4 Examples of Successful Holiday Marketing Campaigns

By Rhonda Bradley / 28 November 2018

Find out how successful brands tailor traditional marketing strategies to fit current trends. Examples include Starbucks, Macy’s, John Lewis, and Royal Dutch Airlines.

What can marketers learn from the successes and failures of some of the most recent holiday campaigns? 

We took a look at some recent engaging holiday campaigns to find out how they’re tailoring commercials to fit the current culture.

In recent years, more families are separated by distance during the holidays, and two of our examples address the issue of being separated or alone on the holidays. 

Meanwhile, feel-good stories that pay homage to time, tradition, and camaraderie are leading the way as 2018 rings in the holidays and closes out the year.

In this article, we explore how brands tailor different types of marketing to fit today’s culture:

  • John Lewis launches an Elton John mini-film
  • Macy’s continues its storytelling tradition
  • Starbucks 2018 shifts the controversy
  • KLM Royal Dutch airlines creates its own story

John Lewis Launches Elton John Biographic Mini-Film

John Lewis' Christmas video plays on nostalgia and a beloved superstar's life to evoke positive emotions

A newly-released holiday video by John Lewis, a chain of high-end department stores, launched to mixed reaction upon its November 2018 release.

The Boy and The Piano is a mini-film retrospective of the life of Elton John.
Elton John mini-film screenshot

The story takes viewers on a reverse-chronological journey from 2018 to 1950 through recreated video footage of the superstar’s performances, set to the soundtrack of his famous “Your Song.”

The final scene shows a child actor (representing the young Elton John), receiving a brand new piano for Christmas and playing his first notes on the piano.

Elton John mini-film screenshot 2

In the final seconds, the film segues to the 71-year old legend closing the piano as the only text in the film appears: “Some gifts are more than just a gift,” followed by a John Lewis and Partners logo.

Many people had high praise for the holiday ad. In less than 72 hours, it was viewed over 7 million times on YouTube and 5 million on Twitter. 

However, John Lewis Department Stores didn’t sell pianos until Twitter users called them out on on its lack of logic.

John Lewis piano tweet

The store added a small selection of digital pianos to its product line immediately.

John Lewis pianos

The company also took Twitter backlash because people couldn’t understand what the ad had to do with John Lewis stores. 

“This is a great plug for Elton! But for John Lewis? Totally uninspiring!” wrote one follower. Others followed suit with similar complaints about the ad not making sense as a commercial for the store.

John Lewis piano tweet 2

To its credit, John Edwards patiently responded to every negative tweet by reinforcing the intention of its campaign.

“We wanted to share with our customers that some gifts are more than just a gift... they can make a difference to someone's life. Thanks - Karen,” wrote the store on Twitter.

The positive response from “The Boy and The Piano” shows us that storytelling is alive and well for the 2018 holiday season. However, it’s also an excellent reminder not to get so carried away in the story that you forget to promote your products.

Macy’s Continues its Storytelling Legacy in 2018

Macy’s shares heartwarming videos that address topics familiar to modern-day families.

Macy’s is no newcomer to storytelling. In fact, in 1874, its New York location was the first store to feature holiday stories in plated glass windows, now known as “window displays.”  Macy’s continued its windowed form of storytelling for decades, and 25 years later other stores began to follow suit.

Window displays image

Continuing its long-standing tradition of holiday storytelling, Macy’s is bringing you more for the 2018 holiday season.

Its commercial, “The Wonder of Giving” tells the Christmas story of an astronaut mom separated from her family back on earth. The story opens with the mother floating in her space cabin, alone, holding a gift-wrapped present shaped like a snowman. 

Wonder of Giving screenshot

While video-conferencing with her family, she opens her gift to find a snow globe, which makes for wonderful visual images inside her space cabin.

Another of this year’s Macy’s commercials centers around a young girl who becomes enamored with a beautiful diamond necklace in a jewelry store. Upon returning home, she makes a macaroni necklace to give to her mom for Christmas. 

Macy's jewelry necklace commercial

When mom opens the present, the necklace has been replaced with the real diamond necklace as the young girl looks on in awe. The dad who exchanged macaroni for real diamonds smiles in the background as he lets his daughter take credit for the gift.

Macy’s holiday campaigns prove that storytelling never gets old. 

However, emotional storytelling is a niche that can cause consumer burnout. It will be interesting to follow Macy’s 2018 campaign to see how well it resonates with customers this year.

Learn 3 storytelling techniques to improve your social media engagement.

Starbucks 2018 Campaign Shifts the Controversy

Starbucks encourages peace on earth while stirring harmless controversy over limited-supply red cups.

Every year since 1997, Starbuck’s Coffee releases a campaign surrounding a newly-designed line of holiday-themed coffee cups, known as “red cups.”

For three consecutive years, Starbucks’ red cups sparked controversy that put Starbucks front and center in press headlines:

  • 2015: Red cups spark debate among certain groups that don’t think the cups are religious enough. 
2015 Starbucks holiday cups
  • 2016: Red cups become green cups featuring an intricate design promoting unity among all types of people. The unity symbolism infuriates a group of political conservatives, whose accusations of brainwashing and bias fuel controversy on Twitter.
2016 Starbucks holiday cups
  • 2017: The red cup design features images of presents, snowflakes, and the arms of 2 people who are holding hands. The gender of the people holding hands isn’t clear, which inspires conservative news media to accuse Starbucks of promoting a “gay agenda.”
2017 Starbucks holiday cups

On the outside, it may seem like Starbuck’s is under attack by religious groups. 

From a marketer’s viewpoint, though, one can’t help but wonder wonder if the red cups are actually a flawlessly executed press campaign, since the controversy has put the chain at the center of the holiday press for three years in a row.

This year Starbucks toned down the controversy by releasing cups with traditional designs that hint at candy canes, ornaments, and holly. 

Starbucks 2018 holiday cups

However, don’t expect Starbucks to vanish from the headlines this holiday season. 

Rather than fuel dissension between religious groups, the brand is approaching the 2018 season with a different type of controversy. 

This year, Starbucks dominated holiday headlines by promoting a special coffee cup that offered discounts on winter-themed drinks. The cup had fans lining up at its doors to purchase it on November 5th.

The limited edition cup ran out in 2 hours, and irate fans took to Twitter to complain. 

Starbucks 2018 holiday cups tweet

For the fourth year in a row, Starbucks grabbed news headlines during the holiday season.

Starbucks 2018 holiday cups headline

From Starbucks, we learn that controversy can result in highly-visible holiday marketing campaigns. However, the brand’s savvy caution in its 2018 campaign directs the controversy toward sold-out cups instead of issues that divide people. 

Starbucks current red cup shortage keeps its company in the headlines without distracting from its overall theme of peace and unity.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Creates its Own Story

Royal Dutch Airlines encourages people to connect with each other by creating a “bonding buffet” for passengers awaiting flights at Schipol Airport.

In 2016, Royal Dutch Airlines set a Christmas buffet table high up in the air at Schipol Airport in the Netherlands. It intended to encourage people to interact with each other instead of their devices.

Surrounding the spectacle were 20 chairs that needed to be filled with people in order for the table to fully descend so people could eat.

KLM Bonding Buffet

One by one, passengers waiting for flights filled the seats and encouraged passersby to join them. 

KLM Bonding Buffet 2

When the final seat filled, the table lowered to the ground revealing a stunning holiday meal for the 20 strangers to share with each other.

One KLM blogger described the event as a fantastic success in which diners sang songs and “raised their glasses to life.” 

She also confessed, “The experience was so much fun, in fact, that we eventually had to remind some of the guests that they had flights to catch!”

KLM Bonding Buffet 3

Royal Dutch Airlines’ Bonding Buffet created an emotional story that blended stunt, prank, and user-generated themes into one powerful experiential approach.

Experiential marketing can require a significant amount of time and financial investment, but the results can be wildly successful.

Successful Holiday Campaigns Work With Current Cultural Trends

John Lewis delivered a message that gifts can be far more than materialistic exchanges.

Starbucks switched the controversy onto itself rather than fueling anger between other people. 

Macy’s and Royal Dutch Airlines addressed current issues like separated families and singles alone at Christmas. 

Successful holiday campaigns find ways to blend tradition with current culture. 

More importantly, brand leaders adjust traditional tactics like storytelling and controversy to fit the trends of the current season. 

When crafting your holiday campaigns, keep in mind that not all promotions have to feature your products. Some of the most powerful holiday campaigns create memories by broadcasting a message that sticks in the memory and builds a human connection.

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