Steve Carell Plays Santa Claus in Thanksgiving Ad as Comcast Works for Holiday Connections

Courtesy of Comcast

An unlikely guest turned up amid the dozens of Broadway actors, “Today” hosts and other celebrities who regularly take part in NBC’s annual broadcast of “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.”

In a two-minute ad from Comcast, actor Steve Carell took a turn at playing Santa Claus, part of an emerging tradition that has the Philadelphia cable-and-entertainment giant hoping to capture attention during the annual event, telecast on the network it owns. Last year, Comcast raised eyebrows by reviving E.T., the popular alien from the blockbuster 1982 film, showing fans a new adventure along with actor Henry Thomas, who played Eliot, E.T.’s best friend, in the original movie.

The company’s 2020 commercial isn’t as grandiose. Inspired by the plight of consumers during the coronavirus pandemic, Comcast set Carell in a vignette — it will run as long as three and a half minutes in some venues — that has him working as a Santa Claus who decides this year that regular toys and gifts simply aren’t good enough. “After the year we just had, the usual gifts are just not going to cut it,” he tells his assistants.

His elves come up with an alternative, devising a method to package life’s most pleasant moments, whether they be family snowball fights or the scent of a grandmother cooking her favorite foods. To be sure, there’s more than sentiment at play: the ad shows Comcast’s Xfinity service helping to keep Santa in touch with his crew, and giving many in the story the ability to watch TV or surf the web.

“The holidays are really about moments of togetherness with the people you love, and serve as a reminder for what’s most important, especially given the hardships of this past year,” Carell said in a prepared statement. “I hope that this sweet little story will bring a bit of cheer.”

Comcast tapped Omnicom Group’s Goodby Silverstein & Partners to help craft the commercial, along with director Craig Gillespie, who helmed the 2017 movie “I, Tonya” as well as  production company MJZ.

The company has reason to burnish its flagship cable and broadband services, which represent the growing part of its business during pandemic conditions. That division accounted for $6.4 billion in revenue in the company’s third fiscal quarter, up 2.9% from the year-earlier period. Meanwhile, its NBCUniversal division saw revenue fall 18.9% to $6.72 billion, as that media conglomerate grappled with downturns in advertising and theme-park attendance, as well as cancellation and rescheduling of sports events — a key driver of cash flow. What’s more, Comcast is, like many other cable distributors, dealing with a migration of consumers to other kinds of connections to get their video entertainment. Many one-time cable customers are relying on broadband to get entertainment. It’s in Comcast’s best interest, particularly at the start of the holiday season, to showcase its connection services with a positive spotlight.

Comcast has devised several clever concepts that it hopes will spur customers who see the ad to take actions to use its Xfinity services. On Pinterest, it is launching a “Greatest Gift Shoppe” that users can utilize for everything from holiday-movie recommendations to tips on virtual holiday get-togethers. Xfinity customers who say  “Holiday Movies” or “Holiday Music” into their voice remotes can watch or listen to seasonal favorites. And Xfinity customers who utters phrases including “the greatest gift,” “togetherness,” “Elf Shopping Network” and “awesome gift ideas” into their remotes can watch the commercial. People who say “Steve Carell” can browse examples of the actor’s previous work.

“This year the internet has kept us more connected than ever, allowing us to do more than we thought possible, in the face of less-than-ideal circumstances,” said  Todd Arata, senior vice president of brand marketing at Comcast, in a statement. “Xfinity is a connections brand and this campaign is all about how our connections to one another can create real magic, particularly at this time of year.”