Actionable tips, community conversations, and marketing inspiration.

4 Great Holiday Campaigns to Inspire Yours

Shae Henrie

Sr. Content Marketing Manager @ AdRoll

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Retail sales during the 2021 holiday season grew a whopping 14.1% over 2020. While that’s great for brands’ bottom line, the fierce competition for shoppers’ attention and dollars can leave marketing teams scratching their heads when brainstorming a holiday campaign that’s fresh, original, and eye-catching.

The good news is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for great holiday campaigns. Take a page from the playbooks of top brands to find inspiration for your own holiday campaign. Whether it’s a dash of tradition, a dollop of sarcasm, or something that’s out there — literally — these holiday campaign examples may be just the creative infusion you need.

Pull at the Heartstrings: Apple

Apple has always creatively captured the spirit of the holiday season and what it’s like being with family, and its 2021 campaign is no different. Directed by Oscar nominees Ivan and Jason Reitman, “Saving Simon” tells the story of a young girl who attempts to preserve a beloved snowman for a whole year by stuffing it into a freezer. It’s a heartwarming ad, especially when you see the succinct tagline: “To the ones we’ve waited all year to be with.”

Not only does Apple capture the yearning we’ve collectively experienced in the last few years, but the spot is another installment of the company’s “Shot on iPhone” series that showcases the creative capabilities of the iPhone 13 Pro. Talk about a double whammy!

Encourage Exploration: REI’s #OptOutside Holiday Campaign

It may seem counterintuitive to shut down your business on a day that drives nearly $9 billion in revenue, but that's precisely what REI does year after year. On Black Friday, widely regarded as the biggest money-maker day of the holiday season, the outdoor giant does the unthinkable and closes its stores nationwide. Its #OptOutside campaign encourages its customers and employees to get outside and enjoy the outdoors with friends and family during the Thanksgiving break, instead of camping out in front of REI stores trying to luck out on the hottest deals. 

In 2021, the retailer added an extra element to the annual campaign: calling on its community to build a more equitable and inclusive outdoors, so everyone can feel welcome in nature. They launched the REI Cooperative Action Fund, which provides grants to nonprofits that focus on promoting justice, equity, and belonging, specifically in outdoor spaces. 

The campaign aligns perfectly with REI's identity as an outdoor brand. Not only does it promote the idea of enjoying every moment, but it’s also sparked a conversation about what it means to make outdoor culture more accessible to all. 

Be a Little Snarky: Heinz

Everyone knows British department store John Lewis is the king of holiday advertisements — until Heinz UK came along with its TikTok parody, that is. When you pair a chuckle-worthy concept with a  widely anticipated campaign drop, you’ve got a winning formula.

In 2021, Heinz UK brought a touch of snark to the holiday season by creating a spoof of a John Lewis ad for TikTok. Featuring a gift exchange of Heinz’s Christmas Dinner Big Soup, complete with an emotional soundtrack, green screen John Lewis-esque holiday imagery (don’t you just love TikTok effects?), and the caption “We spent nothing on this Christmas ad. Enjoy🎄,” the campaign was unconventional for a major brand, to say the least. Yet, it was funny, timely, and relevant — in fact, the campaign won The Drum Awards for Marketing 2022 in the Social Media category.

@heinzuk We spent nothing on this Christmas ad. Enjoy 🎄 #ChristmasAd #Christmas #FakeAd #Christmas2021 ♬ original sound - Heinz UK

Bask in Tradition: Macy’s

As marketers, we can get so caught up with selling gifts and promoting sales that we sometimes forget charity is also a significant part of the holidays. 

That’s exactly why Macy’s has made charity the hallmark of its annual ”Believe” campaign. For every letter to Santa posted on its website, Macy's donates $1 to the Make-a-Wish foundation. The campaign gets its audience to engage with Macy's directly through the letter to Santa site while fostering goodwill toward the brand. That might be more than you can spend, but aligning your brand with a charity lets you express your brand identity while also doing good for others. This is a stroke of brilliant marketing storytelling that aligns perfectly with Macy's brand values.

These are just four holiday campaign examples you can use to inspire your upcoming holiday campaigns. Whether your brand is sentimental, sarcastic, or something in between, there’s a way to make your marketing stand out from the incessant stream of jingling bells and falling snowflakes, if you take cues from what’s worked for other brands.

Ready to take this year’s holiday season by storm? Check out our holiday marketing resources and strategies below.

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