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Marketing to our Emotions: Holiday Campaign Storytelling

Another holiday season is upon us. In these fast-paced, demanding, stressful and – when one looks at the various wars that are being waged far and yet not-so-far from home – precarious times, we are primed and ready, brimming with bottled-up, mixed emotions that are about to bubble over and burst at the first tug at our heartstrings.

I do give in to the ‘warmth’ of the season, if not the consumerism of it all. I find myself being kinder, more friendly, and extra supportive during these times. I rather enjoy being enveloped by the warm, collective nostalgia of childhood Christmases past. And I'm a sucker for a good holiday story, whether it's a book or movie or a really well-produced ad.

Retailers prep for the holiday season all year round. In North America, Black Friday (historically the day of the year when retailers could finally get 'in the black' with the shopping blitz leading up to the holidays) marks the beginning of this advertising push. Though advertising for the Holiday Season is nothing new, every year, one or two videos seem to wipe out the competition, raising the creative and emotional bar in storytelling while reminding us of what is really important.

As a consumer and a media producer, I am conflicted. I applaud the celebration of the things that “really matter.” Manipulation or not, I do respect the artistry that goes into being able to so effectively engage our emotions. I continue to be impressed with how the right music, angles, expressions, and storyline can spark such feeling so quickly.

But manipulation, it is still. Playing on our heightened state of emotions this time of year seems like a cheap shot. An it’s interesting that every major brand tries its hand at ‘the true meaning of the holidays' ad…. A few years back, CGI-penguins celebrating with polar bears brought on my waterworks (shhhh, secret’s safe here, right?) thanks to the minds at Coca-Cola:

What I am not conflicted about is that spots like the above are testaments to conveniently-timed storytelling. In the sunny summer months when we are riding high on Vitamin D (and most of our holiday credit card bills are finally resolved), it’s hard to get anyone to buy anything….

Interestingly, the real ad leaders are across the pond. Annually, companies like John Lewis and Salinsbury’s create whimsical, fairy-tale spots that feel like short films and stir up all the emotions.

What North Americans are doing pales in comparison. Adweek believes European companies are more in favour of the ‘slow play’ as is the case with ads stimulating general emotions as opposed to specific product pushes. The article goes on to say that Holiday ads (and the flood of Top Ten lists that subsequently follow) are the equivalent of our anticipation of Superbowl ads: “American retailers generally push messages of price and selection. By contrast, while the cheerful holiday feelings engendered by long-form video produced by the likes of John Lewis have an obvious return on investment (the store wouldn't do them otherwise), the ROI is also longer-term and tougher to measure."

Perhaps not coincidentally, this is the first year Coca-Cola is opting to recycle their “Make Someone Happy” ad from last year, indicating an even more bullish approach to holiday commercials:

Coca-Cola has always been legendary in this space, running its first ad in the 1958s, with eager fans awaiting new spots featuring the holiday lights-decorated delivery trucks or later the CGI polar bears, to officially ring in the start of the season.

So, though the UK continues to push the envelope, there have still been a few interesting stories to come out of North America:

I’ve spoken about airlines and their investment in creative marketing strategies that rival a lot of what the big global brands are doing. But Canada's WestJet airline and its 2013 ‘holiday stunt’ is one the most creative holiday campaigns (an

d well packaged with narration in true Christmas-tale-fashion) I've ever seen. It tells the story of a Christmas Miracle, as travellers reveal to a video Santa in a kiosk what they want for Christmas... and their gifts magically arrive at the baggage claim area upon arrival at their Canadian destinations:

This year, Macy’s tried their hand at a whimsical spot with “The Wish Writer”:

The concept was stellar, however, for me, something was lacking in the execution- it felt like an imitation of a UK spot without the flavour….

But, in 2015, the most-watched/ talked-about spot is one that masterfully times orchestral score with carefully selected close-up shots (that had me in tears 1/3 of the way through!) for… of all things…. a German grocery store, Edeka:

I’d like to throw in a new nominee for best “end-of-year” spot: “Fast Forward Girls 2015” from Goldiblox. While not a celebration of the holiday season perse, it speaks to a celebratory year in some respects for the promotion of equal rights and status for girls:

Although in my opinion, Girl Power is year-round movement - an all-season sentiment!

Happy Holidays, all!

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