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Brand Love – Target The Heart and Win Big

“I pledge to fulfill my brand promise: I will be faithful to you and honest with you; I will respect, listen, help, and care for you; I will try to make your life better; I will forgive you as we have been forgiven; I will continue to strengthen our bond; through the best and worst of what is to come, and as long as we are together. Brand Love.”

Most brands need to earn the customer’s love over time. To speed up the courtship, several brands try to become more human-like. People choose their favourite brands with their hearts, not their heads. Brand love evokes emotion and is more powerful than any brand story.

Love at First Sight

Carolin Dahlman says in her book, Love Branding, if you can learn to master your customers’ emotions and make them feel the love, you will earn more money. She explains that love is a two-way street, and most brands fail to love their customers back. So what does that mean? It’s all about giving back what you get. I guess you can say it’s not a one-night-stand but a commitment – a long-term commitment.

Emotional Branding

No one knows this better than Procter & Gamble. Over the last 180 years, P&G has been at the forefront of creating powerful, emotional relationships between consumers and brands. They have been pioneers and leaders in embracing technology to build a deep brand connection with their customers. They utilized soap operas on the radio and early television, award shows, and fast-growing web ventures.

P&G Global Brand Building Officer Marc Pritchard emphasized the importance of one-to-one relationships in today’s always-connected, always-on digital environment. He said that brands need to be less focused on making money and instead emphasize improving customers’ lives. He, too, thinks it’s important to give back to the customer.

P&G’s used the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games and the Paralympic Winter Games to thank moms through several highly emotional stories. There aren’t too many mothers who can’t relate to these stories.

P&G Pampers brand is another excellent example of how P&G has defined a higher purpose for their brand beyond the functional benefit of keeping babies dry. Pampers has leveraged the critical consumer insight that moms—especially first-time moms—are continually looking to connect with others sharing similar experiences. Pampers created programs such as “Pampers Village” and “A Parent is Born” as forums for moms to connect, learn and discover. If you visit their Canadian Facebook page, they have over 18,275,856—pretty good for a poopy diaper discussion.

But is this brand love? Love is defined as an emotion of a strong attraction and personal attachment – the ultimate goal for any brand.

1934-food-heinz-ketchup-swscan04154-copy

Love Potion

It’s hard to argue with success, and no brand is more successful than Heinz Ketchup. A brand that has been around for over 144 years is still the bestselling brand of ketchup globally, with over 650 million bottles sold every year. So what is their love potion? Diane Levine, the author of the blog Beneath the Brand, says their enduring success comes down to a few brilliant but straightforward relationship strategies:

  • Maintain a core (or at least an air) of consistency
  • Spice things up once in a while
  • Be considerate of their needs.

In the end, she says it’s the little things that matter most.

In Romancing the Brand: How Brands Create Strong, Intimate Relationships with Consumers, branding expert Tim Halloran argues that today’s effective marketers must foster a deep, committed, and emotionally connected relationship with their consumer base. They must keep the sparks alive in a long-term relationship rather than focus solely on the short-term, single purchase.

Better Lives

Building off of Diane Levine’s three strategies, Tim Halloran includes:

  • Listen to your customers.
  • Strive to make your customers’ lives better

On the last point, Nike ‘Just do it’ is now more about ‘Help me just do it.’ Nike+ has become an enabler to its customers and brings them together to stay motivated and challenged in a virtual community. Nike’s success has to do with its focused use of athlete relationships and innovative brand experiences to inspire its customers to feel like athletes. Its products and technologies are always linked to values such as aspiration, achievement and status.

Tim Hortons has found its way into Canadians’ hearts not only through their coffee on every corner of every city and town of Canada but also through their social consciousness of understanding Canadians. From their support of the Canadian military to tapping into the Canadian passion for hockey, they have successfully used the Canadian brand to reinforce their brand love.

Brand Love

If you read this article out of context, you would think that we talked about the secrets of a successful marriage. In truth, what we are talking about here is a deep and emotional relationship between a customer and a brand. The exciting thing is that the historical brands figured this out a long time ago. Keep re-engineering how you engage and support your customers. The internet allows every brand to engage with its customers on a one-to-one level 24/7. But without the insights and relationship strategies to connect on an emotional level, there will never be any brand love.

If you want customers to love your brand, make sure you give more than you take. Follow through on the little things, keep your promises, learn to apologize when you make a mistake or disappoint and spend time learning about what is important to them. But most importantly, your brand must be authentic and real to be loved.

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How Brands Inspire the Holiday Spirit in the Year 2020

man in santa claus costume

It’s safe to say that the 2020 holiday season will be different from any other holiday season for retail brands and consumers worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic will have a profound effect on virtually everything concerning the holidays. Some brands will thrive and inspire the holiday spirit in 2020, and others will find themselves on the naughty list. The same goes for the consumers — some have extra cash from remaining stuck at home, and others will be struggling to survive after losing their jobs. The disparities will be dramatic. There have been over 1.7 million deaths from COVID-19 worldwide. Currently, North America leading in the number of new cases.

‘Tis the season when every major retail brand will try to capture consumers’ hearts by inspiring the holiday spirit in 2020 with the ultimate goal of turning a profit. The holiday season can make up to 20 – 40 percent of annual sales for many retail brands. A lot is riding on this time of uncertainty. In many cases, brands are still trying to recoup the losses from the first Coronavirus lockdown in the spring. According to the WARC research group, the pandemic has eliminated $63 billion in global advertising spend. This is the time for all or nothing.

Holiday Spirit in 2020

This is truly a year when we all need as much good cheer, hope, joy, kindness, generosity and goodwill as ever before. This magical time should be bringing us together with friends and family to share food, stories, gifts and merriment. But with the second-wave of COVID-19 hitting North America and Europe, this doesn’t look possible. Not physically, anyway. Any gatherings will need to be virtual through a one-dynamical digital platform—the burden of lifting our spirits weights heavily on the mega brands holiday commercials.

Brad Hiranaga, the chief brand officer for General Mills, North America, says brands will need “to be respectful and empathetic to what’s going to be a more challenging holiday season.”

The soundtrack plays a leading role in helping trigger happy holiday memories utilizing some of the most prevalent emotional songs and traditional Christmas tunes.

How did these brands tackle the pandemic’s challenge both in production and addressing the safety realities (distancing & masks) and the social mindset, or did they suspend the current reality for the sake of Christmas? Here are the top themes brands used to inspire the holiday spirit in 2020:

Diversity

2020 was a devastating year for racism inciting Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations. Clearly, many brands understand the importance of portraying diversity as they deviated from the traditional Caucasian family demographic to reflect their consumer base.

The holidays wouldn’t be complete without a beer commercial. For example, Heineken does an excellent job of portraying a montage of families going through the usual things they dislike about being together during the holidays, except now these things have turn into moments of joy. 

H-E-B, a supermarket chain in Texas, creates a collection of vignettes of various families doing good deeds during the holiday season.

Animation

The pandemic has had a significant impact on the filming industry, shutting down many production studios to keep actors safe. Using animation is a perfect solution. It’s a rich, engaging medium that can suspend reality and represent abstract ideas. It is also cost-effective and easy to manage in work from home environment. 

A list of Christmas commercials wouldn’t be complete without the John Lewis UK department store. This year’s advert is called Give A Little Love. The story transforms from real actors to animation celebrating how every act of love and kindness positively impacts the world around us. 

McDonald’s Christmas animated advert focuses on a mother trying to reignite the holiday season’s magic with her pre-teen son, who tries to suppress his inner child. 

Genuine & Real

2020 has taught us all to combine work with home life, at least below the belt. The world has become more informal as we share where and how we live. Authenticity has become paramount. In a world of so much uncertainty, we are all hungry for stability and things we can rely on. 

Kohl’s, a USA department store chain, holiday commercial recognizes “this year looks different because the world is different,” so they focused on the simple concept of human connection. From a young girl’s bedroom window, assuming she is in lockdown, she starts a new friendship.

This year Amazon dumped the long-standing self-serving singing Amazon boxes commercials. And replaced it with a tear-jerking story about a ballerina who triumphs through the challenges of 2020. Thanks to the support of her family and community. There are only two Amazon boxes shown throughout the 90 seconds, and they don’t make a sound. 

Worst Year Ever

Some brands felt it was essential to address the elephant in the room. They acknowledged and empathized with the pandemic’s new normal. This required a fine-balance of tonality and sincerity without taking advantage of the situation. Using humour is always appreciated as a positive relief. 

Actor Steve Carell plays Santa in a touching holiday commercial from Xfinity. Because of the horrible year, Santa challenges the elves to develop some truly unique gift ideas. After running out of ideas, they decide to gift “togetherness.” I will leave it at that, so I don’t spoil the punchline. 

Tesco, a British multinational groceries, uses humour in its commercial to declare, “after a year like this, we believe there is no naughty list. So go on Britain, treat yourself to the best Christmas ever.” 

Hope & Retro

With all the fear and sadness the pandemic has created, some brands have gone retro. Pulling from happier times to reassure us that the future will be OK.

New to holiday advertising, Disney produced a mini happy-sad-happy animated movie (3 minutes long) focused on their most iconic character Mickey Mouse. The story covers a decade from a grandmother’s childhood to her granddaughter today. This is sure to activate your tear-ducts.

This year Coca-Cola aired two Christmas ads – Holidays Are Coming and The Letter hitting the heartstrings with a combination of nostalgia, escapism and humour. 

Please No Change 

Since 1989 Hershey’s has run their classic Kisses commercial of eleven red and green Kisses performing a bell rendition of “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” This year, Hershey wanted to take advantage of the new baking craze. So they adapted the original version by adding a father and daughter making peanut butter blossom cookies. The Twitter-sphere quickly reacted negatively as the statement “people are outraged” trended. Hershey’s promptly brought back the original to appease those who couldn’t handle another change in 2020. 

Happy Holidays 

As Eric Severeid, author and CBS news journalist, said, “Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves.” Most retail brands embrace this concept to capture the real feeling of Christmas. Many went out of their comfort zone to try to reach consumers on an emotional level. Some failed to connect or went too far and others achieved their goal. I only shared a shortlist of holiday commercials go to YouTube to view the complete list.

You will have to be the judge as to whether they inspired the holiday spirit in 2020 during these unprecedented times. 

Happy holidays and a safe and healthy New Year!

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Fear Is The Greatest Persuader That Doesn’t Terrify Brands

Using fear to build a brand

Find out how brands use consumers’ fear to influence the buying decision.

Fear is the most visceral and primal emotion. It’s our survival instinct to keep us safe. Emotional fear can break through the mundane noise of life and have a profound, lasting effect on the human psyche. Fear is the most excellent persuader to make us do things and sometimes buy things that hopefully give us peace of mind. People can fear anything from missing out, pain, failure, losing, uncertainty, the unknown, or death.

If fear is the most excellent persuader, it is hard for brands not to use it, especially when it is hard to stand out in this noisy world. Fear has been the principal instrument for religions, politicians, advocacy groups, media, and brands. Without it, brands have little persuasive ability.

Neuroscience has found that our brain is always wired to search and seek safety, moving away from a perceived threat towards a perceived reward. Fear is precisely how the stock market works. For instance, there are five times more threat circuits compared to reward circuits in the brain. In a study, the University of Bath, U.K., found that the fear of failure motivates consumers far more than the promise of success. Dr. Gorkan Ahmetoglu, an occupational psychologist, says that people are more motivated by fear of losing something than the reward of gaining something.

Fear of missing out and fear of messing up.

What is Fear?

Fear can be experienced in two forms: physical and emotional.

Fight or flight is our physical response to fear. Where our body either stand its ground or runs for its life. Anxiety comes with sweating, rapid heart rate, and high adrenaline levels.

The emotional response is highly personalized, starting with a chemical reaction in our brain. For every person and situation, the fear factor is different. Some people are adrenaline junkies, thriving on fear-induced experiences like extreme sports or watching scary movies. The net outcome is a fear-induced positive. For others, these situations are avoided at all costs because these fear-inducing experiences are undesirable. It’s through emotional fear that brands try to convert us.

Fear in the Moment

When something scares us, we are on high alert. We quickly focus on the here and now. For instance, you feel your heart pounding in your throat as you fight for air. Precisely what a brand wants you to do — pay attention. It does not guarantee a sale, but hopefully, it gets your brand on their shopping list.

Several research studies done in the 1960s found too little fear wasn’t enough to create an action, and too much fear created a defensive reaction like denial. You have to find the sweet spot.

The relevance is essential. The fear portrayed must be related to the person’s psyche and phobias. If you recently had a heart attack, you will pay attention to every warning/danger concerning your health (i.e. diet, fried foods, smoking), especially if it was the cause of your heart attack. Targeted fear is more effective because your target is ready to listen and is desperate for a solution — your brand’s solution.

Macro Fears

There is always a prevailing crisis that captures the world’s imagination through sensationalized news reports and documentaries. The broad topics range from economic catastrophe, environmental annihilation, health epidemics or pandemics, and political upheaval or war. Many brands use these fears to help promote their products or causes. Climate change has been a big one for the last decade. Today, the coronavirus has superseded all other worries. Next will be the economic fall-out and the fear of the unknown.

Fear of germs and fear of climate change.

Micro Fears

Micro fears are fears directly related to personal situations and individual psyche. The personality and behavioural profile model DiSC identified four common fears based on its four personality styles: Dominant, Influencing, Steady, and Compliant. Each personality type is motivated by different factors based on environment, heredity, and role models, but their underlining behaviour is influence by fear. In each case, there is a different common fear.

Source: www.discprofile.com

The two most common styles globally are Influence and Steadiness, closely followed by Conscientiousness. More women than men residing in the Influence (32%) and Steady (33%) styles, whereas more men occupy Compliant (30%). Interestingly, more Americans are Dominate (17%) or Influencing and significantly less are Compliant (13%). Of course, these numbers are very black and white. Most of us are a blend of these four styles. For instance, many brands focus on the fear of rejection and the fear of losing security/stability. Nobody wants to miss out.

Fear of rejection.
Fear of insecurity.

Scared Straight

Many advocacy groups want people to stop deviant behaviour like smoking, alcohol & drug abuse, drinking & driving, gun violence, unsafe sexual practices, animal cruelty and eating disorders. Telling people what they shouldn’t do is hard. Sociologist and author of How Fear Works Frank Furedi says “…advocacy groups use ‘surveys’ and ‘research,’ rather than the language of good and evil, to claim that a particular problem is getting worse and that unless Something Is Done, it will engulf the whole of society.”

In many cases, the target is foolish young men whose hormones are driving them towards risky behaviour. They don’t listen to anyone, not even their mothers. So why would they listen to a brand commercial or print ad? There is an urgent need to change their behaviour as death rates are highest among 16 to 23-year-old males (until they reach 60 to 70). In most cases, these campaigns try to use fear to knock some sense into these delinquents. Making deviant behaviour uncool is the goal.

While these campaigns win awards, I’m not sure they change behaviour. Don’t get me wrong; these are dangerous situations that deserve serious attention. But is scaring people to death sustainable? Fear mongering has been around longer than I’ve been alive. Religions are notorious for putting the fear of God in sinners. The fear they used years ago wouldn’t be beneficial today unless you are Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran. So far, his ability to perpetuate fear seems to be — unfortunately — sustainable.

Fear of death.

Risk Averse

Society has become more risk-averse since the advent of helicopter parents. These parents sought to protect their children from everything imaginable from accidental injuries to terrorists, child molesters, sexual predators, drug gangs, and crazy killers lurking in the dark — and now pandemic viruses.

As people age, they become more risk-averse. An Economic Journal study found that regardless of income, wealth, and education, risk appetite falls as investors grow older. Millennials are also showing signs of risk aversion. Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that Millennials started saving money for retirement around the age of 24. In contrast, Generation X began at the age of 30, and Baby Boomers didn’t start saving until they were 35.

Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things, says, “…most Americans live in what is arguably the safest time and place in human history, and yet fear levels are high…” Top of mind for many Americans is a devastating shooting in a school, mall, church, office, or at a social event.

If we critically look at the evidence, the top fears aren’t killing us like the media and social channels would want us to believe. To put COVID-19 in perspective, 634,000 Americans die of heart disease every year. At the time of writing, over 100,000 Americans have succumbed to COVID-19. My guess would be over 75 percent of the media channels are consumed with Coronavirus fear.

Our lives have become much more comfortable, thanks to technology, government systems, and economic stability, but people are more afraid than ever. Now that COVID-19 has entered the picture, fear is at an all-time high. Brands understand this fear. They are more than willing to show how they can help make your life better for a price.

Fear of health.

Risk Takers

Like Yin and Yang, there is a positive side to fear. Adrenaline junkies respect and reverence of fear; they see both the challenge and the reward of fear. They thrive on adrenaline by facing fear directly. Extreme sports are all about risk management and controlling fear in a way that isn’t debilitating. In a study published in Health Psychology, researchers found a correlation between extreme sports and transformational changes in confidence and sense of self. But, let’s be real, many of these daredevils die — fear or no fear. However, people, who can embrace their fears and face them head-on are reported to be happier, more stable, and able to handle life’s ups and downs.

Adrenaline junkies.

Buying Peace of Mind

Fear is what keeps us alive. No shortage of fears exists in consumers’ minds. Brands that get it right tap into the instinct for self-preservation, which, at its core, motivates most of our decisions. Brands need to be there to help consumers survive and flourish.

Fear isn’t a weapon to prey on consumers’ underlining insecurities but more to help them embrace truth. It shouldn’t be condescending, finger-wagging or hopeless. Creating an emotionally distressed state should come with a definite benefit. In many cases, fear only creates a defensiveness reaction of denial, anger, disgust, and avoidance. No one benefits from de-moralization except the righteous activist who frightens and morally condemns people’s actions, shaming them into conversion. Consumers need to see a better future with courage, trust, hope, love, and solidarity. Healthy fear creates attention and breaks through the noise, but it must come with a sustainable solution. As British philosopher, Bertrand Russell once said, “To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”

Fear can be the starting point of a great brand relationship. Show them how your brand can help with practical information and resources, not just scare them to death.

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COVID-19: Actions to Protect Your Brand in a Volatile World

The world is in a crisis. The doomsday prophets are alive and well. The stock market is reaching historical lows. Government leaders have never been in this situation and are making up their plans on-the-fly. The major solution is pumping trillions of dollars into a fragile system with the hope that the market will return to normal. People are terrified of the invisible COVID-19 enemy that is attacking thousands of people. Locked-up in their homes, they count the days. A perfect script for a horror movie of epic portions. But it’s not. How do you protect your brand in a volatile world? Here are some immediate steps:      

Protect Employees

Many brands saw the writing on the wall and quickly sent most of their employees home, as did many government institutions. Those brands that operated their business as usual were eventually forced by governments to close their doors, unless they were essential services. The employee that stayed to keep the business running are instructed to keep their social distance (two meters) from anyone else and ensure the highest hygiene standards. Employees will be your first critic if you fail to protect them and only focus on profits. People first!

Protect Customers 

As brand ambassadors rush home with office laptops and mobile devices, their ultimate goal is to keep customers happy and revenue flowing. This new decentralized work force must adjust to the new work and home realities as they are forced to improvise new ways to delivery customer satisfaction. Thank heavens for digital technology that can replace face-to-face interactions! The dreaded meetings are still happening, just virtually with frozen faces and choppy voices. A crisis means more meetings. Those brands that require face-to-face interactions with customers are scrambling to find online solutions to keep them afloat. But many can’t find a solution so closing their operations is the outcome. This has resulted in millions of North Americans being laid off. Not serving customers means no revenue. It also means keeping people safe and isolate.  

Difficult Times

So far, millions of people have flooded the employment insurance system with benefit claims. All indications suggest that this event will surpass the Great Depression with the number of people unemployed. Many of the big multinational brands have deep pockets and a war chest to fall back on to ride-out this crisis. Small brands or brands that survive on cash flow and low margins (airlines, hotels) will struggle as revenues abruptly stop and expenses pile up.

Shopper Shook

With everything closing except for essential services, online commerce is skyrocketing. However, before the crisis, over 50 percent of American families were living paycheck to paycheck and most didn’t have any emergency funds for this type of crisis (First National Bank of Omaha in Nebraska survey). What does this mean for brands? If consumers don’t have money, they won’t be spending on brands, which means further decrease profits.

Full of Fear with Empty Wallets

This is the worst combination: concerned about their financial situation and pessimistic about their future. Some economists say consumer expectations concerning economic conditions tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies. If they expect doom and gloom, the economic conditions worsen because they stop consuming. In this case, they were forced to stop consuming and by stopping, many people have lost their jobs. The reality is that many consumers are terrified for they health, their family well-being, and their future survival. Even with billions and trillions of dollars being promised to help businesses and consumers, there is little confidence that help will reach them.

Here are five actions to protect your brand in a volatile world:

1. Be Real and Engage

WPP, the world’s largest multinational advertising agency, says in a study that brands need to face the reality of the situation and address customer needs by showing a sense of honesty and concern. There are intelligent ways to acknowledge the problem and to reinforce your brands positioning and relationship. Similar to customers, brands must make difficult decisions with limited resources. Brands that take meaningful actions to help their customer through difficult times will be rewarded in the long run. If your brand doesn’t have the resources to help, continue to communicate with your customers in meaningful ways.

2. Create Added Value

If consumer don’t have money or think they could be in a difficult financial situation, they will be looking for inexpensive options with greater value.

  • Justify price – Demonstrate superior performance and value, product comparison, testimonials etc.
  • Add features and services – Free support & servicing, check-ups, extra quantity, extended warranties, free shipping or setup, or choice of colours. Make it easier for them when they are trying to juggle expenses on a shoestring budget.
  • Economy sizes – buy more, get more. You are positioning savings, retaining sales, and not sacrificing value. This is the Costco model of buying bulk.
  • Do it yourself – The IKEA model. The perception that you have to assemble it means you will be saving money – or just creating more pain at home. “What do you do with all the extra bolts and screws they give you or should there be extra?!”

3. A Strong Purpose

This isn’t the time to be an exclusive, high-end brand. People are hurting both physically and mentally. Give them a strong reason for why they need your brand today. Create urgency that this is the best-time to be buying your brand. Give them a reason why your brand will help them. Make your brand part of the solution.

4. Reduce Fear & Barriers

Show that you brand cares and understands the situation customers are facing in these difficult times. Provide alternative payment options – nothing down, don’t pay until next year, zero percent interest payments, free financing, no-credit-check, job loss protect, etc.

5. New Innovations

Make consumers forget about the bad times and create excitement towards a new product with never before seen features or benefits. For many brands, this might be difficult to accomplish in a short-time frame. Online convenience and no-contact delivery can be a simple solution. But you can also adjust your brand to have new efficiencies or reduce costs. Reduced costs can be accomplished many ways such as production efficiencies, cheaper ingredients, smaller package size, single servings, and slimmed-down basic version with no bells or whistles. So, if you can’t “wow” your customer into buying your products, then reach out with an offer they can’t refuse.

Brand Survival

To protect your brand, not only do you need to address customer’s fears but continue to strengthen your brand’s relationship with your customers. Be creative. Remember that your best customers can be your best backers during difficult times. With the help of social media, they can quickly be mobilized to get your brand message out – from a simple customer referral program to getting “likes” for a new product. Always talk about the value your brand brings –the rational and psychological. Tap into the concepts of small indulgences, sharing, and helping. Do random acts of kindness, reach out with empathy and connect with your customers on a different level. Build trust based on reassuring your customers that your brand is committed to their well-being and not profits.

Stay Safe & Healthy

Consumers are scared. The future is unknown. The brands that step-up and help their customers during these uncertain times will survive. This is a time to start thinking differently. A time to take chances in a risk-adverse, volatile world. Brands will need to reinvent themselves to flourish in a new post COVID-19 world. Good luck in these challenging times.

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The Spirit of the Christmas Brand

The most wonderful time for brands

‘Tis the season for corporate/retail brands to perpetuate the Christmas brand. No other holiday is embraced more by brands than Christmas. According to Pew Research, consumers’ least favourite part of Christmas is commercialism and materialism. Yet, every major retail brand tries to capture consumers’ hearts with the spirit of Christmas and end with a profitable year.  In the UK, Christmas adverts are like the Super Bowl in the US. Every year, John Lewis, Sainsbury, Marks & Spence, Boots, Tesco, Heathrow, and others compete to honour the best holiday advert – every year, the stakes seem to get higher. Christmas is no longer seen as just a religious holiday but as a joyous time to spend with family and friends. In fact, 80% of non-Christians will celebrate the holiday season. The Christmas brand has a lot to do with this fact.

Evolution of Christmas

In the fourth century, the Christian church declared a winter holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The holiday was combined with other already established solstice celebrations. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that Christmas transformed into a family and children-centric ritual with jolly-old St. Nicholas’s introduction. In the 1840s, the first Christmas-tree appeared in North America. Alongside this tradition was the Jewish Hanukkah celebration, which evolved into the festival of lights. As these holidays’ religious connotations fade, the celebrations have become more secular and inclusive with core values of the Christmas brand based on peace, goodwill to others, charity, and hope that goodness will prevail.

Today, the festivities and values are significantly emphasized through commercialization and sensory overload, driven by the many corporate/retail brands eager to morph the Christmas brand to theirs. Iconic Christmas songs like All I Want for Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey and classic movies like It’s a Wonderful Life are all geared to keep the Christmas spirit alive against the harsh distractions of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Boxing Day. The silver lining is that all the shopping is tied with the notion of gift-giving. It is a practice of sharing your good fortunes, expressing your love and friendship.

The Spirit of Christmas

The 30th President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, once said that “Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind.” The Christmas brand is a feeling of happiness, wonderment, togetherness, festivities, joy and love, brought out by merriment (eating and drinking), holiday decor, lights, gifts, ritual traditions, music, and storytelling. The ultimate goal is rekindling the nostalgic holiday magic we cherished as children.

Hallmark is a master of capturing the holiday spirit through stories of reunited loved ones, the kindness of strangers, family-values, and holiday love stories. Last year, Hallmark made over $600 million in advertising associated with their 37 holiday-themed movies. Last year, Christmas movies recorded 85 million viewers.

Economics of Christmas

Today, brands use the concepts of Christmas by emotionally connecting with their customers through unique holiday commercials. They hope to transfer the Christmas brand of joy and happiness into holiday sales. A whopping $731 billion in holiday sales is predicated by the National Retail Federation.

The fact that emotional branding is the strongest way for brands to influence consumers means that companies spent almost $4 billion on holiday advertising last year.

Deloitte predicts retailers can expect a jolly holiday shopping season. While some economic headwinds are forming, the average US household plans to spend nearly $1,500 during the holidays.

The Recipe for a Great Holiday Commercial

I don’t think there are any revolutionary secrets on what makes a memorable holiday commercial, but here are some key takeaways that I have gleaned from previous successful Christmas commercials.

A Great Christmas Story

A great story should quickly establish the protagonist in a situation with an obstacle or crisis that they need to overcome. At the climax of the story, the protagonist makes a discovery that changes his/her life.  The ending should be both inevitable and unexpected. The audience should be left with hope and a sense that the crazy world is still a good place. This simple formula starts with a touch of sadness, a dash of surprise and delight and finishes with hope, happiness, and joy.  

In 2015, Edeka, a German supermarket company, introduced Heimkommen (Homecoming), one of the best holiday commercials in history. Since it was launched, it has received over 65 million views. Make sure you have a tissue handy if you plan to watch it.

Awesome Soundtrack

The audio can quickly make or break the mood. All of the great commercials have memorable music. According to the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), musical commercials are 27 percent more likely to report large business effects than non-music campaigns. That translates into increased sales!

Several research studies have found that music can amplify emotional responses to the story and increase ad memorability. Radiocentre has found that music can boost brand recognition.  Brainsights says that the lyrics/message that supports the ad storyline are best.

John Lewis, a UK department store, is notorious for their Christmas adverts. The Bear and The Hare, produced in 2013, is still garnering view. The UK Metro media recently declared it the top John Lewis Christmas advert ever in a readers’ poll. This commercial features a bear and hare who are best friends. The wintery weather forces the bear into hibernation, leaving the hare to face Christmas alone. The hare solves the problem by purchasing an alarm clock so that the bear wakes up in time for the festivities. This beautifully illustrated animation is enhanced by Somewhere Only We Know, sung by British pop singer Lily Allen.

Simple, Authentic, and Symbiotic

Being real to the brand’s persona is vital. There is a great desire to solve the world’s problems and be a hero, but most people are only looking for hope. No brand will be the hero, but they can bring hope by emphasizing their brand’s values that correlate with Christmas. This year’s Walmart Canada’s “Piggy Bank commercial is a great example of promoting their brand promise with the message of spending small and give big for the holiday season.

Another classic commercial is Hershey’s Kisses’We Wish You Merry Christmas.” It only takes 15 seconds to get its message across effectively. The story goes that John Dunn, Hershey’s Chocolate brand manager in 1989, came up with the concept on a business trip. Ogilvy Mather produced the commercial with the latest stop-motion animation and CG photography available at the time.

Children, Animals and People

It’s true! Add a cute baby or animal, and your commercial’s appeal will increase. Super Bowl commercials with animals, babies, or children tend to score much better than those without. In fact, ads with animals performed 21 percent better than ads with celebrities and 14 percent better than the average non-animal Super Bowl ads.

The holiday season’s underlining premise is about bringing people (family, friends, and strangers) together to see Christmas as a child would: joyful and wondrous. Connecting your brand to people in the holiday spirit is a recipe for success.

The Folger’s Coffee 1986 “Peter Comes Home for Christmas” commercial fits the bill. The only thing missing is a golden retriever running to meet Peter at the door.

Inclusiveness – Peace on Earth

Keep your message and sentiment universal and true to the phrase “Peace on Earth.” The holiday is a time of the year when the world stands together, quite literally in the famous Coca-Cola’s 1971 “Hilltop” campaign with the very memorable “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” song. The ad was later re-worked to show a very diverse group of people at night, holding white candles and ended with the tagline “Seasons Greetings.” It’s not a time to air highly polarizing messages that only appeals to one demographic segment or, worse, offends another.

This timeless Pampers commercial “Peace on Earth” shows different babies sleeping peacefully as the song Silent Night is sung by a mother’s voice. This simplistic but captivating ad communicates vulnerability, beauty, and peace.

Memorable, Unique and Relevant

Alongside the engaging soundtrack, the commercial must be visually stimulating with dramatic lighting and brilliant colours. Ultimately, the commercial must be share-worthy.  If the commercial captures the hearts of your audience, it will quickly be shared around the world. It will become an iconic holiday memory that supports the brand of Christmas. Attaching your brand to the idea of helping, sharing, and giving during the holiday season makes good business sense. It also builds the Christmas brand that everyone wants to embrace.

The Apple commercial, appropriately titled Frankie’s Holiday, is beautifully shot with rich details and colours like the framed image of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, on the wall of Frankie’s home. He records a music box version of “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays” on his iPhone, then plays the track in the town square as he nervously sings the song. The commercial concludes with the message: Open your heart to everyone.

The Christmas Brand

There are many reasons why Christmas isn’t the most wonderful time of the year. It’s become too commercialized and environmentally friendly (all the plastics and packaging, food waste, energy consumption). Bringing the family together can be stressful at the best of times. There is the pressure of shopping, the financial woes, and high expectations. Holiday depression is genuine. Are the billions of dollars of consumerism worth it? Should we all become like Scrooge or the Grinch?

Once every year, we pull out the holiday decorations, put on the ugly Christmas sweaters, consume too much, get frustrated in busy malls, parking lots, roads and airports, navigate rude and obnoxious friends and family. Still, there is always that one moment that makes it all worth it.  We strive to capture these moments in our commercials.

The trick is to recognize that one moment when you see a child’s face light up in wonder when a stranger stands there opening a door just for you when someone thanks you for helping them with the simplest things when you try something different and like it when you invite someone new to share your holiday traditions. Not unlike the image portrayed in Christmas commercials, there are real moments that remind us of Christmas’s true spirit.

May your heart and home be filled will all of the happiness, joy, and peace during the holiday season. May you experience that Christmas moment of joy even if a Christmas commercial sparks it.

Merry Brand Christmas!

Check out the latest 2019 Christmas commercial lineup.