December 18, 2023

All AI want for Christmas

How the magic of Midjourney helped make Christmas for Primark

Mike Walsh

Senior Creative

Creative Lead, Mike, talks through how we used AI in Primark’s latest Christmas campaign

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Throughout 2023, we’ve explored how AI can help us make better work for our clients. From using Chat GTP to generate (and quickly rule out) concept options, to creating imagery with Midjourney, AI has shifted from an optional, to an essential tool in our arsenal.

Using AI has also challenged us. Ethically, how were the data-sets we’re using trained? How much energy do they use? And what will AI’s proliferance mean for the careers of the photographers and illustrators we collaborate with? If we can use prompts to generate seemingly anything, and the quality and speed is improving almost by the hour, will we, the creatives, even make it to next Christmas? Is this how the turkeys feel?

Nevertheless, this year at least, we had a job to do: create a cracking Christmas campaign for Britain’s largest clothing retailer – the purveyors of jumpers, socks and table cloths, Primark. We needed to get would-be shoppers to think of the brand first, when they think of Christmas. With an ever-expanding range, and an ever-increasing amount of Snuddies to shift, we had to get our (ice) skates on.

Timings were tighter than ol’ Scrooge himself. Our brief landed in the heat of August, the shoot scheduled for September and assets required by early October. So while folk soaked up the sun on beaches and beer gardens, the elves of Continuous cranked up the AC, and got to work – with a sprinkling of AI magic.

At the concept stage, we aim to keep presentations simple. Explain the thinking, the big idea and show how it will look. How a concept connects back to the strategy should be obvious – and if it isn’t, then the work isn’t strong enough. Equally, if we can’t present all of this simply, then it probably won’t work for its audience.

Even the most imaginative of clients (and colleagues) can find it difficult to fully picture how an idea might manifest. References for art direction can do some of the heavy lifting - but when it comes to more original thoughts, mood boards alone may not stack up. Taxi cab karaoke, anyone?

This year, using AI helped bridge this gap. And reduced the time it takes. Not without its flaws, it allowed us to show what a teal-tinged Christmas would look like.

It also allowed us to have bags of fun in bringing high-fashion to Whosville, as we looked to see if Primark’s Grinch range could extend out of novelty and into women’s and mens wear. Cindy Lou could never.

Combining traditional creative tools, together with those generated with AI, allowed our client to quickly see the directions. And it meant we could spend longer on the ideas themselves, and less time making mock-ups or hunting for reference.

The final, chosen route, ‘It’s Here!’, felt right for the all-encompassing offer of Primark. We used a neo-nostalgic art direction that melded our memories of Christmas with modern traditions. Messaging, functional in places and wit laden in others, focused on Primark’s ability to deliver Christmas joy, at value for all.

Yet the concepts are just half the story. Campaigns live or die in production, and we were fortunate to work with talented humans to help deliver this campaign. The initial concepts we developed would inform set design, photography direction, hair and make up styling and more.

For now, at least, AI can’t quite do everything, but we’re sure that won’t be the case forever. We’re also not sure it would deliver quality either. For now, AI offers a short cut. Another tool, to prompt us to make decisions. I’m also not sure it would be much fun at Christmas parties.


Never stand still

When uncertainty and shifting expectations are the new normal, brands no longer need radical transformation. What’s needed is long-term thinking and the ability to adapt quickly.

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