NEW YORK — Target on Wednesday previewed its eight-minute holiday commercial, “The Toycracker: A Mini-Musical,” at Spring Studios here. A modern retelling of the classic “The Nutcracker,” and brimming with product placements, “The Toycracker,” starring John Legend as the Rat King and his wife Chrissy Teigen as the Nutcracker, will air Sunday during ABC’s presentation of “Frozen” at 8 p.m.
Prior to the show, Todd Waterbury, Target’s chief creative officer, said the retailer was inspired by shoppers, who said they like when Target engages in storytelling. “We also thought about what the guest is experiencing during the holidays, and it felt like a production,” Waterbury said, explaining that entertaining family and friends can be like putting on a show.
While overall retail ad spending for the holidays is down 9 percent so far this year, according to Kantar, Target “actually increased our investment this year,” Waterbury said. “It’s an important time to represent our brand at a key time in retail. It’s important to engage with Hispanic guests in a deeper way than in previous years. We’ve increased Millennial and Hispanic messaging.”
There was a lot of buildup to the main event. Guests were ushered backstage to the talents’ dressing rooms. There was Barbie’s dressing room; the Hulk’s door, smashed in several places, a small low door for the trolls, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ door, which had a pizza box sticking out. In the costume room, seamstresses were high on a circular stage, dancing with bolts of fabric and twirling pieces of red cloth. Hair and makeup had models wearing red and black paid rompers and mugging as they “did” their own faces.
Inside the theater, a round container was on every seat filled with popcorn and surrounded by gummy bears and Swedish fish forming the Target bullseye. Naomi Watts, Olivia Wilde, Legend and Teigen took seats in the front row. An elaborate Busby Berkeley-style number had begun on the stage with dancers dressed in red jumpsuits aka the cleaning crew, sweeping in syncopated time to the music, throwing cardboard boxes to each other and jumping rope.
Eleven-year-old Kylie Cantrall, a pint-size Lea Michele in the making, belted out a number while perched on a ladder, then rapped with the full ensemble of young singers and dancers. The main event was presented on a movie screen. Clara, played by 12-year-old Isabella Russo, was spending Christmas Eve with her family when the unthinkable happened: the home lost its Wi-Fi connection. Running up to her room, she can be heard saying, “Why is there no Wi-Fi! What will I do?” As she throws herself on her bed, she says, “I guess I’ll just shut my eyes.”
Clara drifts off to sleep. When she wakes up, she’s in a strange place where life-size popular toys speak; a pretty toy soldier, played by Teigen, sings and watches her back. Toy soldiers are joined by Lego Batman, Elmo and more. Spoiler alert: Legend plays the grumpy Rat King, who rides in on a souped-up purple Rat King car. “Rat-a-tat-tat,” Legend says and begins to rap. “We switched our fight scene from swords in the original story to microphones,” Waterbury said. After Clara’s rap, the Nutcracker tells the Rat King, ‘You just got served. By a girl.'”
The whole time that “Toycracker” was being screened, a beaming Brian Cornell, Target’s chairman and chief executive officer, looked as if he were watching one of his kids as the lead in the school play.
“We want to make sure everybody knows what the deals are,” Waterbury said. “Value is integral to the brand.”
Target said it had a solid start to the holiday season. The retailer reported its biggest day ever with double-digit growth on Black Friday.