With steep competition for consumers’ attention and dollars this holiday season, the stakes have never been higher for marketers. In what first seemed like a bad business move, REI’s decision to sit out this year’s Black Friday and #OptOutside provoked an outpouring of support and praise. While Starbucks, on the other hand, has been taking cover and dodging attacks for their highly anticipated, yet highly “disappointing” red cup design (or lack thereof). The magnitude and differences in how consumers’ reacted to these decisions just demonstrates the tightrope marketers are being forced to walk during this all-important and incredibly emotional season.
For the second year in a row, Kmart was the first retailer out of the gate with a way-too-early holiday ad campaign. To be fair, Kmart did leverage real consumer sentiment to inform their creative strategy. “It’s ridiculous to think about Christmas now!” proclaimed “Kmart Kelly” in the ad (with “now” being September, when the spot first aired).
What’s perplexing is that, instead of changing their strategy based on what people said or how they felt, they took a tongue-in-cheek approach and ran the spot anyway, effectively ignoring the insight and annoying potential customers in the process. But don’t take my word for it. Take it from consumers.
We asked people from across the country what they wanted to see from marketers this holiday season. Here are four things every brand marketer and advertiser needs to know.
1. Go ahead – tug at those heartstrings, but don’t overdo it
It’s perfectly fine to evoke a sense of nostalgia and transport your audience back to their childhood, or show happy, heartwarming holiday moments unfold. But be wary of the slippery slope to sappy town. One person vowed to stop watching TV altogether “if Folgers brings back that ad with the brother and sister who are WAY too into each other.” A little dramatic, but it’s a fair point. Same goes for humor; while consumers encourage marketers to make Christmas feel fun again, there’s no need to get hokey or silly.
2. Save the cookie-cutters for holiday baking, not depicting families
The holidays are all about reconnecting and spending time with loved ones, so it’s no wonder the concept of “coming together” strikes a chord with many. But don’t lose sight of the diversity of family units today. Don’t alienate the many multigenerational, interracial, single-parent, or same-sex families. It’s fine to depict the unique holiday traditions each family may have, but don’t fall into the trap of old-fashioned or outdated stereotypes.
3. Remember: it’s not “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for everyone
The holidays can be a really tough and stressful time for some folks. Don’t forget about those who are struggling financially and feel guilty about potentially disappointing their kids on Christmas morning. Or those who are feeling particularly sad or lonely this year. People welcome the opportunity to be reminded about the real reason for the season: spreading cheer through random acts of kindness and helping others. Kohl’s nailed this approach with their 2013 “Holiday Surprise” spot. (Make sure you have the tissues nearby.)
4. Keep it real
Everyone already knows that consumers crave authenticity. So why do some marketers insist on the phony and sensationalized scenarios that typically play out in most holiday ads? Unless you’re friends with Kylie Jenner, how many of us will really wake up to a luxury car wrapped in a gargantuan red bow sitting in our driveways Christmas morning? People want to see and hear honest stories, genuine emotions, and real people.
Tapping into those stories and emotions will demand that brands stop trying to manufacture the holiday experience for consumers and start really understanding what they want (or don’t want) from brands. It will mean taking some time this holiday season to reflect on the fact that your customers are comprised of real people. And it’s crucial to craft marketing and advertising strategies inspired bytheir ideas and sentiments (not simply based on last year’s performance or this year’s Q4 forecast).
The holidays are about the relationships in our lives. Start building them with your customers and I guarantee they’ll be less likely to leave a lump of coal in your stocking.