We can thank the birth of Jesus Christ for putting Christmas on the map, but its brand marketers that have made the solemn religious festivities into a $600 billion business in the United States alone. This year Gallup research predicts the average American will spend around $830 on Christmas. There’s a lot riding on this holiday, so much so that brands spend millions to connect themselves to this emotional time of giving and celebration. Retail brands live or die during this important sales period and we’ll take a look at the lengths they go to do it right.
For all brands to cash in on Christmas, they need to break through the clutter and attract festive shoppers who are looking for brands who match their warm and fuzzy shopping needs.
Many would argue that Christmas has become more about marketing than religion. The history of Christmas’ evolution is part marketing and part theatrical symbolism. While Charles Dickens did not invent the Victorian Christmas, his book A Christmas Carol written in 1843 is credited with helping to popularise and spread the traditions of the festive time. Coca-Cola Company claims they helped shape the image of Santa as we know him today. Inspired by Clement Clarks Moore’s 1822 poem A visit from St. Nicholas (commonly known as Twas the night before Christmas) illustrator Haddon Sunblom commissioned by Coca-Cola created the iconic red suited and white breaded Santa image that was friendly, plump, jolly and loved Coke. From 1931 to 1964 the ‘Coke Santa’ was the advertising theme every Christmastime in magazines, billboards, posters, displays and calendars.
For brands, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year to pull on the heartstrings. Writer and content strategist Taylor Mallory Holland concluded in her blog article Make ‘Em Cry – and Buy that “Emotion is a key ingredient in great holiday content marketing.” Jonah Berger, researcher and author of Contagious would agree. He discovered that “high arousal” of positive and negative emotions like awe, excitement, amusement and anger motivates us to share messages with others. He says “when we care we share.”
The holiday season is full of high emotion. We become hyper-sensitive to stories of the poor and unfortunate souls who don’t have food, shelter or friends. We are drawn towards stories of goodness in humanity and messages of hope, peace and love. It’s a time to reach back to the child in all of us who believed Santa Claus was real, reindeers could fly and life was just plain simple (because someone else did the worrying).
John Lewis, a department store in the United Kingdom has built their brand on this fact. Since 2007, John Lewis has captured the attention of the world with their annual tradition of launching a new Christmas advertising campaign to kick-start shoppers into buying their Christmas gifts. John Lewis’s emotional brand formula isn’t revolutionary, as Stephen Vowles, marketing director at Argos says, “It resonates because it speaks to the values most of [us] hold at Christmas – showing people that we care about them and that we are thinking of them.”
But Edeka, a German supermarket chain may have trumped John Lewis this year with the “saddest Christmas ad ever” as described in The Washington Post. So far the story of a lonely old widower who is especially sad during the Christmastime has over 41 million views on YouTube compared to John Lewis Man on the Moon which has only 21 million views.
WestJet has created Christmas miracles of their own over the last four years. Their Christmas Miracle online videos have surprised and delighted consumers in various creative and sensitive ways. Their biggest success was in 2013 where they surprised passengers on a flight from Toronto to Calgary. In Toronto, they had them tell a TV monitor Santa what they wanted for Christmas, and upon their arrival in Calgary four hours later their present appeared on the luggage carousal like magic. To date, this video has received almost 43 million views. If you didn’t think Westjetter’s cared before this, then get out your tissues.
There are many brands like Apple, Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire, Coke, Stella Artois, Sainsbury, Budweiser, Macys and many more who produce Christmastime commercials/videos that tug on consumer’s heart-strings. Their ultimate goal is to connect with consumers at this time of goodwill and joy with the hope of their brand resonating with them.
This is the time that brands can forget about the functional benefits and tap into the spirit of Christmas. If done right, brands can move from a purveyor of Christmas to a state of mind of hope, peace and love minus the bacon. A place were few brands live.
To all the world’s brands “Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night”.
May the peace and goodwill of the season remain with you throughout the New Year!