Seasonal Branding: Tread Carefully with Christmas Themed Brand Strategies

Fourth quarter commercialism looms large. Sparkly red and green Christmas displays are simultaneously mounted as spooky orange and black Halloween decorations come down.

From Ireland to Illinois, consumers react in unpredictable ways to brand seasonal messages that creep in earlier and earlier every year. For retailers, that response can mean boom or bust for critical end-of year-sales figures.

  

 

Black Friday Launches the Season

 

Like a turkey sandwich in-between Halloween and Christmas, America has another huge national holiday. On the fourth Thursday of November, the weekend following Thanksgiving traditionally signaled the official start of Christmas during most of the 20th century. Dreamt up as a marketing concept in 2003, Black Friday is now the most frenzied shopping day of the year. It sees queues forming overnight for big sales, many beginning at dawn and some as early as midnight on Thanksgiving Day.

 

Black Friday is spreading. In recent years, Canada, Mexico and India have followed suit while giant American retailers like Disney and Apple introduce online sales in Australia, too. French shoppers are familiar with “Vendredi Noir.” In the U.K., Tesco and Argos 2014 Black Friday promotions prompted police action in Manchester, with Argos withdrawing from the event in 2015. 

 

Meantime, as early Christmas shop windows draw back the curtains on November installations, the 114-year-old U.S. retailer Nordstrom takes a different approach, making a statement about celebrating one holiday at a time, as seen in a window display. 

  

  

 Nordstrom Window Twitter

Image via www.twitter.com

 

  

In America, Hollywood goes nuts at the holidays over box office receipts for new film releases, but the small screen is tame on TV adverts compared to the U.K., where Christmas adverts are a national pastime. 

  

We look at a mixed bag of examples representing both large brands and smaller ones on both sides of the pond to see how campaigns are making the most of the season — while others have misfired and are quickly pronounced a failure. See what you think about these adverts.

  

 

Balancing Sales Strategies Intended as Charitable Endeavours

 

John Lewis is one of those nationwide UK brands that attracts considerable media attention with their annual Christmas message, usually a tear-jerker. This year’s advert tells the story of a little 6-year-old girl called Lily and an old man she spies with her telescope, who lives — all alone and lonely — on the moon. The advert is designed to raise awareness for the charity, Age UK, with its tagline: “Show someone they’re loved this Christmas.”

 

 

 

 

 

According to The Guardian, “Last year, the retailer also spent £7m on a campaign featuring a realistic animated penguin and a young boy playing together to the tune of John Lennon’s Real Love, sung by British singer-songwriter Tom Odell. It had drummed up 22m views on YouTube by the first week of January…” This year’s numbers are soaring ahead of last year’s. 

 

  

 

 

Rachel Swift, head of brand marketing at John Lewis, is quoted in The Telegraph saying there is a consistent style for the store’s seasonal adverts. “It is has become part of our handwriting as a brand. It’s about storytelling through music and emotion. The sentiment behind that hasn’t changed – and that is quite intentional. The strategy behind our campaigns is always about thoughtful gifting.”

  

The £1 million production for a six-week-long £7 million campaign, which includes more cost for shop floors kitted out to resemble a moonscape, has seen members of the public ask[1]: Why couldn’t John Lewis make a multi-million contribution to Age UK? In fact, the profits from three small ticket items sold at the department store – a mug, a gift tag and a card – will go to the charity supplemented by donations from the public, inspired by the advert’s message.   

 

 

John Lewis Consumer Reaction Twitter 

Image via www.twitter.com

 

 

Brands Play to Emotions to Drive Brand Loyalty 

 

Tugging at the heartstrings via hugs, cute penguins, a melting Mr. Snowman, and even World War I soldiers celebrating a Christmas truce in the trenches are among the emotional connections brands are working and spending hard to make happen.

 

 

 

 

 

Why? In a word, loyalty. As pointed out by a retail analyst[2], for modern consumers to change brands no longer involves driving to another village or shopping centre; swapping brands is as easy as the click of a mouse. All of which means your brand strategy needs to be a lot more sophisticated if you want to first attract and then hold onto your customers. Remember people buy with emotion first and justify with rational afterwards — regardless of gender or cultural background. Your brand must be rich with authentic personality, have a really big why — reasons beyond the money to buy, create emotionally compelling reasons to engage, and ensure it includes an advocacy strategy within your action plan if you want to increase your profitability and ensure long-term success.  

 

A MindMover opinion poll[3] indicates the following brands are most closely associated with Christmas adverts in the U.K.: Coca-Cola, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Argos, Cadbury, Asda, Toys R Us and Amazon. Not queried is the million pound question — that is, whether top-of-mind-awareness produces the all-important return on investment.

  

  

A Big Brand Blunder at Bloomingdale’s

 

Bloomingdale’s, U.S. luxury fashion chain stores owned by Macy’s, made such a spectacularly poor judgement in their 2015 Christmas advert that a week after the department store had apologized via Twitter, major editorials continued to call for a deeper response.

 

  

Bloomingdale's Advert Via Twitter 

Image via www.twitter.com

 

 

“Appearing to promote date rape,” says the Wall Street Journal[4], the “creepy” and “offensive” advert reads, “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.” Clearly, it went viral in the wrong way for the large retailer.

  

  

 Bloomingdale's Apology On Twitter

 Image via www.twitter.com

 

  

A Storm in a Teacup at Starbucks

 

At Starbucks, they knew what they were doing when the white snowflakes decorating the seasonal red cup design were removed. A seemingly simple change sent consumers in large numbers straight to social media, to sign a petition, and to boycott the brand, claiming that Starbucks was making an anti-Christ religious statement. “It’s just a red cup”, tweeted the voice of reason while Instagram lit up with Starbucks images and the nation’s top talk show hosts chimed in.

 

 

 Starbucks Red Christmas Cup 2015

Image via www.vox.com

 

 

Three lessons learned, says Entrepreneur[5], and small brands should pay especially close attention to number three on this list:

1) All PR is good PR. Starbucks marketing knew the response wouldn’t be universally positive, but they also knew this was not a crisis

2) The power of social media sharing is awesome — and free

3) Brands who react fast can newsjack a trend. “Other coffee brands got a boost from the issue, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, with its holiday cup release.

  

  

 Dunkin' Donuts Shout Out Twitter

Image via www.twitter.com

 

 

The subject has also created opportunities for smaller companies, YouTubers and creative types alike to ride the wave and get attention.”

 

 

Just Wine Starbucks Cup Twitter 

Image via www.twitter.com

 

 

That’s the same brand strategy employed by the many John Lewis parody adverts that follow immediately on the heels of the store’s annual commercial.

 

 

Smaller Brands & Seasonal Brand Strategies

 

Small brands can make a large impact in the community by scaling ideas such as co-branding in a lower key way, supporting a charity or club, adding removable seasonal details to products and packaging design, donating Christmas trees to community centers, hospitals and nonprofit organizations.

 

In London, independent, privately-owned residential estate agency Bective Leslie Marsh has supported West London Action for Children for over a decade. Estate agents and local residents partner to raise funds for the 98-year-old charity through year-round bridge and tennis tournaments, trivia quiz nights, barn dances, garden fetes and more.

 

To offset Black Friday’s emphasis on big box stores and chain stores, Small Business Saturday was launched in the USA in 2010. It focuses on the bricks and mortar local shops that are the fabric of the Ma & Pa character neighbourhoods with American Express is the main sponsor. Partnerships and promotion via Google street view, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook come up with initiatives to launch holiday shopping on the last Saturday of November too. 

 

Other successful ideas have included branded shirts and kits for a local sports club, providing staff to serve Christmas dinners at senior centres, running a toy drive or food hampers collection, singing Christmas carols to collect for the Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul and similar. It’s important to make a small investment in well design brand collateral such as banners, posters, placards, T-shirts, caps and other branded items to decorate and to wear in order to properly associate the occasion with your own brand.

 

 

So, what do you think?

  

• Are you often caught short of time, or do you have a holiday marketing plan drawn up by Quarter 2? Do you need to include this as part of your brand audit health check or brand revitalization strategy?

 

• Does your brand have a charitable and/or community giving programme?

 

• Does your brand strategy include corporate social responsibility?

 

• Do you know what initiatives, outreach or volunteer activities your employees — your brand champions — would feel most supportive of on behalf of your brand?

 

• Do you feel confident about maximizing the potential impact on sales via volunteerism on behalf of your brand?

 

 

You might also like:

 

• Christmas Branding: Top 10 Tips to Infuse Your Brand with Seasonal Spirit

  

• Brand Personality: Is Your Brand’s Character Big Enough to Compete?

 

• Brand Voice: Differentiating Through Your Own Brand Language and Attitude

 

• Brand Sponsorships: The Best Brand Ambassadors Are Already On Your Payroll 

 

• Humanizing Your Brand: Why It is Key to Commercial Success

 

• Brand Differentiation: 30 Ways to Differentiate Your Brand

 

• Brand Profiling: Top 6 Components to Creating a Strong Brand Personality

 

• Creating New Brands: Top 10 Tips for Brand Success

 

• Brand Profiling: How to Use Emotion to Make Your Brand More Profitable  

 

[1] As seen on Twitter #johnlewischristmasadvert

[2] Bryan Roberts, Kantar Retail analyst, The Telegraph, 16/11/2015

[3] “Glad Tidings for John Lewis…”, The Guardian, 6/11/15

[4] “Bloomingdale’s Holiday Ad Draws Backlash…”, Wall St Journal, 12/11/2015

[5] “3 Lessons from Starbucks’ Red Cup ‘Controversy’”, Entrepreneur, 16/11/2015