Advertising through the holidays can be challenging on several levels. The fourth quarter is a critical time for businesses, many of whom rely on the season to become profitable. Radio stations, television stations, newspapers, and digital media are crowded with messages for retailers attempting to gain attention.
According to Johnson & Wales advertising and marketing communications professor Oscar Chilabato this relates back to an old adage in the world of retail; “Shoot when the ducks are flying.” Chilabato says that retailers need to “advertise when there is a strong demand for products.” Adding “There is no substitute for the built-in demand for gift giving and every brand needs to be in that consideration set, or they will lose out on potential sales.” However, the noise can be difficult to rise above. According to Chilabato, this has made retailers begin to think out of the box when it comes to how they advertise. “The downside is the sheer amount of competition and 'clutter' of advertising,” he says. “That requires brands and retailers to stand out in some way.”
Throughout the years, advertisers and their agencies have sought to create brilliant images, superb messages, and clever campaigns to reach the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of consumers. Some holiday marketing ideas have had an immediate impact while others have left a lasting, indelible mark on the holidays. Here are some of the more successful holiday marketing campaigns.
American Express Small Business Saturday
Most are familiar with Black Friday following Thanksgiving, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, but most may not recognize that the creation of Small Business Saturday was part of an advertising campaign conducted by American Express. In 2010, during some of the darkest days of the Great Recession, the credit card and financial services company encouraged shoppers to support local businesses by shopping small. Just a year later the Senate unanimously passed a resolution in honor of the day. It is impressive that what started out as a holiday advertising campaign has become a permanent part of the holiday shopping experience.
A classic series of 30-second television commercials featuring snowy scenes and the iconic Clydesdale horses pulling a large wagon has been a part of the holidays for decades. The ads, often with less than 20 words of copy, simply served as a way for the brewer to send greetings and to subtly encourage watchers to “stay safe.” Many view these as a precursor to today's don't drink and drive campaigns. It served to connect an extremely large beverage company with simple traditions while framing its jingle in a holiday theme. It accomplishes quite a bit in a simple, poignant message.
According to Chilabato, this message of goodwill that American Express and Budweiser use is a theme that’s become more common during the holiday season. “There are some genuinely caring brands who do a great deal for their communities,” he says. However, he also says that other retailers have caught on to the goodwill message, adding that it has become a strong marketing tool during this time of year. “I also think this is smart marketing - customers want to know their favorite brands are responsible citizens.”
This interactive digital campaign from Office Depot allowed users to take images of themselves or someone they knew and create hilarious cartoon-like elves, often performing dancing and/or singing routines. The images have come a long way since 2006, with augmented reality now playing a role. Over a billion Elf Yourself images have been created. This is a perfect example of how to market during the holidays without “selling.”
Starbucks Red Cup Campaign
How do you build anticipation and increase demand for a non-holiday product? Alter its packaging. At least that is what Starbucks has been able to do since 1997 with its annual introduction of its “designer” red cups. These holiday-themed cups coincide with the addition of seasonal expansion to the Starbucks menu. The campaign has not been without controversy when some took offense to the minimalist red cups that didn't carry a holiday message. Even this, however, created additional visibility and conversation about Starbucks.
It may be hard to believe that Google first introduced it's Santa Tracer 15 years ago. Initially used to introduce Google Earth, the Santa Tracker showed where St. Nick was at any given time during Christmas Eve. This has proven to be a successful way in which a hi-tech company has blended with the tradition of Santa to get its message across. Today, more than just tracking Santa, Google's Santa Tracker provides viewers with live updates, info about cities he is traveling to and more.
Home Alone Ad for Google
Few recent video marketing campaigns have garnered the attention of Google’s 2018 Home Alone remake. The video, created to promote Google’s Assistant, features the movie’s original star, Macaulay Culkin, in a series of familiar scenes from the film. The ad created intense interest because it showed an older Culkin, scenes from a favorite holiday movie, and demonstrated how this new voice-activated technology can be used every day. The fact the Culkin has been somewhat of a recluse added to the interest in the advertisement. The proof that it was well produced helped it gain accolades. It is estimated Culkin was paid far more for the ad than the $100,000 he received for his work in the original.
Perhaps the most lasting effects of a holiday ad campaign are the images we have today of Santa Claus. When Coca-Cola started using Santa images in the 1920s in its magazine advertising, he often appeared elf-like and some would say, almost frightening. It was in 1931 Coca-Cola created an image of Santa for ads in the Saturday Evening Post, National Geographic, Ladies Home Journal and others that have endured for generations. This is the image of a large, jolly man in a white beard and a red suit. Virtually every image of Santa that is seen today, including the outfits worn by mall-store Santa’s, are based on these early 1930’s drawings.
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