USPS documentary ‘Dear Santa’ lands a spinoff on Hulu

The branded series, created by UM, will be a six-episode spinoff of Dear Santa documentary, which premiered in 2020.

(Photo credit: UM, Hulu and USPS).

Two years ago, the United States Postal Service teamed up with IPG mediabrands’ global media agency UM to create a documentary called Dear Santa, highlighting the Postal Services’ annual Operation Santa holiday initiative, in which USPS postal workers and volunteers answer childrens’ annual letters to Santa that end up in USPS mailboxes.

This year, the award-winning documentary has landed a spinoff series on Hulu, premiering on December 19. 

Dear Santa, The Series, created in partnership with production studio TRAVERSE32, features six episodes highlighting the letter writers, USPS “mail elves” and anonymous people that help Santa deliver Christmas wishes through Operation Santa.

The series builds on the 2020 documentary, released in theaters by IFC Films, which offered a glimpse into the lives of the children who write their heartfelt Christmas wish letters to Santa Claus and place them into blue mailboxes all over the country — requesting everything from toys to basic necessities. 

This series is an opportunity to continue to show the importance, value and impact of the USPS and inspire watchers to participate in Operation Santa, said Brendan Gaul, global chief content officer at Mediabrands and global president at TRAVERSE32. 

“We've created a strong entertainment franchise that connects with audiences, even above and beyond the marketing needs of the Postal Service,” he said. “There were so many things that we wanted to achieve in the film that couldn't be in our movie.”

The episodes, shot during the holiday season in 2021, depict stories from a wider range of stakeholders. From the everyday people who write letters to Santa to the thousands of USPS employees who have been the foundation of the legendary program since 1912, the series frames how Operation Santa has gone strong for 110 years. 

For the USPS, creating a film and a branded series was a new approach to marketing. The government agency has typically stuck to traditional media, such as TV, radio, print and digital. But Christopher Karpenko,executive director of brand marketing at USPS, said that creating a branded film and series just felt like the best approach for this story. 

“There was an opportunity to dive deeper into a connection with our customers and our audience. And there was an opportunity for us to be, what I would consider evergreen,” he said. “We released the film a couple of years ago, and then it came back. And then it came back again.” 

While Dear Santa has been well received by critics, filmmakers and consumers, Karpenko emphasized that brands shouldn’t invest in branded content unless it's truly a fit for the story, as the payoff requires a long-term investment.

Gaul agreed: "You have to create something that is going to be bigger than the film or the piece itself. If there are letters or people featured in the series or documentary from Philadelphia or  Dallas, they're all on their local news being featured. It's really cool when you put something out in the world that is bigger than the sum of its parts.”

While USPS has not announced the release of any new brand film projects, Karpenko said that the government agency is exploring other stories to tell through the medium.

Both Dear Santa and Dear Santa: The Series will be available to stream on Hulu just in time for Christmas.

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