We know that Christmas represents a major opportunity for us marketers, whether we’re working for an agency or in-house. For most retailers, the festive quarter is their most important time of the year. Have a poor Christmas and the ripples may well be felt throughout all the following year. Have a good one, and it can be the springboard for a good 2019.
Now, I want to look at some companies that have nailed their Christmas campaigns over the last couple of years and see what we can learn. What sets them apart? Why do we think they were successful? For this section I want to avoid the obvious ones. We all know John Lewis will do well… things tend to if you spend a reported £7m on a campaign like they did in 2016. I want to look at the ones that were a bit different.
We start across the pond with outdoor retailer REI. In 2016 they eschewed Black Friday sales and instead closed all of their 151 stores, stopped processing online sales, and gave their staff the day off (with pay) to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family for #OptOutside. It’s still running 2 years later. Of course, because this is the 21st century and to paraphrase the old saying somewhat, “if an event happens and you don’t share it on social media, did it really happen?”, people were encouraged to share their user generated content socially.
Clearly, this campaign is not limited solely to Christmas, and with Thanksgiving taking place in November it could be seen more as a general ‘holidays’ campaign. However, it was very successful. It won more awards than we can count, generated engagement in the millions, and snowballed so much that over 700 different organisations have since taken part in it. We felt we had to include it in this list because of how it became successful.
What we like about this is that it’s become part of the REI brand identity. Speaking to, and creating a genuine connection with their target market, they were able to differentiate themselves from the crowd and show their lived their own values. We’ve spoken in the past about how consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of how and where they spend their money, and how price alone can’t be the sole factor anymore. Campaigns like this are successful for that reason.
Remember when I said I wanted to look at the not-so-obvious Christmas campaigns…? Well, step forward the world’s largest fast food chain. Yep, we’re talking McDonalds but bear with me. In the run up to Christmas 2017, McDonald’s rand their #ReindeerReady campaign.
What we like about this is that it barely mentions burgers, instead focussing on their carrot sticks as the main product. Emily Somers of McDonalds said:
“We’ve been selling carrot sticks for more than 10 years in our restaurants. It’s something we’ve always done. And it’s absolutely on point with the [wider] message around Christmas […] Christmas is more important than any brand or product, so you can’t put your brand too central. This campaign felt more appropriate as the central vehicle [of the carrot] is absolutely true to us, it’s totally relatable and a universal truth. So it doesn’t look like we’re monopolising an event.”
That “Christmas is more important than any brand or product” line is very telling. Nobody needs to be told that McDonald’s sell burgers and doing so would have been a very forgettable. But by taking an aspect of their product range that perhaps isn’t as popular but is very much associated with the festive period, we see McDonalds in a different way. The message is clear, it’s endearing and ultimately, it worked.
Greenpeace Vs Coca Cola
No, this isn’t a mashup of contrasting styles akin to Run DMC and Aerosmith, the former is very much commenting on the latter. In the run up to Christmas 2017, Greenpeace decided it wanted to draw attention to Coca Cola and the 3400 plastic bottles they produce every second (SECOND!?!?), and how many of these find their way into the oceans.
Lacking the colossal marketing budgets of the world’s largest drinks manufacturer, Greenpeace decided to piggyback on their famous Christmas campaign – we all know the song and giant red truck…
Regardless of what you think about the campaign, it seems it was undeniably successful. Elena Polisano said of the campaign:
“The challenge for us was, how do we hijack Coke’s PR push when we can’t compete with its advertising budget? We decided to gate-crash Coca-Cola’s release with our own video launch hours before. There’s an annual flurry of Christmas adverts by big brands like Coke and we wanted to see if we could nab a bit of their newsworthiness and reach a bigger audience by taking over the hashtag. And thanks to you it looks like we succeeded. According to Blurrt, 66% of the conversation about Coca-Cola on the day we launched was taken by tweets mentioning Greenpeace UK. When you followed #HolidaysAreComing you discovered, “Greenpeace UK released an advert the same day as Coca-Cola, calling them out for the amount of recyclable plastic bottles dumped into the ocean each year.” Win!
Alongside this, Greenpeace also got writeups in PR Week and The Drum for their campaign which delivered on a significantly smaller budget. The phrase “work smarter, not harder” springs to mind. Much like the McDonald’s example previously, it takes something incredibly familiar with Christmas, and flips it on its head.
Greenpeace and Iceland: Rang-Tan
Instead of going against, this time Greenpeace decided to team up with a major UK retailer.
Some of you may be aware of The Streisand Effect, whereby the act of trying to hide or suppress something actually brings more attention to it than it would have otherwise received. Well, in November 2018 we can confidently say that that’s what’s happened with Iceland and their advert highlighting the destructive effects of palm oil plantations on the rainforests. Clearcast, the body that approves advertising on UK TV judged it ‘unfit for television’ due to its links to Greenpeace, making it fall foul of rules preventing political advertising. See for yourselves:
No such rules exist online so Greenpeace and Iceland published it on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else alongside their PR team going into overdrive and received wall-to-wall coverage on national TV, newspapers, news sites and more. Celebrities have joined in and shared it to millions on their own social media profiles and as of the 13th of November, a petition to get the ‘ban’ overturned has been signed 670,000 times. The Telegraph report that the advert could become the most popular ever by the end of the festive season, beating Sainsbury’s 2015 effort which amassed over 38 million views.
We like how it’s taken a wider issue that they wanted to communicate, and also taken an approach that they knew they couldn’t lose with; if it got past the regulators then the potential TV audience is huge, and if it didn’t, the surrounding coverage would guarantee the message still got across.
What are some of your favourite Christmas campaigns?
We’d love to hear them in the comments below or via our social channels.
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