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Top Brands that Hit Home this Holiday Season

This holiday season, successful brands continued the tradition of wrapping themselves in a feel-good message, hoping consumers will be pleased with their “presence” (sorry, I couldn’t resist). As they should, considering the US retail industry generated over three trillion dollars during the holidays. This number is from 2013 and I am sure it’s even higher today.  This equates to about 20% of total annual sales – and for some brands the number is much higher.

 

Three Trillion Dollars in Christmas Shopping

That’s a lot of money (even if one-third is on credit cards). But how does a brand ensure it gets its fair share? The holiday season is the perfect time to tap into the human emotions of peace, love, kindness and hope. It’s beautiful, yet frightening. Consumers are vulnerable and have credit! And ironically, during this time of harmony, brands are busy fighting each other for attention and won’t stop until the last dollar drops. That might be the reality of retail, but good brands understand the true meaning—it is better to give than to receive.

The best way to capture the holiday spirit is through a highly emotional TV commercial or online video (a topic of a previous article “Why Great Brands Still Needs a Great Commercial”). In 2015, there were over 100 holiday TV ads airing on US TV, but so far this year, there have only been 47 holiday ads reported by research firm Ace Metrix. Holiday advertising seems to be big in Britain and Germany where brands produce run-away winners.

Ben Mooge, Executive Creative Director at Havas London an advertising agency which created the very successful ‘Heathrow Bears’ ad says brands have a responsibility to contribute to the Christmas spirit and not just overtly sell their products. He says “they need to contribute to Christmas, and not just ride on the jingly back of it.” If a brand is successful “they just help it feel like Christmas.”

 

Santa Brands

It’s all about giving sincerely and inspiring the feeling of the holiday season. For many families, traditions, like watching the Griswolds light up their house (Christmas Vacation), or witnessing Bill Murray get a second chance to get it right (Scrooged), take us to fonder times and helps to recharge the soul. So while we’re all killing ourselves giving, the reality is that we need to receive appreciation. It’s here where brands have a responsibility to help consumers by framing the holiday season and help us have an enjoyable Christmas (for a price). And when they strike a chord, I can hear those cash registers jingling all the way!

The very best brands who have seamlessly carved a place in our minds during the holiday seasons and continue to reap the rewards are such brands as: Coca-Cola, Macy’s, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Walmart, and WestJet, to name a few. But each year a new brand finds its holiday moment to shine and is rewarded by millions of views and likes from around the world.

Damon Collins, founder of Joint advertising agency in London who created the successful Amazon Prime holiday commercial ‘Imam and Priest’ says “There’s no time of year the spirit of human kindness is more relevant than Christmas. And there’s been no year in recent memory that the spirit of human kindness has been more needed than this one.”

 

Better to Give Than to Receive

The brands that are true to their values and avoid false sentimentality can build brand value during the holiday season. It’s more about sharing values and becoming part of the holiday traditions than trying to steal the show. As Cam Blackley, Executive Creative Director at BMF Advertising who developed the discount supermarket brand Aldi AustraliaMeet the Tinkletons’ ad explains that what doesn’t work is when “a brand cynically makes an ad riddled with fake Christmas sentiment devoid of an insight that is true to their values.”

 

Top Three Brands that Hit Home this Holiday

Without further ado, here’s my top three adverts for the 2016 holiday season:

  1. My favourite for 2016 is from Allegro, an auction site based in Poland. This commercial has all the ingredients for a wonderful holiday video including a dog.

(12,945,326 views)

 

  1. John Lewis, a UK-based department store, continues to hit the ball out of the park with their iconic holiday adverts. It too has a dog and other loveable animals.

(23,883,947 views)

 

  1. The top Canadian brand for me was WestJet. They continued to surprise and delight their customers, and focused this year on the people still recovering from the devastating fire in Fort McMurray, Alberta. A nice slice of Canadian values–giving.

(1,340,578 views)

Have a Merry Brand Holiday

If none of these have ignited the spirit of Christmas within your soul then I would suggest that you seriously consider becoming a member of the Ebenezer Scrooge Fan Club. Otherwise, I wish you all a wonderful holiday, sharing gifts and enjoy time with family and friends. Have a Merry Brand Holiday!

 

Honourable Mentions:

Heathrow https://youtu.be/oq1r_M5a6uI (4,802,852)

Apple https://youtu.be/aFPcsYGriEs (8,199,966)

ALDI https://youtu.be/aCZrWFrRgbQ (2,004,765)

Marks & Spencer https://youtu.be/V5QPXhStb5I (7,836,801)

Duracell https://youtu.be/iA7xYeiWg54 (17,651,693)

Please feel free to share your favourite advert for the 2016 holiday season and explain why.

 

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Wrapping Brands in Hope, Love, Joy, Peace and Bacon

We can thank the birth of Jesus Christ for putting Christmas on the map, but its brand marketers that have made the solemn religious festivities into a $600 billion business in the United States alone. This year Gallup research predicts the average American will spend around $830 on Christmas. There’s a lot riding on this holiday, so much so that brands spend millions to connect themselves to this emotional time of giving and celebration. Retail brands live or die during this important sales period and we’ll take a look at the lengths they go to do it right.

 

For all brands to cash in on Christmas, they need to break through the clutter and attract festive shoppers who are looking for brands who match their warm and fuzzy shopping needs.

 

Many would argue that Christmas has become more about marketing than religion. The history of Christmas’ evolution is part marketing and part theatrical symbolism. While Charles Dickens did not invent the Victorian Christmas, his book A Christmas Carol written in 1843 is credited with helping to popularise and spread the traditions of the festive time. Coca-Cola Company claims they helped shape the image of Santa as we know him today. Inspired by Clement Clarks Moore’s 1822 poem A visit from St. Nicholas (commonly known as Twas the night before Christmas) illustrator Haddon Sunblom commissioned by Coca-Cola created the iconic red suited and white breaded Santa image that was friendly, plump, jolly and loved Coke. From 1931 to 1964 the ‘Coke Santa’ was the advertising theme every Christmastime in magazines, billboards, posters, displays and calendars.

 

 

For brands, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year to pull on the heartstrings. Writer and content strategist Taylor Mallory Holland concluded in her blog article Make ‘Em Cry – and Buy that “Emotion is a key ingredient in great holiday content marketing.” Jonah Berger, researcher and author of Contagious would agree. He discovered that “high arousal” of positive and negative emotions like awe, excitement, amusement and anger motivates us to share messages with others. He says “when we care we share.”

 

The holiday season is full of high emotion. We become hyper-sensitive to stories of the poor and unfortunate souls who don’t have food, shelter or friends. We are drawn towards stories of goodness in humanity and messages of hope, peace and love. It’s a time to reach back to the child in all of us who believed Santa Claus was real, reindeers could fly and life was just plain simple (because someone else did the worrying).

 

John Lewis, a department store in the United Kingdom has built their brand on this fact. Since 2007, John Lewis has captured the attention of the world with their annual tradition of launching a new Christmas advertising campaign to kick-start shoppers into buying their Christmas gifts. John Lewis’s emotional brand formula isn’t revolutionary, as Stephen Vowles, marketing director at Argos says, “It resonates because it speaks to the values most of [us] hold at Christmas – showing people that we care about them and that we are thinking of them.”

 

 

But Edeka, a German supermarket chain may have trumped John Lewis this year with the “saddest Christmas ad ever” as described in The Washington Post. So far the story of a lonely old widower who is especially sad during the Christmastime has over 41 million views on YouTube compared to John Lewis Man on the Moon which has only 21 million views.

 

 

WestJet has created Christmas miracles of their own over the last four years. Their Christmas Miracle online videos have surprised and delighted consumers in various creative and sensitive ways. Their biggest success was in 2013 where they surprised passengers on a flight from Toronto to Calgary. In Toronto, they had them tell a TV monitor Santa what they wanted for Christmas, and upon their arrival in Calgary four hours later their present appeared on the luggage carousal like magic. To date, this video has received almost 43 million views. If you didn’t think Westjetter’s cared before this, then get out your tissues.

 

 

There are many brands like Apple, Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire, Coke, Stella Artois, Sainsbury, Budweiser, Macys and many more who produce Christmastime commercials/videos that tug on consumer’s heart-strings. Their ultimate goal is to connect with consumers at this time of goodwill and joy with the hope of their brand resonating with them.

 

This is the time that brands can forget about the functional benefits and tap into the spirit of Christmas. If done right, brands can move from a purveyor of Christmas to a state of mind of hope, peace and love minus the bacon. A place were few brands live.

 

To all the world’s brands “Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night”.

 

May the peace and goodwill of the season remain with you throughout the New Year!

 

Top 2015 Christmas Commercials

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Can You Put Your Trust In Brands?

Is brand trust in a crisis? Brand trust is earned through consistently delivering on the brand’s promise. Brand trust is the only way you can build loyal brand advocates. But the global trend is working in the opposite direction. Young & Rubicam BrandAsset Valuator reveals that consumers trust in renowned brands continues to slide. In 1997, consumers indicated that they had a high level of confidence in 52% of brands. By 2008 that percentage dropped to 22%. The Edelman Trust Barometer confirms the same trend with their annual survey. In 2015, for the first time since the end of the Great Recession of 2007-08, their survey signaled a major decline in trust with 16 of 27 countries dropping below their acceptable 50% level into the “distruster” category. For example, Canada went from a 62% trust level in 2014 to 47% in 2015. A drop of 15%! What’s going on?

 

In the climate of austerity are we starting to see brands cutting corners or blatantly deceiving consumers to protect their bottom line. Since 2007-08 the world economy hasn’t been the same and the recent financial instability in China will continue put pressure on brands to perform.

 

 

Profits vs Brand Equity

 

Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum, explains that “There are four prerequisites of the company’s survival; profitability, growth, risk protection and earning public trust.” While we may expect people sometimes to lie, like athletes, actors and most certainly politicians, we don’t expect brands to lie. Why would global companies risk their brand equity by outright lying to their customers?

 

Volkswagen VW, the world’s largest carmaker (past tense) did exactly that when they lied about their emissions tests through cheating software. Why would a mega brand risk its reputation? Profits seems to be the ultimate goal. Jointly Germany car manufactures, actively promoted to Americans that diesel was the future to meet tougher US emission standards. The only way VW was able to compete and live up to the promise was to lie. The arrogance that they thought they wouldn’t get caught is scary, especially since they publicly promised to be the ‘greenest’ car producer in the world by 2018. The lie allowed VW to claim their diesel engine were superior – selling over 12.6 million of them. The fact that buyers used to pay a $2,700 premium over gasoline engines for VW diesels meant an additional $34 billion in VW’s bank account. But the real problem was the fact that their engines emitted nitrogen oxide pollutants up to 40 times above US standards. This environmental damage can’t be fixed.

 

Alan Hilburg and Tracey Linnell say distrust is very expensive. “Low-trust brands pay a ‘trust tax’ in multiple forms, including higher transaction costs and unwanted legislation. The broader and faster the low-trust reality spreads, the deeper the effect of the higher tax.”

 

In a CNN Money report, the financial service holding company Credit Suisse estimated the cost of the VW diesel emissions scandal could exceed $86 billion. About the same GDP value as a country like Ecuador. Volkswagen is facing a very big trust-tax notwithstanding that they are trying to attract customers today through deep discounts.

 

Recently, another scandal was released by CBC Marketplace revealing that Starbucks and Tim Hortons are misleading their customers. They claim the paper cups collected in their in-store recycling bins are being recycled but are actually going into landfills. It seems these paper cups have a plastic lining that requires an additional step in the recycling process, which costs money. So why would two big brands like Starbucks and Tim Hortons mislead their customers to think that they are being environmentally responsible?

 

What’s the impact of a paper cup? CBC estimates that Canadians use over 1.5 billion disposable coffee cups in a year which is equivalent to more than half a million trees. The environmental impact is significant. I don’t know what the cost of recycling a coffee cup is but it is obviously worth more than the truth. But we will have to see if consumers make them pay.

 

Who Makes These Decisions to Lie

 

There is an apparent financial gain that can be significant over time. But who analyzes the brand risk? In an Intangible Asset Market study by Ocean Tomo, they state that in 1975 intangible assets were just 17% of the market value of the S&P 500. Today, intangible assets are 84% of the market value of the S&P 500. What are intangible assets you ask? They are intellectual property (patents, trademarks etc.), goodwill and brand equity. Most of which is built on a foundation of trust.

 

Here are four factors that may be driving some brands to disregard consumer trust as a license to operate:

 

Brand Proliferation

 

Every day we are seeing new brands entering into the marketplace. The explosion of new brands, globalization and intense competition are major problems for brands. According to a Datamonitor report, 58,375 new products were introduced worldwide in 2006, more than double the number from 2002. The reality is consumers have more choices and more choices means more competition for brands, which means more pressure on profits.

 

Moral: Brand equity is important and should be cultivated and protected.

 

Loss of Message Control

 

Brand reputation and image are now firmly in the hands of the consumer, as they control the conversation via digital channels. Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising Survey of more than 28,000 Internet respondents in 56 countries said that 92% of consumers around the world trust recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising; an increase of 18% since 2007.

 

Moral: Brands must integrate into digital channels to communicate with customers on their terms.

 

Disconnect with Technology

 

The Edelman Trust Barometer says that the major factor in depressing trust is the rapid implementation of new technology that’s changing everyday life. Of people surveyed 54% were very cynical about new technology, stating “business growth or greed/money are the real impetuses behind innovation.” The problem with most innovations introduced to the market is little work is done to explain to the consumers why this innovation is a good thing in the first place. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are a good example. GM seeds were introduced to farmers to help them increase yields but for the average consumer what did this mean? What was good about inserting a gene from one plant to another and how would consumers benefit from this. Then add, misinformed activists and their scare tactics to label these ‘Frankenfood’ and consumers start getting concerned.

 

Moral: Brands must speak down-to-earth consumer language.

Companies are Greedy

 

There is an inherent belief that faceless corporations are bad and their sole purpose is to make money anyway they can. Greed is what makes the world go round. The famous legal thriller author John Grisham emphasis this belief in all his books which have sold over 275 million copies (2002) world-wide. Every time a bad apple brand gets caught this distrust is reinforced. Janelle Barlow, co-author of Branded Customer Service explains, “Consumers have come to expect advertising and promotions to overstate, to over promise, and to frequently not deliver.”

 

Moral: Take advantage of this belief and build a caring brand (Six reasons why brands should care)

 

The Truth Won’t Get in the Way of a Good Story

 

James Heaton President & Creative Director at Tronvig Group says “It’s just too easy to lie. The attraction is too great, the professional confidence in the gullibility of the consumer is too well-established, the benefits to the company of a ‘visionary and future-oriented’ brand are too immediate and bankable to pass up for the sake of such unsexy things as brand integrity.”

 

The moral of this story is brand’s need a strong governance model to uphold the brand’s core values. This foundation ensure all business decisions are based on those values. Building strong and lasting brands takes time and resources. Lying is one of the quickest ways to ruin a beautiful brand relationship. The real shame in all of this is there are many brands built and operated by honest people that pride themselves on being authentic and truthful.

 

Kees Schilperoort, managing director at Xfacta, a brand consultancy, said it best, “In Brands We Trust, and trust is a must. Because brands that lie, die.”

 

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What does a red cup have to do with branding?

Full Stop – red cups are part of the Starbucks brand experience. As a matter of fact, over 60 million Starbucks cups are served each and every week. From the beginning of November until the end of December, Starbucks will be serving 480 million red holiday cups to help celebrate the festive season.

 

Eighteen years ago Starbucks launched their first holiday red cup – a duration that has created great expectations beyond a simple disposal coffee cup. Has this red cup replaced the advent calendar? With all the controversy so far this season you need to wonder.

 

 

Over the year’s Starbucks red cups has celebrated the holiday season with snowflakes, doves, reindeer, snowman, vintage ornaments, poinsettias, and Christmas trees, but this year they opted for a minimalist design of a two-tone red cup with no images. This brilliant long-term campaign has taken some of Coca-Cola’s best Christmas ideas and put them on a cup. Check out Time’s magazine for the evolution of the Starbucks red cup over the last seven years. This year’s red cup sans holiday icons has become blasphemy for many Christian’s organizations or an opportunity to create a controversy to garner media attention.

 

 

“In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs,” said Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks’ Vice President of Design and Content. “This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”

 

Customers See Red

 

Former Arizona Pastor Joshua Feuerstein wrote in a Facebook post “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus,” that went viral with over 14 million views in the last five days. This extreme view has stirred up the media and the social channels. Even Donald Trump has entered into the picture with the suggestion of boycotting Starbucks. Obviously he doesn’t have any Starbucks shares in his portfolio.

 

Starbucks issued a statement Sunday explaining that they are trying to create an environment that encourages “customers to tell their Christmas stories in their own way” and “to create a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity.“

 

Jay Parini, a poet and author of Jesus: The Human Face of God said on CNN.com that Starbucks red cup is an attempt to remove even the most secular side of Christmas by “strip[ping] all texture and mythic potential from contemporary life – seems beyond absurd, perhaps even dangerous, as it points in the direction of total blankness, a life lived without depth, without meaning.”

 

Or from Starbucks point of view it’s about creating your own texture and mythic potential without being spoon feed of what you should think or believe.

 

What 480 Million Red Cups Mean

 

There are a couple learning’s we should all take from this event.

 

First, colour does matter, (check out my article on colour), red is a very strong and vibrant colour that can stimulate high emotions – just ask a raging bull. In 2011, Coca-Cola changed their sacred red Coke can to white to celebrate the holiday season and were punished by retailers and customers who became confused by the change.

 

Second, customers own your brand. Before you change any representation of your brand make sure you understand what your customers’ think. Product packaging is sacred ground for loyal customers. If Apple changed their earphones from white to red what do you think would happen? Maybe nothing or maybe all hell might break loose.

 

Third, by providing ambiguity with a blank red cup and letting the customer fill the void leaves too much room for misinterpretation or anti-brand advocated to take advantage of the situation. The brand must own the space (physically & mentally) and direct the conversation.

 

I am happy that I don’t drink coffee and have to endure this tragedy on a daily bases for the next six weeks. However, I did hear that Starbucks has started using cup sleeves with snowflakes on them. Maybe this will appease the detractors.

 

The great thing is brands continue to have the power to inspire, create conversations and be news worthy without changing anything inside their cup. And as we see here, some brand loyalists will always see the cup as half empty and others as half full. Cheers.

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Four Questions to Get to the “Why” of a Brand.

Have you ever wondered why you have a deeper relationship with some brands and don’t with others? Why do some brands become more emotionally connected to their customers? Why do people line-up for an Apple brand and not for a Microsoft brand? Where does the passion start – with a brand or with a customer?