Already this year, holiday content marketing has generated a lot of buzz. Here’s what we can learn from the best Christmahanakwanzika creative thinking even as the snow falls, melts, and candy canes get pulled from the shelves.
Starbucks is famous for its focus on seasons. From pumpkin-spice-everything to strawberry lemonade that somehow has coffee in it, the ubiquitous coffee brand has an impressive creative strategy and always finds fresh ways to sell people its daily pick-me-up, whether it’s beach weather or twenty below. Its holiday mainstay is the red cups (no, not those red cups) that all hot beverages are served in during the coldest, most Christmas-y time of year. Of course, it’s 2015, soon to be 2016, which means that everything is subject to relentless scrutiny and the mixed blessing of going viral.
You’ve likely heard more than you want to about Starbucks’ alleged “war on Christmas.” So I’ll spare the gory details and instead raise the question: Is all press good press? The answer is complicated, but Starbucks played this one pretty dang well. The company chose to let people on the Internet sort things out, after providing a brief and classy statement that may as well have said that’s what it was doing. Starbucks’ official response: “In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cup designs. This year, we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”
So when celebrities like Stephen Colbert and “Weird Al” Yankovic took to their respective channels to parody the whole controversy, it really turned into mentions of the Starbucks brand in places that can’t be bought. I may not endorse intentionally starting controversy, but even though the root of this one was silly, its scope speaks to something particularly true—that once you establish your brand and its story as integral to a season, you’re a part of the conversation. In this case, that meant Starbucks’ cups got more press than most brands do if they offer 50 percent off everything for a whole month. That’s what happens when you have a really, really consistent brand story, folks.
The hilarity of Red Cupgate all stems from the fact that Starbucks’ high-design cups eschewed traditional winter holiday symbology like snowmen and snowflakes. The brand has enough stature and reputation to shrug off and even embrace the silly backlash that this somehow evoked. The holidays are a sentimental, nostalgic time, and brands old and new can get in on the contemplative, cozy vibes in several ways. The key is to tell your story whether you’re making a long-term play on being a recurring presence during Christmastime or using the holidays as one season in a year full of seasonal stories. That creative strategy is part of any great lasting content marketing plan that features strong proactive and reactive components.
Coca-Cola, for example, has been doing the Christmas thing for a long, long time. I never drank Coke (or any soda for that matter, but being a good Texan, if I did, it had to be Dr. Pepper), but I was always so excited when my mom bought a case of it for Christmas parties. Why? Because the polar bears on the cases and cans were so fun and changed every year and I knew I could expect Christmas Cokes as surely as I could count on a Christmas tree. The key here, as with Starbucks, is making subtle aesthetic tweak to a yearlong product to make it feel indispensable to the holidays, even though it’s available every day of the year. Alongside a strong brand story, we collectively perceive these brands and their products as integral to the holidays—so much so that Coke may well be responsible for the image of Santa that we all picture.
Make New Friends but Keep the Old
It’s easy to despair and think that Coca-Cola and Starbucks have a monopoly on holiday vibes and hot and cold beverages to accompany Christmas. But, Budweiser recently got into the holiday nostalgia game, and it’s working really well. This year, the company is going even harder with the limited edition wooden box and retro label holiday beer cases. I keep going on about nostalgia, but that’s because it’s really in right now. And there’s no better time to crank up the creative thinking and jump in on the nostalgia game than the holidays, when everyone is reflecting on years past and feeling particularly generous and spendy.
The importance of holiday storytelling is not getting in on quick fire sales surrounding Black Friday and Christmas Eve shopping frenzies. Brands that perennially associate themselves with holidays have an easier time associating themselves with other, less memorable times of the year, too. Starbucks got the privilege of accidentally starting controversy because it’s such a holiday mainstay that people had expectations of what it would do next.
More important than becoming a pillar of the holiday season or reinventing the Santa, brands should take the advice of that New Year’s song that nobody really knows all the words to. You know—make new friends, but keep the old. I harp all the time on the huge value of retaining current customers, but brands can’t grow without acquiring new ones, too. Creating lasting emotional connections is a key tenet of brand journalism year-round, and what better time to start than when people are already in the mood to feel all the feels? Don’t worry, we’ll still be here even after you have to climb up on the roof to take down the lights.
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About the Author
BiographyMore Content by John Montesi