The holiday season is fast approaching, and you’ve doubtless seen Christmas-specific marketing campaigns everywhere you go in the last few weeks. It’s hardly surprising — the peak of the retail season is during the winter, and marketing budgets increase to match.
So we thought we’d take a look back at a few of the most impactful holiday marketing campaigns — and what you can learn from them for your own business.
1. REI — Opt Outside
Black Friday is famously the biggest retail sales day in the country — while that’s technically not true, the day’s reputation for door-busting sales and massive throngs of crazy shoppers persists. Instead of leaning into the trend of deep discounts and long lines, REI went the other way, announcing that they’d completely close down for Black Friday.
Instead of spending all day fighting over a flatscreen TV, REI invited its customers to spend the day doing what they love: being outside. Their campaign will be in its fifth year this year, and it’s still going strong — as of this writing, the #optoutside hashtag graces more than 14 million posts on Instagram.
It’s been picked up by some pretty big names, too. The National Park Service started encouraging families to make new holiday traditions in the nation’s park systems, and Outdoor Research pledged to donate $10 to Paradox Sports for every post containing both the #optoutside and #outdoorresearch hashtags.
What to take away: be true to yourself
REI is all about getting outside, paying attention to the environment, and selling high-quality goods designed to help you enjoy the natural beauty of the world. They’re not about buying disposable, soon-to-be-obsolete consumer goods. A massive sale would have seemed disingenuous and inauthentic, so they stuck to their guns instead.
2. HotelTonight — Visit, Don’t Stay
Tradition dictates that you fly home for the holidays — but after your most vocal relatives get into their fifth glass of eggnog and decide to show off their best Bing Crosby impression, you might start to rethink that twin bed in the guest room.
That’s where HotelTonight comes in. Offering same-day, last-minute bookings of hotel rooms in cities all across the country, HotelTonight gives you the means to bail on your family home and have some peace and quiet.
Their Visit, Don’t Stay campaign crystallized that problem perfectly, featuring humorous ads about Aunt Mary’s annual charades tournament and Grandma’s air mattress. They also invited people to share their worst and funniest holiday memories on Facebook and Twitter, allowing the community to relate and commiserate with each other over their families.
What to take away: know your audience
You know the old saying about relatives and fish? Keep either one in the house for too long and they’ll start to stink. HotelTonight tapped into a universal problem — that even though we love our families, we don’t want to spend too much time with them — and used it to appeal to its customers.
3. Lagavulin — the Nick Offerman Yule Log
Nick Offerman is best known for his role as Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation — a man of simple tastes, strong morals, and few words. Swanson was also famous for drinking Lagavulin Scotch whisky, and it turns out the real Offerman is equally passionate about his brown liquor.
In 2015, Lagavulin released their own twist on the typical Yule log in the fireplace: a YouTube video of Offerman, sitting next to a Yule Log and silently drinking Lagavulin while calmly looking at the camera … for ten hours. Simple, inexpensive, and direct.
What to take away: start conversations with your community
Lots of people were already fans of Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation, so they’re instantly charmed by the sight of Offerman on their screens. And replacing a traditional Yule log (or Yule log video) with this unique twist is sure to get people talking about Lagavulin at your holiday cocktail party.
4. Starbucks — Red Cups
Every year since 1997, Starbucks releases a signature reusable red cup around the Christmas season. Festive, well-designed, and collectible, the red cup has become an iconic sign of the season.
Today, society as a whole has fully embraced the red cup. Independent websites count down to the red cups every year, Instagram blows up with even more latte photos than usual, and in 2015, a few people even got upset that the red cup wasn’t “Christmassy” enough.
What to take away: branding is everything
Starbucks are already masters of branding — the iconic green mermaid lets people from fifty yards away know where you got your morning coffee — and the red cup is no different. There’s no mistaking the red cup for anything else, and it’s a sure sign that the season of comfort food and peppermint lattes has arrived. If you stick with it, you can make a tradition that transcends even you.
5. Hershey’s — We Wish You a Merry Christmas
Speaking of tradition, Hershey’s has been running the same commercial for 30 years. Normally that would be a recipe for disaster — Most campaigns have to be updated, or they’ll feel stale — but in this case, it works.
The fact is, Christmas is all about long-running traditions. Your family probably has its own traditions about when you open presents, where the stockings are hung, what you eat, and so on — and you don’t really mind that you’ve been doing the same thing for decades.
What to take away: stick to what works
Hershey’s knows that two major Christmas traditions aren’t going away anytime soon — eating chocolate and listening to the same songs every year. Instead of trying to modernize and jump onto trends like everyone else, they’re leaning on the appeal of nostalgia and routine, giving everyone a chance to slow down and take a deep breath.
Have a Happy Holiday!
We’re not going to go into the details of how to build a holiday themed campaign — it would take a long time, and frankly, if you’ve waited until winter, there’s not much we can do!
What we can tell you is that holiday campaigns don’t have to be completely different from what you’re already doing — you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just stick to what you know and remember who your customers are.