instance, I will be sensible, rather than spontaneous.

But it’s good to be reminded anyway. Of our love for family. Of the fact that all decisions have a cost. And that, when it really matters, we can make time – and it always matters.

So let’s make time more often.

Family photo in the Swiss Alps

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