The holiday season is officially upon us, and all of us in the marketing world know what that means: Cue the dad carving a turkey. The family sitting together around the table. The laughing children. The Santa Clauses. The Christmas trees.
As sweet and comforting as all these tropes can be, so often they end up as part of a trite campaign that blends in with all the other holiday-themed commercials, and YouTube videos, and Instagram posts that we see this time of year. They don't truly convey the feelings of gratitude, love, and compassion that we all cultivate during the holidays.
For that reason, these campaigns can end up seeming, at best, inauthentic, and at worst, exploitative of the meaning of the holidays.
However, there are many brands that have figured out how to do gratitude right in their marketing. Here are a few of my favorite examples of powerful, sincere holiday marketing campaigns.
Real Giving in Action: Canadian Airline WestJet Gives Christmas Gifts to Passengers
This massive, all-hands-on-deck holiday marketing campaign comes from the Canadian airline WestJet. For two flights to Calgary, WestJet had passengers check in at an electronic kiosk shaped like a huge wrapped gift. When they scanned their boarding passes, they got to talk to Santa - live - to tell him what they wanted for Christmas.
WestJet employees and volunteers took down everyone's wish lists, and while the flights were in the air, teams on the ground in Calgary sped to the stores to buy gifts for every passenger. Back at the airport, more volunteers wrapped the gifts, which came down the baggage conveyor, bringing smiles - and tears - of joy to everyone.
To take their giving even further, WestJet committed to donating flights home to families in need if their video reached 200,000 views, which it easily did.
It's hard to watch this video and not feel a surge of goodwill toward WestJet. That's because the giving was real. The gesture was big and exciting. And the campaign relied on hundreds of people behind the scenes working together to create something amazing.
Living Out Brand Values: REI Chooses to #OptOutside on Black Friday
REI's bold decision to close on Black Friday was one of the most talked-about retail business moves of 2015.
Many experts thought it was a hugely risky move, but as we all know, it turned out to be one of the smartest, most creative decisions the outdoor retailer could have made.
To publicize REI's choice to close on the biggest shopping day of the year, the company worked with marketing agency Venables Bell & Partners, which came up with the now-famous hashtag #OptOutside. The hashtag and REI's decision went viral.
Why? The biggest reason is that choosing to close was perfectly in line with REI's values. The company is dedicated to helping people enjoy the outdoors and experience nature, and this was a rare and major opportunity to truly put those values into action.
On top of that, this meant giving their employees the day off, allowing them to #OptOutside as well. That generosity is also perfectly aligned with REI's brand values.
In 2016, department store Macy's spread some holiday magic on Instagram with their #SantaProject. The idea behind the campaign was that keeping belief alive is important, so they posted a video in which children described Santa Claus, and asked celebrities to post their own photos and videos sharing why they believed in Santa. To view the post click here.
This was lovely, but Macy's made the giving real when they teamed up with the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The store urged customers to write letters to Santa, and for every letter they received, they donated to the foundation to help other children's wishes come true.
The #SantaProject shows that sticking with traditional ideas can work, as long as they're executed well and there's true giving - in this case, to the Make-a-Wish Foundation - behind them.
Showing generosity to the people you're grateful for, like your customers and your employees, is always a move in the right direction - and not just during the holidays. A gratitude-based marketing campaign doesn't have to be huge or flashy in order to succeed. It just has to be real.