The Christmas Gig: Two Thousand Ten, Pt. 1

Today we’re talking about an album with a fascinating history.

It was the brainchild of a rock star creative agency, featured brand-new Christmas songs from over a dozen up-and-coming indie artists, was used as the soundtrack for a massive holiday advertisement campaign and was given away completely free.

This is one of the topics that got me excited to start ‘Tis the Soundtrack. This is Target’s The Christmas Gig: Two Thousand Ten.

Cover of the Target's The Christmas Gig: Two Thousand Ten, featuring a cutout snowflake, showing the clear vinyl record through the cover.
The Christmas Gig: Two Thousand Ten

Let me start by saying that I don’t think this album could be made today. Or, maybe more accurately, I don’t think this album would be made today.

The relationships between record labels, advertisers, streaming platforms and the artists who are continually undercompenstated would make pulling off something like this a feat in 2024. Everything is too messy now.

By comparison, in 2010 anything was possible. People were still buying music, albeit the shift was already well underway from CD to MP3, the handful of streaming platforms that existed were still in their infancies and we had just spent the last 10 years watching relatively unknown indie acts be slingshotted into the mainstream consciousness by way of Apple, the O.C., Zach Braff and others.

For the 2010 holiday season, Target turned to the creative agency Wieden+Kennedy to develop their advertising campaigns. These are the same marketing wizard who created the ubiquitous “Just Do It” campaign for Nike in the late ’80s and, more recently handled the insanity that was Grimace’s Birthday for McDonalds.

Picture of Grimace celebrating his birthday at a McDonalds from the W+K campaign for Grimace's Birthday.
W+K Grimace's B'day Campaign

For Target, W+K developed two campaigns. The first, and the one which appears to be more firmly cemented in the memories of the interwebs, was the Crazy Target Lady: a series of television and internet ads featuring Minnesota-raised comedian Maria Bamford as the titular character, a completely unhinged Black Friday prepper.

The second holiday campaign is the one that resulted in the creation of this album. According to Creative Director Don Shelford, the campaign was an attempt to freshen up the Christmas music genre. W+K created some advertisement themes and sent out briefs to about 100 artists including the likes of Dan Deacon, Blackalicious and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. The resulting songs, all of which were brand-new, original Christmas songs, became the soundtrack to the advertisement campaign.

I haven’t been able to confirm how many artists in total answered the call and provided Target with new holiday tunes, but fourteen tracks were ultimately collected into The Christmas Gig: Two Thousand Ten, a free digital album you could stream and download from Target’s website throughout the 2010 holiday season.

W+K The Christmas Gig Influencer Package.
W+K The Christmas Gig Influencer Package

Additionally, Target and W+K worked with Gotta Groove Records to produce an extremely limited run of promotional vinyl: a pair of red, 7” singles and a full-length album, pressed in clear vinyl and containing 11 of the 14 tracks from the digital offering.

These were sent out, along with Flip Video Cameras (anyone remember those?) to media outlets and the influencers of the day. In researching for this episode, I stumbled across the Rockin Mama blog whose author received five copies of the 7” single containing the tracks Tiny Tree Christmas and Perfect Gift to give out to her followers.

The Christmas Gig: Two Thousand Ten

Label: Target Brands, Inc.
Released: 2010


Digital Tracks (not appearing on the vinyl release)

There are a few important points to make here. First, according to Target’s press release, only eight of these songs were used in the TV spots. That means the other six were commissioned for the project, never used in advertising and still given out for free.

Second, the album download was literally a zip file containing the MP3s. 2010 was a while back technologically speaking, but it’s still amazing that there were no barriers.

No account sign-up needed, no email list to join, no hashtags to tweet, no like and subscribe, nothing. Just click button, get music, done! Oh simpler times. Again, it would be hard to imagine any of this happening in 2024.

Image from Target's website, circa Dec 2010, advertising the album download.
Target Album Advertisement, December 2010

Finally, let’s take a moment to think about the fact this album was never made commercially available outside of the free digital download and promos records. I get that the market for vinyl in 2010 wasn’t what it is today, but Target was no stranger to producing exclusive CDs at the time.

They released Songs For A Cause in 2008 (benefiting the Salvation Army) and Disney’s Winter Wonderland in 2010 (benefiting the Walt Disney Corporation, I assume), the latter on store shelves at the same time this campaign was gearing up. Exclusive merch is an area where Target was well-versed.

My completely uneducated and admittedly under-researched opinion is that a few things could have been working against this album seeing a proper, physical release.

Licensing and usage restrictions on the songs would be the most straightforward reason.

Lack of time could be another reason. Manufacturing and distribution takes time. To get discs on shelves in time for the holiday season, you would have to do all the preceding work, including campaign development, corporate sign-off, artist engagement and music review much, much earlier. It’s entirely possible that a CD release was never in the cards simply due to the timeline.

Or, and possibly the most interesting of reasons: selling CDs was completely superfluous to the underlying goal of the campaign.

See, in 2010 Target was in the final throes of a partnership with Amazon to manage its online shopping presence. This was something fairly common with large retailers at the time. Toys R Us, Borders and Circuit City all had similar arrangements with Amazon providing their digital infrastructure, while increasingly competing directly against them in their respective online spaces.

These names might not sound like great company today and the same was true in 2010. Circuit City had shuttered its locations the year prior, while Borders was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy at the time and Toys R Us appeared to be another sinking ship. Target needed to avoid that same fate. Where the others had put paltry sums into developing their own, Amazon-less websites, Target was investing billions at the time into their home-grown alternative.

Darker My Love performing on Jimmy Kimmel.
Darker My Love on Jimmy Kimmel

Target needed to create some online shopping momentum going into 2011 and the impending launch of its own online storefront. This I believe was the ultimate goal of the campaign and why Target and W+K were laser-focused on using the free album download to drive traffic to its website.

All of the campaign television commercials ended with the message, “Get This Song Free At” and Target spent the month of December marching these artists out to perform their new tracks on the morning and late show circuits. Little Jackie performed Mrs. Claus Ain’t Got Nothin’ On Me Christmas Morning on NBC’s Weekend Today Show and Darker My Love did Snow Is Falling on Jimmy Kimmel Live!.

Speculation aside and regardless of the true reason, the result is an extremely rare album that does not surface often. Discogs only shows 8 transactions for this album, each in the $40-$65 range. And, at the time of this episode, there is a single copy listed on eBay for a whopping $750! Yikes!

But, all is not lost to the annals of time. At least one of these songs recently received new life by way of a streaming holiday special and, through the magic that is the Way Back Machine, there might just be a way to download the original digital album.

We’ll cover these things, along with my favorite tracks from the album in part two of this episode.

Cheers and Merry Christmas!

Posted by Kevin Williams | Wednesday, March 13, 2024
Target Music Indie