The holiday season is upon us, and in addition to jingle bells, holiday music, and festive cookies, holiday marketing campaigns are everywhere. Every year, right around Thanksgiving, the holiday marketing strategies come out to play. It can seem like they’re all the same, but you always know the good ones when you see them, just like jolly old Saint Nick.
So what makes a great holiday marketing campaign? How can a brand stand out in the sea of discounts, promotions, and jingles decked out in red, green, silver, blue, and gold?
The key is to truly move consumers. Don’t just blanket the social media space and television audience with huge sales and free shipping. You want to evoke emotions and create connections. That’s what encourages sharing and makes a brand’s campaign not only memorable, but also viral.
Here are 15 of the best, most memorable and most successful holiday campaigns as of late:
1. Coca-Cola: Share a Coke
Coca-Cola is never hard-pressed for fans or great marketing, but it seems to outdo itself time and time again. The iconic brand released bottles with names on them a couple of years back, and for a while they were all the rage. Either you went looking for your obscure name to buy, found someone else’s obscure name and bought it for them, went to the refrigerator and picked out the most obscure name you could find just to be different, or created a personalized bottle.
Now, Coke is taking that campaign a step further for the holidays by plugging the name bottles as drinkable place cards. Not only are the bottles useful for eliminating seating confusion, but they’re also a treat you can share with Santa if the mood strikes you. Really, they now have bottles with festive names on them.
2. REI: #OptOutside
REI caused a stir this year when it closed all its stores on Black Friday, preferring to give employees the full holiday off. Although that was an inspiring idea in itself, REI took it a step further by sending a message to its 5 million plus members encouraging them to also take the full holiday off. The outdoor supply company invited its loyalists to spend time with their families and go outside instead of spending the day after Thanksgiving competing for low prices and the last available retail products.
Even the most competitive of Black Friday shoppers couldn’t deny the power of this campaign. People were talking about it before, during and after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
3. Starbucks Red Cups
Starbucks red cups are a source of excitement for a lot of people around the holidays. The return of the red cups heralds not only the return of holiday drinks like the gingerbread latte and peppermint mocha, but also the return of the holidays themselves. Red cup season is as iconic as the holiday season itself.
This year, the red cups took on a life of their own when Starbucks released their 2015 design. People were adamantly opposed to the cups, whose lack of design was taken by some as an oppression of Christmas. Others praised the red gradient design for its simplicity and modern feel. Call it boring, call it completely secular celebration, call it modernistic – but everyone was talking. You certainly can’t deny that it was an effective campaign.
4. Reese’s: Holiday Trees
Reese’s often puts out themed candies around different holidays: Easter sees a Reese’s egg, Halloween a Reese’s pumpkin. This year, the company opted to put out a Reese’s tree for the Christmas season. Unfortunately for Reese’s, many of the candies came out looking more like Reese’s blobs than Reese’s trees, and many buyers took to social media to vent their holiday candy frustrations.
Being the marketing gurus they are, Reese’s shot back at their critics, declaring that “all trees are beautiful” and posting this social media response. The Reese’s brand is a strong one, and lucky for them, the Reese’s loyal can’t stay mad for long.
5. Oreo: Design a Package
Oreo is another brand known for its marketing campaigns – Dunk in the Dark 2012 Super Bowl tweet anyone? This year, the classic cookie is taking its efforts in a new direction. Instead of harping on the usual holiday advertising fodder, Oreo is taking a new approach by marketing a new DIY option that capitalizes on the adult coloring trend. People were invited to customize a package of Oreos for the holidays.
The festive options are a refreshing change from Oreo’s traditional blue packaging, and can make a fun gift for friends and family
6. Spotify: Year in Music
Music is a powerful thing. Hearing a song can bring your memory back to a past time, place or person almost as quickly as a familiar smell can. This year, Spotify wants to bring you back to every alone-time dance party, every afternoon spent playing with your kids and every memorable moment of 2015.
By using their A Year in Music microsite, you can log in and get your full 2015 soundtrack, or check out what the average Spotify user’s year sounded like. There’s nothing like reminiscing on the past year as you move into a new one, and Spotify has made it super simple.
7. K-Mart: Joe Boxer
K-Mart has made a couple of bold moves with its advertising over the past couple of years. Who can forget the heart-stopping Ship My Pants ad? It involves six men in their Joe Boxer underwear playing “Jingle Bells” – and that’s it.
The spot had people talking, and was a refreshing break from the usual bombardment of flashy ads for huge sales and sappy spots meant to tug at the heartstrings. Well played, K-Mart.
8. HBO: 12 Days of HBO Now
You know the song. On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me – their HBO password.
OK, so that’s not it, but free access to HBO shows is way better than a partridge in a pear tree. So this year, HBO is allowing subscribers of its new HBO Now feature to share 12 episodes of their best programming with whoever they want. You may be hard-pressed to find anyone out there who hasn’t seen “Game of Thrones,” but rest assured, after sharing the free episodes with them, they’ll be hooked.
9. John Lewis
U.K.-based department store John Lewis has had plenty of memorable and touching holiday advertising over the years. This year, the retailer paired up with an organization called Age U.K. that helps older people who are removed from society for long periods of time. The store’s accompanying microsite takes donations, while the ad itself is one of the season’s holiday tearjerkers.
10. Aldi: Mock John Lewis
There’s nothing like a little friendly price competition between retailers to get into the holiday spirit. U.K. chain Aldi put out an ad poking fun at the John Lewis ad’s telescope, showing that Aldi has different kinds of telescopes at non-astronomical prices.
11. Empire Cat: Joy Ride to the North Pole
How can you relate construction equipment to Christmas and generate excitement about it? Empire Cat has found a way: By offering viewers of its Take a Joy Ride interactive page a trip across the country in a bulldozer with Santa at the controls. By using their computer keypad’s arrows, people can drive Santa across Interstate 10 in Arizona while reading stats about how the construction industry has benefited the state.
At the end of the ride, Empire Cat thanks its clients, employees and friends for contributing to another successful year.
12. Dollar Shave Club: Man With a Face
What do all men have in common? They all have faces.
Dollar Shave Club’s brilliant campaign this year demonstrates that razors and a membership to the Dollar Shave Club are a great gift for most, if not every, man. Dollar Shave Club ran its ad on Facebook, and all of its engagement just goes to show that you don’t have to get your husband that weird craft beer he’s been talking about.
13. Starbucks: Pumpkin Spice Latte
You can’t talk about the holidays without mentioning Starbucks’ biggest cult-inducing drink: the Pumpkin Spice Latte. This year, Starbucks created Pumpkin Spice’s official Twitter handle, @TheRealPSL, where sassy tweets and hilarious selfies were posted to the drink’s more than 100,000 followers.
The Pumpkin Spice Latte’s release every year is a holiday in and of itself, and truly marks the start of the holiday season.
Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and career blogger sharing advice on finding happiness and success in life and at work. You can find her dishing out advice with a side of wit on Twitter and her career advice blog, Punched Clocks.