Branding Never Takes Off a Holiday

Branding Never Takes Off a Holiday

Be sure to stay on brand, even during the holly and jolly.

Did you know that some classic holiday icons were actually created by marketing designers and writers as part of a consumer brand campaign? Here are some classic marketing stories—and some recent ones—that prove brand celebration doesn’t stop during the holiday season.

Santa Goes Better with Coke

The Santa that graces today’s holiday cards, posters, wrapping paper etc. may have been inspired by Thomas Nast’s illustrations of Clement Moore’s poem, “T’was the Night Before Christmas,” but the actual image was created for a plebeian Coca Cola ad. The illustrator was commercial artist, Haddon Sundblom and he first painted Santa holding a glass of “the “pause that refreshes” in 1931. Sundblom’s vision of Santa was so popular, Coke has been using these illustrations to boost sales during December, (traditionally the slowest month of the month for soda sales) ever since.

Coca-Cola ad featuring Santa holding a glass of coke. Text reads, "My hat's off to the pause that refreshes."

Santa: A Timeless Marketing Draw 

Just ask Macy’s! They claim they were the first to offer young shoppers a chance to discuss their Christmas wish list with an in-store Santa in 1862.

Miracle on 34th Street poster

Unquestionably Macy’s has made the Christmas season a major part of their brand ever since then. Just consider the opening shots of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in the classic holiday movie, “Miracle on 34th Street”! And the notion of a store so caring and concerned about its customers that they’ll send them to their biggest rival rather than disappoint them—well, that too, belongs to Macy’s thanks to Kris Kringle—and George Seaton who wrote the screenplay.

Rudolph Takes the Stage 

Created by Robert May, a lowly catalogue copywriter at Montgomery Ward, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is another example of a holiday icon born to support a retail brand. The story goes that to save money on the promotional book the store traditionally gave away to kids at Christmas, Ward’s CEO decided to produce these books in-house. He asked May to come up with the original story as he was good with limericks and funny rhymes. Although the book was a smash hit with Montgomery Wards’ young customers, the CEO didn’t have enough faith in Rudolph to extend his shelf life beyond a few years and gave May full rights to his creation.


Old copy of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with a photo of the author.

Widowed and struggling to pay off his late wife medical bills, May was looking for ways to augment his income. He persuaded his songwriting brother-in-law to turn the Rudolph story into a popular song. As luck would have it, they managed to get Gene Autry to record it and the rest, as they say, is history. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” eventually sold over 125 million records and became one of the most popular holiday songs in the world, second only to Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.”

REI Turns Black Friday Into a Snow Day

REI Black Friday Ad

If you’re a skier, mountain biker, hiker or just someone who appreciates high-end clothing and gear for the great outdoors, you’re probably already familiar with the REI brand. But if you’re not, you may know about them now because, they made headlines by bucking the latest retail trend to stay open on Thanksgiving. REI not only gave their employees the day off to be with their families, they told them to take Black Friday off too, to enjoy the great outdoors! And it was probably the best decision they ever made to support their brand.

REI stands for Recreational Equipment Incorporated and they claim, “No matter how large we grow, our roots remain firmly planted in the outdoors. Our passion for outdoor adventure is clear, whether you visit any of our stores across the country, phone us, or interact with us online.”

As you see, REI’s founders, like its customers, are passionate about outdoor sports and an active life style. By encouraging their employees and customers to forgo selling and shopping for a day or two to indulge this passion, REI’s management proved its total and authentic commitment to its brand. Well done REI!

Starbucks (in Any Cup) is Always Worth Celebrating 

Red Starbucks cups

Joshua Feuerstein who according to Wikipedia is “an American evangelist, former pastor, and internet personality,” recently proclaimed that Starbucks was the latest front in the War on Christmas. Apparently, Feuerstein feels that the cups Starbucks is serving their coffee in this season are so devoid of any reference to Christmas, they are a threat to the holiday and those who celebrate it every year.

Of course, Starbucks has never claimed to be part of any particular religion one way or another. Truth to tell, they seem to have a secular, be good to everyone and stay-as-long-as-you-like-while-enjoying a latte-or-two approach to the world. That’s why so many people like to hang out there. Responding to Feuerstein’s accusations, Starbucks explained, “Creating a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity is one of the core values of Starbucks, and each year during the holidays the company aims to bring customers an experience that inspires the spirit of the season.”

It seems to us that a cup with a plain poppy red background that makes the company’s ornate green logo standout is the perfect way to serve its Christmas Blend Expresso Roast and other holiday-themed drinks. It certainly says “Peace on Earth, good will to men” to us. Moreover, Starbucks’ calm, tolerant attitude toward this War on Christmas nonsense makes their coffee taste even better.

Introverts Can Enjoy the Holidays Too

Screen capture from Apple's ad.

The Apple brand is almost as famous for groundbreaking marketing as it is for its revolutionary products. But one commercial, created in 2013, struck a special note. It goes beyond being an inspired piece of brand advertising and serves as a demonstration of the emotional impact digital products have had on our lives. Titled “Misunderstood,” it won many awards including an Emmy in 2014 for the most outstanding commercial. Click here to view for yourself.

By the way, Evan Selinger has referred to this spot as a “Rorschach test for discussing the social and ethical impact of technology.” We’d love to hear your reaction to it. Maybe you could ponder the meaning of it all over a cup of coffee in a bright red cup.

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