Brittlestar is (awkwardly) dancing for joy over the Zellers reboot

The media hype machine has been working overtime ahead of Zellers’ grand (re)opening utilizing a store-within-a-store concept inside Hudson Bay locations this week.

But while the retailer hasn’t provided much information about marketing plans for the revamped brand, shoppers did get the first tangible piece of ad content on Monday. Popular content creator Stewart Reynolds, better known by his online persona Brittlestar, launched a three-minute content piece running on his and Zellers’ social channels called “Better Than I Remember (Zellers Is).”

The song and video are riffs on Reynolds’ “Moving Target—A Love Song for Zellers,” an unprompted video in which he sang about how much he missed the brand that has gone on to become one of his signature moments, racking up hundreds of thousands of views across his various social channels (and is still one of the most read articles ever at The Message).

After plans for Zellers’ return to the market became more concrete earlier this year, Reynolds jokingly tweeted about the possibility of the retailer enlisting him to create a sequel. Zellers responded enthusiastically, and it seemed like a partnership between the two was imminent.

Shot on March 3 inside the new Zeller’s location at Toronto’s Erin Mills Centre, the video features Reynolds, clad in a red Zellers hoodie, awkwardly “dad-dancing” through aisles showcasing various products like toys and housewares, as well as its new private-label brand Anko.

While there are a few good-natured jibes at how it’s been resurrected (“The Bay part’s a little weird”) and the previous Zellers brand (“Do we really need the diner?”), the video is ultimately a celebration of the Zellers brand. “This is better than I remember/and we ain’t done yet,” goes the techno-pop song’s main refrain.

While Zellers provided what Reynolds described as “don’t be a jerk parameters” for the video, the creator was essentially given free rein to create the song and video as he saw fit. “One of the things that’s interesting with working with any brand… is that they look at the stuff I’ve done for other brands and for myself, and kind of say ‘Just make sure you run it by us before we go for it and we’ll green-light it,'” he said. “That was the situation with Zellers.”

The shoot was a true family affair, with Reynolds’ youngest son Gregor serving as director of photography, his oldest son Owen responsible for audio, and his wife Shannon also chipping in. Victoria Revay, a producer with Bell Media, served as location director.

The video concludes with Reynolds’ mother Bette, wearing a pair of Zellers-red glasses she bought specifically for the shoot, ushering the wayward dancer out of the store and telling him to come back when it’s open.

“I wanted to write a scene where Brittlestar is pulled out of this fever-dream dance sequence and brought back to reality by a cleaning lady,” said Reynolds of the decision to incorporate his mom. “I thought she’d be perfect for this, because she does like being angry and enjoys yelling at me. I thought she’s had lots of practice, so she’ll be a natural.”

The spot also features a coy reference to the beloved brand mascot Zeddy, who has been the source of much “will-he or won’t he be back” speculation in the lead-up to the re-opening. At one point late in the video, Bette instructs a furry foot to retreat out of sight, as Brittlestar says “Was that….?” before being kicked out. The spot closes on Bette happily mopping the floor and singing the “Better than I remember…” refrain.

Reynolds, meanwhile, takes good-natured umbrage at a Toronto Star story about the video that identified him simply as “a dancing man,” although he joked on Twitter that he’s been called worse.

The video has already garnered nearly 400,000 views on Reynolds’  Twitter account alone, and as with most of his videos, reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. “If I can make something that entertains first and sells second, then I’m golden,” said Reynolds. “That’s always the goal with branded content.”

Chris Powell