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13 Companies Excelling at Holiday Marketing

DATE PUBLISHED: November 22, 2013

When it comes to organizations that capitalize on the holiday season really well, the conversation begins and ends with Saturday Night Live, particularly during their mid-90s golden age.  We're especially fond of the "fake" commercial for a crying baby-Jesus figurine that screams 24 hours a day from Christmas Day to January 6.  Timeless! holiday marketing

Unfortunately, most companies don't have the luxury of skewering the holiday season in such a (brutally hilarious) fashion.  No matter how much customers may hate standing in line at the mall for hours on end, companies need to accentuate the positive: holiday marketing efforts must exude happy, joyous and uplifting vibes. Those are the hallmark of successful campaigns, and since we here at Palmer are also in the giving holiday spirit, we'd like to highlight 13 companies whose holiday marketing efforts make us giddy:

  1. Target.  The retailer has established a niche as being slightly more sophisticated and urbane than Wal-Mart.  That's a testament to their brand, which really shines through in their light and festive holiday campaigns.  They're also embracing social media, particularly Pinterest, with great enthusiasm.  For example, beginning last week Target (and other retailers) greeted digital visitors with pin-boards of popular products according to the visitor's Pinterest friends.  Pretty cool.  
  2. American Express.  Talking about yourself during Christmas is nice, but generously giving a shout-out to others is even better.  AmEx came up with their "Small Business Saturday" campaign, which encouraged shoppers to buy stuff at small businesses rather than larger corporate outlets.
  3. Coca-Cola.  The company seems intent on usurping Jimmy Stewart as the quintessential face that symbolizes a cozy, small town, Norman Rockwellian Christmas experience.  Whether it's their inventive animated commercials or reliance on Santa as a pitchman, Coca-Cola's holiday marketing exudes warmth, comfort and many wool sweaters.
  4. Toys "R" Us.  The fact that Christmas has become synonymous with "toys" could lead certain companies to get somewhat complacent.  Not so with Toys "R" Us.  Their 2011 holiday ads employed the powerful tool of nostalgia to connect current shoppers with experiences of the past, proving that Christmas has always been synonymous with "nostalgia."
  5. Red Cross.  This organization consistently capitalizes on the more uplifting elements of Christmas - kindness, charity, and giving — to compel people to donate, but without coming across as crass and craven.  It sounds easy in theory, but it's very difficult in practice.
  6. Petco.  People love pets, so citing Petco as a company that does a great job at holiday marketing is slightly disingenuous.  After all, all they need to do is put up a photo of a kitten in a Santa hat, and they'll rack up the Likes faster than you can say "mesquite-flavored Christmas chew toy."  That said, they nonetheless strike a nice balance and go to great lengths to build their brand by interacting with social media users.
  7. Zales.  What's better than being proposed to at a nice restaurant?  How about being proposed to as the snow gently drifts past the window of a nice restaurant on Christmas Eve?  Indeed, while it may be manipulative to play on one's emotions during the holidays, Zale's isn't the first to do so.  And they do a great job of evocatively connecting the holidays with wedding rings. 
  8. Best Buy.  The retailer got props for their recent "Game On, Santa!" ad campaign, and for good reason.  It suggested that if you show up to Best Buy with only $100, you don't need Santa.  But they also translate that irreverent perspective into the social media world as well; for example, they host "Twitter parties" for certain demographics to share gift ideas.  
  9. Cisco.  When you think of the holidays, you normally don't think of routers.  But that didn't stop Cisco from launching a "How Do You Give Back?" campaign on its Facebook page, asking followers how the help their communities.  
  10. Amazon.  We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the biggest retailer of them all.  Amazon does a great job of leveraging "big data" to promote products like their Kindle Fire HDX, is "most wished-for product on Amazon," as well as campaigns like their "Countdown to Black Friday Deals Week." 
  11. Starbucks.  Starbucks does a great job of cranking the "cozy" quotient to the max in both their stores and online.  But if business school taught us anything, holiday marketing is more than making everything smell like nutmeg: Starbucks also launched an app that encouraged customers to take a picture of their coffee and send an e-gift to friends. 
  12. Macy's.  The retailer's holiday marketing efforts caters to a slightly more upscale demographic, with a dollop of magic and charity thrown in for good measure: its recent "Believe" campaign encouraged people to donate to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. 
  13. FedEx.  FedEx's recent mini-commercials made fun of people for camping out on Black Friday, only to remind them that FedEx is open for business year-round.  While we normally don't suggest making fun of your customers — particularly during the holidays when people are emotionally vulnerable — FedEx's approach was light-hearted and spot-on.

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