Sentimentality in marketing is a tightrope walk over a pool of hungry cynics. The holiday season is when marketers release their most doe-eyed ads, hoping to capture an ever-elusive zeitgeist of public sentiment, or else capitalize on traditions that tap into universally recognized and individually felt nostalgia. The worst of these are sappy and transparent, exploiting the spirit of the season to sell products that are usually irrelevant to the message. When done right, though, holiday ads can create a warmth and humanity for brands that often belies the fact that the spots are selling anything at all.
The trick is always in good storytelling. The holidays are ripe with stories old and new – stories of love, sacrifice, family, community, celebration – and the most successful holiday ads hide their “marketing” so completely in compelling, entertaining and/or moving stories that, by the end of the spot, we forget that we are being sold to at all and instead just feel good. The selling point is not the product itself, but the association between the brand and the feeling.
Below, we’ve collected a few of our favorites from this holiday season, with a brief analysis of what makes them so effective:
H&M – “Come Together” by Wes Anderson
Director Wes Anderson’s retro-pastiche lends itself nicely to the holiday season, as holidays are often steeped in our memories of the past. Between the song choices, aesthetic and tone, he nails a feeling of Christmas that is both classic and modern. The final message is subtly about diversity and community (notice the casting choices for the train passengers), positioning H&M as a clothing brand for diverse and global-minded citizens who are hip enough to appreciate Anderson as a director.
Amazon – “A Priest and Imam Meet For a Cup of Tea”
Most large companies avoid religion in advertising altogether, as it can fracture potential consumer bases. Amazon took a different approach this season with a touching portrait of a cross-cultural friendship. The story is moving and the reveal is humorous, but consider the hidden brand and service implications: that Amazon is a global company used by all types of people; that Amazon is easy to use and fast to deliver, even for older users who may be unfamiliar with online purchasing; that Amazon now offers one-click mobile purchasing; that Amazon, as a company, cares about diversity and acceptance. That’s a lot of messaging and positive brand association for a one-minute ad.
Comcast – “Hooking Up Grandma’s House”
Let’s be honest, Comcast is not a paragon of warmth, humanity and “holiday spirit,” but this clever ad certainly does a good job of hiding it. The holidays are a time when cross-generational friction comes to a head, and Comcast uses this year’s spot to position itself as the solution. The ad also highlights things like their quick service install, fast Wi-Fi and its various applications, voice-control remote, on demand service and more, all gift-wrapped in a funny and surprisingly poignant package.