Our new ebook is out! Get a free copy of How to Run a Remote Team Like a Pro. Download Now
Our new ebook is out! Get a free copy of How to Run a Remote Team Like a Pro. Download Now

The Best Holiday Ads (And What We Can Learn From Them)

We’re approaching the holidays at lightning speed and that can only mean one thing: a fresh blizzard of campaigns are on the way to battle. All fighting for a spot in the “best holiday ads” hall of fame.

Make-or-break advertising for any company daring enough to step into the ring, holiday ads bring a pressure like no other time of the year (other than the Superbowl), many taking months to concept, design and produce.

Get it right, and you’ll be remembered for years to come. Get it wrong, and you risk causing serious damage to your reputation (we’re looking at you, Peloton).

But what is it that deems a holiday marketing campaign a win? For the company, success can lie in increased revenue or brand awareness. But to achieve those KPIs you’ve got to win over the consumer. And how do you do that? 

In this article, we’re looking back at some of the most successful holiday marketing campaigns from the last few years to pinpoint their success drivers, and give you some inspiration for a campaign that lands you firmly on the nice list.

Why produce holiday ads in the first place?

The moment Black Friday kicks off the holiday season, commerce goes into overdrive. Shoppers start shopping at breakneck speed and everywhere you look gets sprinkled with snowflakes and glitter. 

In 2021, Statista found that holiday retail sales in the US alone amounted to almost $850 billion, so if nothing else, the holidays are big business.

If you want a scoop of the trifle, making your company visible throughout the holidays is essential. To be visible, you need marketing.

The way we see it, there are four key areas in which a successful holiday marketing campaign will benefit your business:

  • It’s an opportunity to connect with your audience when they’re actively looking to spend
  • It allows you to showcase and demonstrate your company values
  • When done well, it will break you through the noise 
  • And give your revenue a welcomed (festive) boost
Young beautiful cheerful couple having fun in the city street at New Year time pointing at something through the window shop.

Holiday marketing campaigns we love and what makes them work 

Starbucks ‘The red cup’, 1997 to present

Bring customers into your own tradition. 

It’s become a symbol to mark the start of the season ever since it launched in 1997. 

The simple, annual red cup campaign from Starbucks may evolve year on year, but the premise remains the same: to tell the story of the holidays.

Be that through vector designs or hand-drawn illustrations, the cup itself allows the coffee giant to spread its message far and wide, both online and off.

It’s a tradition so synonymous with the holidays that consumers would be confused (or even angry) if the red cup took a hiatus. And it’s because of this global understanding of what’s expected of Starbucks that they manage to harness one of the most powerful forms of marketing time and time again: UGC (user-generated content).

Starbucks fans are so delighted to share their snap of the cup that #StarbucksRedCup has 43.6k results on Instagram alone.

multiethnic team of people putting up the christmas tree

Apple ‘The Song’, 2014

Show how your product or service makes life better

Subtle product placement and an emotional storyline are the key factors that make this heartwarming short film from Apple a success. 

This 90 second ad shows a young woman finding an old vinyl ‘voice-o-graph’ of her grandmother singing to her late husband, who was away for the holidays. Using Apple products, the young woman reworks the music, adding her own voice to duet with her grandmother before leaving it as a gift.

The use of Apple’s MacBook is subtle. You notice it, but you don’t feel sold to, or distracted from the story. The story itself is full of sentiment, sadness, and joy –the perfect blend.

Plus, there’s no call to action at the end asking the viewer to buy, simply “Happy Holidays”. This isn’t the hard sell, but a demonstration of how the brand’s products fit seamlessly into everyday life.

Spotify ‘Wrapped’ 2021 (annual campaign)

Use data to guide you.

A tactic that sent Spotify soaring in 2015 and each year since, is the clever use of data visualization. 

Now, data doesn’t sound all that festive, but the streaming platform uses real insights into real customers to paint a visual picture of consumer habits. 

And we can’t get enough of it.

The result? An inclusive and smile-inducing campaign that makes everyone feel a little less weird, and a little more together. 

‘Wrapped’ reflects on the year past, tapping into joyful memories and significant moments, that each and every consumer can relate to in some way through their taste in music.  

But, instead of graphs and charts, Spotify uses bold typography, vibrant colors, and recognizable imagery (like Mariah Carey!) to show off its stats.

Macy’s ‘Believe’ campaign, 2021

Showcase your company values.

The holidays, for most, are a time of community. A time to put differences aside and offer up gestures of goodwill to those around us.

For companies, it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate your brand values (if you authentically value goodwill). Take Macy’s and its ‘Believe’ campaign. 

Its company values are acceptance, integrity, respect and giving back, and this campaign does just that by partnering with Make-A-Wish® to grant wishes to sick children. 

The campaign entices customers to write a letter to Santa, and for each letter, Macy’s will donate $1 to the charity.

Why does it work? It pulls on the heartstrings of the customer while encouraging them to come to the store to post their letter, where, as an added bonus they’ll likely spend.

Kool-Aid ‘All I Really Want for Christmas feat. Lil John’, 2018

Offer up the unexpected.

When you think of the holidays, what comes to mind? Kool-Aid and rap sensation Lil John? Probably not. But it was this weird and wonderful combination that made the drinks brand’s 2018 holiday campaign so memorable. 

This highly produced music video – and Lil John’s debut Christmas song – subtly (or not so subtly) reminds you that Kool-Aid can be festive too. It’s definitely ‘kool’ to be seen drinking it.

It’s unexpected, hilarious, and features an extremely catchy song that’s stacked up almost 4m views on YouTube.

Festive woman unpacking box to reveal surprise at home. Young adult unwrapping gift smiling while checking package. Person with christmas spirit receiving present for holiday celebration

Holiday ad campaigns come down to one thing: emotion

If you’ve been paying close attention to each different campaign in our list, you may have noticed one contributing factor that each one executed brilliantly.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Grandma, grandpa, mum, dad and children exchanging gifts. Parents and daughters having fun near tree indoors. Loving family with presents in room.

The ability to evoke an emotional reaction in the viewer. 

Emotion generates connection and engagement with an audience, so your holiday campaign needs to do this to succeed. Be it nostalgia with Starbucks, happy tears with Amazon or joy with Spotify, it’s the emotion that steals the show.

What is your company doing for the holidays this year? If you’ve read this and have realised you need to step up your game, don’t fret. 

Get in touch with Design Force today and have a team of designers on hand to bring your ideas to life. Whether that’s data visualization or social media graphics, we’re here for your strongest season yet.

Get your free design insights

Stay updated on business design trends and receive weekly marketing and design content when you join our community!

Get your free design insights

Stay updated on business design trends and receive weekly marketing and design content when you join our community!

Related Posts

Related Posts

Meet your team tomorrow

 Let us show you how to get it done without hiring.

Terms and Conditions

When you register for the trial project, Design Force will offer 2.5 design hours for free to provide any of the included services: social media graphics, email graphics, basic illustration, banner ad design, poster design, basic infographics, or powerpoint presentation enhancement.