Every year, as soon as Halloween is behind us, it seems like the floodgates open. Without warning, there are holiday marketing campaigns everywhere, with countless businesses rushing to cash in on a spending frenzy. There are holiday emails, social media posts, and TV ads — oh, my.
It might seem like holiday marketing is out of control. But some brands do it very, very well.
How? Well, these brands create campaigns that actually delight customers instead of adding to holiday “noise.” They evoke emotions and promote sharing, sometimes even connecting people with their loved ones, or partnering with a charitable organization.
Great holiday marketing campaigns come in many different shapes and sizes. Check out our favorites below, and use these ideas to fuel your own holiday marketing ideas.
1. Walkers: All Mariah Carey Wants for Christmas
While the holiday season is a time for caring and sharing, Walkers shows musician Mariah Carey doing the exact opposite. After filming a music video for her famous song, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Mariah Carey gets angry with an elf for taking her Walkers chips. To fend him off, she sings a highnote which makes him block his ears and let go of the chips.
This is a hilarious commercial because it shows that the only thing you might not want to share on Christmas is Walkers products. It also shows how even stars, like Carey, enjoy the brand.
2. Coca-Cola Canada:Give Something Only You Can Give
In a recent holiday commercial, Coca-Cola brings us the story of a dad doing everything possible to deliver his daughter’s letter to Santa.
The dad enjoys a Coke while deciding what to do with the letter. We can sense that he’s not sure whether he’ll get there in time.
We see him sail through a sea, hike through a forest, ride across a desert, and climb a snowy mountain as he searches for Santa. Finally, he gets there, but Santa’s closed for Christmas. Just when we think the situation’s hopeless, Santa saves the day by cruising in on a Coca-Cola-branded truck and taking the dad home.
His little girl’s wish? For him to be home for Christmas. (This ad will definitely make you cry.)
While we’re always tempted to give expensive gifts, the best thing that you can give to your loved ones is your presence and time.
This installment is just one of the latest in the Coca-Cola company’s legendary holiday marketing campaigns — I mean, who doesn’t love the annual debut of the Coke-drinking polar bears?
3. Microsoft: Find Your Joy
The year 2020 was difficult for many of us. We spent more time on Zoom than ever before, and we heavily relied on technology to distract us from the COVID-19 pandemic. But that doesn’t mean we still shouldn’t celebrate the holidays and make the most out of it with our loved ones and pets.
Microsoft’s holiday commercial takes a fun spin on this theme. The commercial begins with a puppy named Rufus. Rufus longs to play and approaches each member of the family, but everyone, from the mother to the grandpa, is enjoying a Microsoft product and doesn’t pay attention.
Rufus grabs his best bud, a puppy from next door. Together, they go on an imaginary adventure involving the games and activities their humans had been enjoying. The ad not only showcases Microsoft’s offerings, but reminds us to cherish our loved ones (and to pay attention to our pets!).
4. Macy’s: In Dad’s Shoes
Macy’s campaign offers a new spin on what might be considered an overdone gift: socks.
“In Dad’s Shoes” takes a little girl through a “Freaky Friday”-like adventure, where she finds herself literally walking in her dad’s shoes for a day. Even though we see her as the daughter, everyone else, from neighbors to passerby, greets her as if she’s her dad.
Throughout the ad, she realizes how much work her dad does and how many places he frequents throughout the course of the day. He spends a lot of time walking. That’s how she gets an idea for what she’ll get him: socks. We all know that you can’t get anywhere without a good pair of socks.
We love that Macy’s showcases a simple gift borne out of empathy. This ad tells us that gifting doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or over-the-top.
5. Airbnb: Airbnb Hosts Ring Our Opening Bell
This is a great example of an ad that doesn’t explicitly allude to the holidays, but rather emphasizes the value of community and gratitude.
Airbnb celebrates the season by thanking its four million hosts for opening their homes to strangers all over the world. The video shows various hosts from different countries ringing the bell and opening the door. We go from the United States to Japan, from Kenya to New Zealand, from Brazil to Spain. (We love that each of these countries were listed in their original languages!)
This campaign demonstrates that you don’t need string lights or artificial trees to create an amazing campaign that embodies the holiday spirit. You can uplift your company’s values, celebrate your wins, and appreciate those who’ve played a role in your success.
6. Amazon: The Show Must Go On
If you lived through the 2020 pandemic (which you most likely did if you’re reading this), then you know how much it derailed any and all plans. Being quarantined keeps us from achieving things, it turns out. Unless it requires alone time.
In this ad, Amazon effectively punches us in the gut with the story of a ballerina who was chosen to play the lead in her dance school’s winter show. The girl is thrilled to be chosen, but as the months pass and the pandemic gains traction, the event is canceled. Ballet classes are moved online. The girl’s initial thrill fades, a feeling we can all relate to.
Her little sister remedies the situation by putting together a DIY event next to their apartment building. All of the tenants look down on her as she dances. The event is socially-distant, and the girl gets to dance the ballet she’d been practicing for since the beginning of the year.
What we love most is Amazon’s tasteful product placement. Rather than showing everyone ordering all supplies from Amazon, the ad showcases the purchase of a single product: a flashlight. The flashlight is the critical piece that allowed the tenants to watch the show from their balconies.
7. Woodie’s: #WereAllHomemakers
This one made us cry. Woodie’s, an Irish home improvement store, reminds us of what the holidays are about through the story of Mrs. Higgins, an elderly woman who’s beloved in her neighborhood.
Throughout the ad, we see multiple people greet her. Neighbors and passersby are fond of her. Even the rowdy teens who loiter in front of her house love her. She has one problem: the door that leads to her yard is missing a hinge. In the United Kingdom, homes typically have a fence with a gate. Every time she leaves and comes home, she struggles opening and closing that door, as one corner drags across the ground.
When Mrs. Higgins comes home on one particularly snowy day, she finds that her door opens smoothly. The picture focuses on the new hinge that had been installed.
Who fixed it? It turns out it was a one of the teenagers who loitered in front of her home. With this advertisement, Woodie’s not only subverted expectations but also effectively communicated what’s so wonderful about the holidays.
8. Hinge: See What We’re Thankful For
This holiday season, what are you thankful for? Recently, dating app Hinge sent around an email posing the same question to its members, using the opportunity to talk about its recent rebrand and subsequent growth — something for which Hinge itself has enormous gratitude, according to the email.
The timing for this sort of marketing is impeccable. The holidays are notorious for the sentimentality they invoke among the masses, and the desire to spend them with “someone special.”
Hinge used this email to harness the holiday spirit and redirect attention to an app that helps people find meaningful relationships, instead of, well, shorter-term alternatives.
9. Lagavulin: Nick Offerman’s Yule Log
This one is an oldie but a goodie. Actor, writer, and humorist Nick Offerman loves his whisky. He’s sung about it before, and during a previous holiday season, he joined his favorite whisky brand, Lagavulin, to film a 45-minute video of — wait for it — Offerman sitting in a leather chair next to a crackling fire, drinking whisky and looking calmly at the camera. Where do we sign up for that gig?
“This is smart branding on Lagavulin’s part,” Kristina Monllos wrote for AdWeek. “Creating an extended ad that can serve as a conversation starter — should consumers swap the traditional Yule Log video for Offerman’s at parties — will also get everyone talking about the brand.”
Since the video was initially released, a new 10-hour version of it became available. Consider it our gift to you.
10. BarkPost: Yappy Thanksgiving Eve
Holidays are traditionally a time to be spent with family. For many of us, that includes our dogs.
BarkPost is no stranger to marketing campaigns that help “dog ruvers” include their furry friends into day-to-day life. In November, the pet-friendly brand showed how to do that at Thanksgiving, with a clever email that included holiday-themed cartoons and videos, feeding safety tips, and other holiday survival techniques — which, of course, involve your dog.
Plus, check out that adorable call to action at the bottom of the email: “Stop getting cute dogs in your email. Unsubscribe.” I mean, who would want to unsubscribe from that?
11. reMarkable: Keep Your Goals for the New Year
You may not have heard of reMarkable, but no matter: this company is the definition of cool and simple. Their single offering is a tablet that acts as a “digital notebook.” When you jot anything down, the reMarkable tablet automatically turns your writing into typed notes. Pretty cool, huh?
In its New Year email ad, reMarkable embodied the simplicity of its product by creating an equally simple campaign. In the email, they entice you to splurge with a $50 discount. Everyone knows that New Years is a time to make plans, set goals, and get your things in order.
reMarkable presents its product as the way to do that. They want to help you save time, which will help you spend more time with your loved ones and pets in the upcoming year. And who likes transferring notes from a notebook to a tablet?
12. Kool-Aid: All I Really Want for Christmas feat. Lil John
In a music-video styled ad, rapper Lil John quietly sits down to drink a glass of Kool-Aid as the Kool-Aid man smashes through his wall. At that moment, the bass drops as a festive musical video begins showing Lil John rapping in front of a family Christmas gathering. The video goes on to show Lil John, the Kool-Aid Man, and Santa dancing along with shots of holiday food, presents, and Lil John’s Christmas list.
By launching a full-fledged music video with a prominent rapper, Kool-Aid both entertains prospects and demonstrates how “Kool” their brand is. Along with being humorous and entertaining, this ad also reminds you that you can still drink Kool-Aid during a time of the year where you’re mostly thinking about hot beverages.
13. Resy: Where to Spend New Year’s Eve
Don’t want to cook for New Year’s Eve? We don’t want to, either—mostly because washing dishes is a chore.
That’s what Resy bets on in a recent New Year email campaign. In a short but effective email, the company invites its subscribers to the best places to dine in the San Francisco Bay Area for the New Year. (If you’re not in San Francisco, you have the option to look for local eateries near you, also curated.) Like OpenTable, Resy allows you to make effortless reservations for you and your loved ones.
We love that this simple email keeps the focus on what we can do to celebrate New Year’s Eve. And what better way to do that than through delicious, local food that we don’t have to cook ourselves?
14. Erste Group Bank: #EdgarsChristmas #believeinlove #believeinchristmas
You might not recognize this company, but you’d definitely recognize their holiday ad from 2018. Remember the cute porcupine who couldn’t get any friends because his spikes were, well, spiky? The short film has more than fifty million views on YouTube and touched millions of people’s hearts on other social media platforms.
Erste Group Bank did it again during their 2020 holiday campaign. This time, they made it just a little bit more clear what they offer: loans that can help you purchase something that may feel out of reach, but that may help bring your family together.
The ad begins with a granddaughter handing her grandfather his hearing aids. Throughout the video, the grandfather seems unhappy. We later find out that it’s because he’s been wanting to play music, but has no way to because he doesn’t own a piano.
The granddaughter purchases a piano for him. In the end, the grandfather gets to play a song he’d written for his mother. The entire family joins in, and they play the song together.
15. Sonos + Spotify: #PlaylistPotluck
One great way to celebrate the holiday season is with an event. And with events typically come music. Spotify is aware of that tradition, which is why it created #PlaylistPotluck.
It started with a partnership with Sonos. The brands got together to turn playlists into something like a potluck in which everyone contributes something to bring the event together (the tagline of the campaign is “One home. One host. Everyone brings a dish.”) Only, instead of contributing food or drink, everyone contributes a tune to a collaborative playlist.
Oh, look. That feature is available with Spotify!
The idea is delightfully interactive. Instead of using traditional invitations, guests RSVP to the potluck by adding songs to the collaborative playlist. And the cherry on top? Both brands also partnered with the PBS series “Mind of a Chef” for a televised holiday special, in which various celebrity chefs will be using the feature for their own meals.
What we love about this campaign is the fact that it incorporates several different elements and media formats to make it cohesive — a speaker system, a music-streaming app, and a televised special. Plus, if you participate, you’re entered for a chance to win your very own dinner party, hosted by a world-renowned chef. Bon appetit — and rock on.
16. Google: Santa Tracker
While Google’s Santa Tracker has been around for a few years now — and we recommend checking out the back story here — its features have evolved over time. Now there are interactive mini-games such as “Santa Selfie,” “Wrap Battle,” and “Build & Bolt.” Additionally, you can watch delightful short films such as “A Day at the Museum,” so you can see what Santa’s day-to-day looks like.
It’s hard to narrow down what makes the Santa Tracker so delightful, but if we had to summarize it, we’d say this — it combines the holiday wonder of a belief in Santa with real-life technology. What a wonderful way to teach kids about the web, while also allowing them to be kids. (Although, we adults certainly appreciate it, too.)
Google even introduced a B2B element of the Santa Tracker by sharing the code with developers and releasing other elements of the tool as open source. Why make all of that information public? To inspire developers to create their “own magical experiences based on all the interesting and exciting components that came together to make Santa Tracker,” writes Google’s Developer Programs Engineer Sam Thorogood.
Up until Christmas Eve each year, visitors can have a peek at the “North Pole,” to see what Santa’s elves are up to as the holiday approaches.
17. Disney: From Our Family to Yours
Culture, history, and holiday cheer come together in this holiday advertisement from Disney. The media giant takes advantage of their long-standing name to take us back to 1940, when a young girl gets her first Mickey Mouse plush toy.
As the video goes on, we see the little girl grow older until she becomes a grandma. She hands down the plush toy to her granddaughter, who doesn’t appreciate it as much as she becomes a young adult.
The granddaughter realizes how much it means to her grandma and restores the toy back to its former glory. We definitely did not cry when the grandma opened her holiday gift and saw her old toy fixed and restored.
We expected something quite touching from Disney, and this one did not disappoint. We especially love how Filipino culture has been showcased to three million viewers and counting.
18. Black Owned Everything: Jingles and Things (with “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”)
Done in partnership with Netflix and the musical “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey,” Jingles and Things curates the very best gifts for the holiday season, including items ranging from fragrance to dishware to dolls. There’s truly something for everyone here—and the best part is that we can support Black businesses while completing our holiday shopping.
Zerina Akers, the owner and head curator of Black Owned Everything, introduces us to the shop by explaining that it’s not just a marketplace but an inclusive platform. There’s nothing more that encapsulates the holiday spirit than inclusivity, community, and belonging, and we love that Jingles and Things uplifts that theme.
19. Heathrow Airport: The Heathrow Bears Return
This adorable holiday commercial from Heathrow Airport shows the journey of two grandparent teddy bears as they decide to pack up, leave their sunny home, and go visit their teddy-bear grandchildren for Christmas. At the end, you see the bears reunite with their family in London’s Heathrow Airport.
For many, these bears are both nostalgic and relatable. They remind you of the bears you might have played with as a child and the average grandparents. At the end, when you see the teddy bears join their family, you might also remember the happiness you felt when your grandparents came and brought you gifts or hugs during the holidays.
This commercial is a sequel to a similar commercial the Heathrow launched a year before, titled “Coming Home for Christmas”. This ad follows the bears riding and exiting the plane to meet up with their family at a Heathrow Airport Gate:
This series of commercials has all the great aspects of an ad campaign because it’s relatable, nostalgic, and incredibly heartwarming.
Go Forth and Be Merry
Out of all the things that we appreciate about these campaigns, there might be one thing we like the most — the fact that they put the fun back in holidays. This season, don’t let the stress get to you. Have a laugh or a cry with these examples, and please, be merry.
From our family to yours, happy holidays.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2015 and was updated in January 2021 for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.