7 Messages for Compelling Holiday Storytelling Campaigns

Don’t cross empathy off your list. This article reflects on how brands interact with consumers in the sentimental atmosphere surrounding the marketplace, based on seven essential messages for holiday storytelling campaigns.

Celebrate Downtime

The holidays are one of the rare times of the year that people who don’t always get to see each other can reconnect. It’s also one of those times that people spend their only free time in stores, fighting crowds during holiday shopping.

REI created a campaign that encourages its customers to #OptOutside instead, spending the Thanksgiving holiday outdoors with family and friends. It became more than a series of commercials and even more than an REI-specific advertising campaign. It became a powerful message to consumers in general about how they are spending their holidays and a cry to celebrate their downtime with loved ones instead.

Bring People Together

If anything, the holidays are about bringing people together — whether they’re family, friends, co-workers or people who have no ties to each other at all. Brands that are doing well are focusing on messages that unite people and establish common ground.

H&M’s 2016 “Come Together” video short, directed by Wes Anderson, embraces this message. It begins by showing random people in their separate bunks on a train in the middle of a winter storm. The conductor announces that because of the storm they won’t make it home for Christmas but encourages passengers to meet in the dining cabin. When a young boy enters the cabin, he sees that all the unrelated people on the train came together to decorate a tree to make sure the boy still had a merry Christmas.

It’s also important for brands to recognize that the season isn’t just about Christmas — but many other holidays as well. Samsung created an ad that brings people together in celebration of different holidays: Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas and the Chinese New Year.

Just Believe: Or Embrace It Anyway

OK, so people don’t have to truly believe in Santa, but the holidays are a special time to embrace the whimsical stories anyway. 

The 1996 “M&M’s faint” commercial is famous for this marketing approach. When Santa comes down the chimney, both Santa and a talking M&M’s candy faint upon realizing that each other are real. Aside from being humorous and creative, consumers take away that M&M’s is a brand that believes in and embraces the cheerful Christmas spirit.

Spread Warmth + Cheer With Compelling Design

The journey to December brings a sense of excitement for the red and green. Christmas trees and string lights begin to pop up, and it’s time to break out the holiday silver and gold. Stores begin to decorate their windows with fake snow, and media networks typically add a jingle and snowfall to their promos.

Family and friends get together to take holiday pictures for greeting cards that they send to loved ones all over the world. Coca-Cola replicated this by creating a holiday spin on the Share-a-Coke campaign, which invites users to send loved ones a personalized greeting card on a Coke bottle.

Starbucks hosts the famous #RedCupContest each year, inviting users to design and color their own red cups and then post them on social media. Hershey’s is also known for getting into the Christmas spirit with a popular ad that displays an arrangement of holiday-colored Hershey’s Kisses bouncing to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”

Consumers want to engage with a brand that has fun and excitement in the holiday season. Brands should focus on creating compelling designs, embracing these classic holiday visuals and spreading a virtual sense of warmth and cheer to consumers who crave the Christmas spirit.

Provoke Nostalgia

Nostalgia and sentimental moments fill the air during the holiday season. Whether they’re focused on long-standing traditions or first-time experiences, everyone is reflecting on both old memories and new ones in the making.

Toyota hit the nail on the head (literally) in their commercial “R+S,” released this year. The commercial shows a tree that’s grown from generation to generation, reflecting on a different memory for each member of the family. In the end, the younger members of the family get together, using the Toyota truck to carry the tree, and construct a dining room table out of the tree for the grandparents who started the tradition.

Another commercial, “Coming Home for Christmas” by the Heathrow Airport, follows the journey of two stuffed animals arriving “home” for Christmas. The director portrays them as an elderly couple in a rush to see their grandchildren. The camera pans back out to show them come to life as humans, embracing their grandchildren at the welcome line of the airport.

Remember: ’Tis the Season of Giving

Nothing beats the feeling of giving. John Lewis does an exceptional job of displaying this concept in their commercial titled “The Long Wait.” The commercial follows the journey of a boy who is counting down the seconds until Christmas. At first, viewers think it’s because he can’t wait to get presents. But in the end, he can’t wait to give a present.

From local organizations to global corporations, people feel especially called on to gather donations for a food pantry or set up a clothing drive for surrounding shelters. In the digital space, #GivingTuesday is one of the new social media holidays. Taking place on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, both consumers and brands gather on social media to either pledge or share stories about their commitment to giving over the holiday.

Look to the Future

New Year’s Eve brings a wave of excitement, usually dressed in glitter, sparkles and champagne. But the message behind the glitz and glam is simple: Brands should inspire consumers, encouraging reflection on the past year and looking forward to what’s to come.

Chevrolet created a New Year’s campaign, inviting users to set a goal for the coming year. In the ad, Chevrolet interviews five different people who set goals, like conquering a fear of heights or competing in a sport after a serious injury. Chevrolet gave each person a VR headset to see what his or her goal would look like if achieved in 2017. Chevrolet also created a “co-driver” bot to provide a place for users to seek tips, encouragement and advice on achieving their goals.


In conclusion, the holiday season is an important, if not the most important, time of the year to express empathy in your brand’s message and form an authentic connection with consumers. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, brands should consider these key messages when forming compelling storytelling campaigns.

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