Holiday Marketing – Macy’s and More

Ever since the holiday season became so important for retailers across all industries and niches, marketers have put their creative minds to the test, crafting many memorable and emotional campaigns over the years – some of which we still remember, whether or not we purchase from the brands they were originally for! In this post, we’ll dive into a handful of the most important and recognizable holiday marketing campaigns and explore why they worked.

1924 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade can be thought of as the kickoff for the holiday shopping rush. It’s just before Black Friday and is nowadays viewed on television by over 20 million people each year. Marketers can only dream of that kind of exposure.

Macy’s employees and volunteers first marched in the Parade in 1924, and it has been held almost every year since. Balloons with cartoon characters, pop-culture icons, and more float over bands, performers, and parade attendees.

The Parade is about having a good time rather than directly advertising products. Still, it’s undeniably an effective way to remind everyone that it’s high time to begin buying gifts for friends and families – and that Macy’s is open for business!

1993 Coca-Cola Polar Bears

We already saw how successful Coke has been with its Santa Claus-themed advertisements. But who can forget the 1993 “Always Coca-Cola” campaign? If that doesn’t ring a bell, you might remember the iconic Coke Polar Bears sipping ice-cold pop after a sledding session.

The CGI for the Coke Polar Bears has gotten better over the years, but the ads are still about fun and family – remember, the bears are usually accompanied by little cubs and a Christmas Tree. The ads are arguably so successful because they manage to be simultaneously cute, heartwarming, and absurdly humorous.

1997 Starbucks Holiday Cups

Starbucks launched its own spin on holiday marketing starting in 1997 when it promoted its first line of holiday-themed cups. Since that year, Starbucks coffee fans can get their lattes and hot chocolates in green, red, or patterned cups instead of the usual white. In recent years, Starbucks has cleverly tied the holiday cup promotion into its recycling initiatives, offering reusable plastic holiday cups for purchase alongside the normal disposable ones.

2004 Google Santa Tracker

Now a cornerstone of modern marketing strategies, Google is no stranger to savvy advertisements around the holidays. 2004 saw the tech giant launch the Santa Tracker, which is still going strong today. Like the NORAD version of the same service from the 1970s, Google’s Santa Tracker lets kids and parents watch St. Nick’s journey through Google Earth and Google Maps. The real genius? It’s a passive way to promote Google’s Maps and Earth services without demanding a purchase, subscription, or sign-up. Instead, it offers an opportunity for families to bond and have a good time.

Why Were These Campaigns So Successful?

At first glance, the similarities between these campaigns might seem surface-level at best. Sure, they reference the holiday season and might have shared iconography, but what else?

At their core, these memorable holiday marketing campaigns succeeded for one reason: they emotionally resonated with their target consumers. Even if you aren’t what you’d call a “holiday person,” there’s an intangible yet very real kind of ambient cheer in the air this time of year. These campaigns successfully tapped into that energy — then channeled it into products, services, or advertisements.

The famous Thanksgiving Day Parade still brings people together (and reminds attendees and TV viewers alike that Macy’s put it together!). The Starbucks holiday cups add a bit of variety to millions of commuters’ morning rituals of sipping coffee. And the Santa tracker from Google shows just how useful its Maps app can be while giving families a bit of fun in the process.

That’s the secret to successful marketing anytime, but especially during the holidays. In the next post, we’ll examine how modern brands can use this approach for all holiday projects.

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