It’s almost the most wonderful time of the year – holiday marketing season!
Yes, I know Charlie Brown would throw his hands up at me and say, “Good grief.” But brands are stepping up their holiday marketing game, sharing moving messages of love and warmth, experimenting with exciting new formats, and providing value for their audiences.
Is your brand ready to wow your crowd with a powerful end of the year marketing message? Check out these 12 tips and examples to inspire your holiday visual content marketing!
1. Focus on storytelling, not selling
British retailer John Lewis is establishing a reputation for the best holiday ads, starting with Monty The Penguin in 2014. The Man on The Moon made waves in early November 2015, seeming to kick off the holiday season. The video created significant buzz and started trending within hours of its launch.
What drove its popularity? Masterful storytelling. Instead of talking about all the great gifts you could find when you shop at John Lewis, this video shifts your attention to the joy of giving. The Man on The Moon combines everything we love about great movies – likable characters, beautiful visuals, a plot that holds your attention, an amazing soundtrack and a happy ending. We forget it’s an ad, and focus instead on the story.
Plus, this powerful, relatable story is so much more shareable than a run-of-the-mill holiday ad. This tactic has allowed John Lewis to promote its brand through word-of-mouth and to reach a new audience.
In 2016, John Lewis is at it again with #BusterTheBoxer. Note the call to action, which is “Continue the story,” with the hashtag for the campaign. The brand is not just telling its own story – it’s also asking you to share your own.
The Takeaway: Tell a moving story. If you can move your audience, everything else – from shares to sales – will follow.
2. Make your customer the hero of the story
This heart wrenching story by Spain’s national lottery will definitely have you reaching for a tissue. The character, a nightshift security guard at a mannequin factory, is a Boo Radley-type figure – an unseen loner, who amuses his coworkers with surprises and doesn’t ask for anything in return.
Justino is the hero of this story – he wins over the audience as we watch him win over his coworkers. And when his coworkers repay him with a winning lottery ticket, we cheer for Justino, not for the lottery ticket. The lottery isn’t the hero here, it’s just the vehicle for rewarding the hero.
The Takeaway: Shift the focus away from your brand onto your customer, the real hero of the story.
Bonus: The Spanish national lottery hosted the video in a terrific visual showcase with bonus photos. Plus, the campaign went above and beyond with an Instagram feed for Justino and a Facebook page for the mannequin factory.
3. Get your crowd involved in the production
Help your crowd to see themselves in your content by asking them to be the stars! This video by George Washington University is a fantastic example of how you can leverage your crowd to create great content. The photos on GW’s photo wall tell personal, individual stories, while the voiceover weaves them all together with an overarching narrative. The video seamlessly incorporates photos from throughout the year with video shot in front of the photo wall. The final product wows a non-GW grad, and I’m guessing the students in these photos (and their parents) are sharing this piece with everyone they know.
Bonus: GW also created a timelapse video to show the production process – a great way to create more compelling, shareable content from work your already doing, and an creative way to infuse the project with even more authenticity.
The Takeaway: Give your content authenticity by getting your audience involved from the start.
4. Tailor your visual content to each platform
— IKEA USA (@IKEAUSA) December 14, 2015
People love holiday recipes. This is the one time of the year that even New Yorkers might actually consider using their ovens. This GIF from IKEA catches your attention as you scroll through your Twitter feed. Never has a recipe been so visually engaging.
Then, when you click the link, you get to see an even more engaging, step-by-step version. The win here is that IKEA created several visual assets from the same hero content, and each version shines on its own platform. On Twitter, the :45 second video might get lost. But if the simpler GIF catches your eye, you’re more likely to click the link and pay attention to the longer version on IKEA’s website, without the distractions of your Twitter feed.
The Takeaway: Build a cohesive collection of visual assets (photos, videos, GIFs, etc.) and tailor the content you share to fit each platform.
5. Experiment with new visual content formats
Burberry is experimenting with long form video this holiday season with a video that feels more like a trailer for a feature film than a commercial for a fashion label. The video is packed with stars including Domnhall Gleeson, Sienna Miller and Lily James. It’s beautifully shot with a powerful score. Since its launch in early November, it already has more than 4.5 million views.
The Takeaway: With so many exciting new formats for visual storytelling, try something new with your holiday marketing.
6. Choose one theme to drive your visual content
One solid theme can help your brand keep your visual content focused. Check out these tweets from Glade conveying the simple theme, “Feel Joy.”
— Glade (@Glade) December 17, 2015
— Glade (@Glade) December 14, 2015
Each video shows little moments of delight. And as you see these people feeling joy, you can’t help but feel it right along with them. The visuals are bright and fresh (a word consistent with Glade’s brand) and these short pieces of content are easy to digest in a busy Twitter feed. Plus, the videos are consistent not just in theme, but also in visual style, creating a cohesive campaign.
The Takeaway: A simple theme can help you keep your team on the same page as you source visual content, and have a big impact when you share that content with your audience.
7. Keep it simple
Sometimes, a simple message is all you need. American University turned the beloved tradition of the tacky holiday sweater into a fun, light-hearted video greeting from the University. And who doesn’t love admiring a bunch of tacky sweaters in a row? The song is upbeat and the students in the video are clearly having fun with the task before them. The video is sure to delight American’s fanbase. Simple messages also translate well on revolutionary advertising platforms such as digital billboards. Not heard of a digital billboard before? Essentially, a digital billboard is a large wifi digital picture frame that can be regularly updated with stills and video content to delight passers-by.
The Takeaway: Whether you’re short on time, budget or production resources, or you just don’t want to overcomplicate things, keep it light and create something simple. Consider using a digital billboard photo frame for maximum effect.
8. Capture attention with experiential marketing (and make it count)
Speaking of tacky holiday sweaters…
A giant ugly sweater in Times Square is bound to capture some attention and get passersby to share photos on social media. And it’s sure to make people wonder, “how did they do that?” With the “Ugly Holiday Sweater Billboard” Miller Lite was smart enough to capitalize on the eye-catching stunt they created.
Not only did the brand execute a shareable experiential marketing stunt, but they also captured the backstory. The final product in Times Square is a spectacle, but so is the process it took to get there. This behind the scenes video about how the sweater was made was a powerful asset as the story spread on social media. Watching London Kaye and her team painstakingly assemble the massive sweater is entrancing, and her enthusiasm at the end is contagious.
The Takeaway: Take advantage of every step of the journey. If you’re planning a big stunt, think about how you could share more of the behind-the-scenes story with your fans to create a bigger ripple effect. (Want more inspiration? Check out our Union Square experiential marketing series.)
9. Have fun with your audience
The San Jose Sharks have been vying for the title of “Best Holiday Viral Video” for years. They scored with their holiday sweater rap video in 2014, and a holiday party spoof in 2013 (don’t miss the line, “these guys are notoriously bad dancers,” delivered in perfect sports announcer cadence). In 2015, they turned the joke on themselves with a spoof on VH1’s Behind the Music, telling us the real behind-the-scenes story of their own holiday videos.
Sports fans love seeing their favorite athletes outside of their typical arenas. The Sharks’ holiday videos give fans exactly what they want, showing them a sense of humor and personality they don’t usually get to see.
The Takeaway: Your audience loves to see a different side to your brand, especially when you make them laugh. Have fun with your fans and invite them into the joke.
10. Surprise your audience
This video from the German entrepreneurial initiative Edeka takes pulling at your heartstrings to a whole new level, then shocks you with a twist at the end. When the character in this video pulls the world’s most powerful guilt trip, he surprises his family and the audience. When you surprise your audience, chances are they’ll share it with their friends.
The Takeaway: Don’t be predictable – add a twist to your story!
11. Curate visual content your audience will love
As a photo book company, the team at Artifact Uprising knows a thing or two about visual storytelling. The company is active on Pinterest, and launched a fantastic board for the holidays: GIFTS | for Mobile Photography Enthusiasts. And who isn’t a mobile photography enthusiast these days?
Presenting this gift list on an interactive, inherently visual social media platform is a smart move for Artifact Uprising. It allows them to join a conversation and highlight their products (and even those of other companies) in a natural setting, and provide value to their customers.
The Takeaway: Curate content that will be interesting and helpful to your audience, even it’s not your own content (how very Miracle on 34th Street of you).
12. Add your own twist to an old tradition
Everyone loves those long YouTube videos that transform your computer screen into a cozy fireplace. But whisky distillery Lagavulin Whisky released the most epic twist on that old holiday favorite: 45 minutes of Nick Offerman drinking whisky by the fire. For Parks and Rec fans, this is a Christmas gift in itself. For non-fans, it’s still worth a chuckle.
The video generated a lot of buzz when it launched in December 2015, and a year later has nearly 3 million views.
Perhaps sharing a drink by the fire with Nick Offerman will become a new holiday tradition?
The Takeaway: The holidays offer plenty of material for fun twists on old traditions, so get creative and have a little fun!
Best of luck with your holiday marketing! We can’t wait to see your photos, videos, GIFs and more as we finish up 2016 and ring in the new year.
Cover photo by Kristin Twiford.