Haul out the holly—and the tissues—because it’s the most wonderful, emotional time of year. And smart brands are pulling at consumers’ heartstrings with holiday content marketing that tells stories of love, family, friendship, giving, and all the other positive emotions associated with the festive season.
When I started researching holiday campaigns that have gone viral and received positive reviews from industry experts, I quickly noticed a pattern: They were all heartwarming tearjerkers. Hoping to add some variety to this list, I dried my eyes and consulted the best source I know for pop culture insights: my social media networks. My friends, family, and colleagues had plenty of suggestions, almost all of which brought tears of joy to my eyes (again). I thought I was onto something when my cousin Drew mentioned Stella Artois. I would surely encounter funny, quirky, or even sexy content from a beer company, right? Nope. Just more beautiful, touching stories.
The takeaway from all of this was clear: Emotion is a key ingredient in great holiday content marketing.
As it turns out, there’s hard science behind the role of positive emotion in marketing. Articles, advertisements, and videos that evoke emotion are 20 percent more likely to be highly shared, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania. And the more positive the content is, the more viral it becomes.
Emotional storytelling is a powerful way for brands to engage customers year-round. But the holiday season—when people are thinking about family, giving, and in-person connections more than ever—is the perfect time to tap into those positive feelings.
Apple hit the nail on the head last year with its “Misunderstood” ad—the story of a teenager whose family thought he cared more about his gadgets than spending time with them, only to discover he’d been using his iPhone to archive their Christmas memories. The commercial won the hearts of holiday shoppers—and an Emmy.
So a year later, which brands are leading the charge? Here are three campaigns that stand out with storytelling.
Remember how magical the holidays seemed when you were a child—when you still believed in flying deer and a portly, jolly gift giver with an impossible delivery schedule? When you got three weeks off from school and more toys than you really needed? When your imagination was limitless?
That holiday magic tends to fade with age. It’s a disappointing part of growing up, but the best most adults can hope for is to experience it vicariously through the children in our lives, because kids get Christmas.
So does John Lewis. The retailer’s popular “Monty the Penguin” commercial tells the story of a young boy and his penguin, how their friendship evolves when “girls” enter the picture, and how the boy’s imagination brought the stuffed animal to life in the first place. Of course, it’s also the story of the parent who purchased a beloved toy that doesn’t require batteries or a wireless signal. And these days, that’s something most parents feel good about.
There’s nothing like shelling out thousands of dollars for holiday gifts—knowing some children won’t get anything from Santa this year—to remind us how fortunate we really are. The holidays are a time of giving, not just to those we love, but also to those in need. Consider the fact that soup kitchens often turn away volunteers at the holidays because so many people want to help. By the books, roughly 25 percent of philanthropic giving happens between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
WestJet taps into this seasonal spirit of charity with its annual “Christmas Miracle” campaign. This year’s video tells the story of how WestJet surprised a town full of people in the Dominican Republic with the gifts they requested from Santa via video chat. Narrated to the tune of “The Night Before Christmas,” tears and hugs abound as WestJet staffers hand out dolls, skateboards, a washing machine, a baby crib, and even a horse.
Is it gimmicky? Sure. We all know it’s coming from a big company with a big budget. But for the people in this impoverished town, WestJet made holiday wishes come true. And even skeptical consumers can’t help but be a little inspired by that.
The holidays are a time for connecting with family—the ones we were born into and the ones we make for ourselves. It’s also a time for romance. Just consider how many Christmas songs and stories are about love (“The Gift of the Magi,” anyone?).
Jewelers and department stores attempt to cash in on love by putting out one forgettable holiday commercial after another that show couples surprising each other with lavish gifts. Surprisingly enough, it’s beer maker Stella Artois that gets romance right in its “Give Beautifully” campaign—a collection of short videos where the company helps people surprise their partners with simple but thoughtful, out-of-the-box gifts, including Christmas lights and unseasonable snow. These people share their love stories, explain why the gifts are meaningful to their relationships, and then do the big reveal with their loved ones. It’s real people telling real stories. By putting customers—not products—front and center, Stella Artois endears its brand to consumers who don’t really need to see another commercial about people drinking beer (at least until Super Bowl Sunday, anyway).
The 2014 holiday season won’t last much longer, but these powerful storytelling tactics never go out of season. Look for opportunities to engage customers with your brand’s unique and creative stories in 2015 and beyond.
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