Public holidays like Christmas, Black Friday and the first day of summer present some of the most lucrative opportunities for brands, but they can also be stressful times for consumers. Making assumptions about how your audiences feel and what they want or need can result in expensive and even damaging campaigns that squander opportunities to foster brand loyalty and boost sales.

Such occasions highlight the importance of building campaigns based on known truths, using strong customer insight to create a message that resonates.

Here, we look at five examples of marketing campaigns that have successfully tapped into people’s deepest frustrations, motivations and inspirations during the holiday period.

1. Marks & Spencer, Christmas 2016

Marks & Spencer faced challenging conditions in 2016, having found it had lost relevance with women aged over 45.

One of its key priorities was therefore to revive clothing sales and encourage women back to the brand.

Drawing on the insight that almost half of British women feel there’s a lack of strong female role models in the world, the retailer spotted an opportunity to emotionally reconnect with its core audience of female shoppers.

M&S built its Christmas campaign around the iconic character of Mrs Claus, a stylish, modern, sassy woman created to represent the values and personality of women across the UK, as well as epitomizing the effort they put into making the festive season special.

As Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, Executive Director of Customer, Marketing and M& said, the retailer’s ‘Christmas with Love’ campaign was created “with our customers and for our customers, with their feedback at the heart of our strategy.”

He added that Mrs Claus was “the result of thousands of conversations that we had with our customers to understand what they want from M&S – which is warmth, empathy and a touch of humour presented in a modern and contemporary way.”

The most successful M&S Christmas campaign ever, the 2016 creative struck a chord with its target audience, and helped to transform its fortunes: the retailer reported its first increase in Christmas clothing sales for six years, growing their quarterly sales by 2.3%.

2. REI, Black Friday 2015

In November 2015, U.S. outdoor clothing retailer, REI closed the doors of its 149 stores and paid the majority of its 12,000 employees to #OptOutside on Black Friday – arguably the most profitable day of the year for many retailers.

The 2014 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report conducted by The Outdoor Foundation revealed that “nearly 143 million Americans, or 49.2 percent of the US population, participated in an outdoor activity at least once in 2013”. This statistic proved just how much they could expand their reach among consumers.

Following the team’s ongoing research into their target consumers in the outdoor gear and apparel retail industry, they came up with an idea.

Making the bold move to make a stand against consumerism, REI urged people to head outdoors rather than join the bargain queues with hundreds of others.

REI’s move portrayed its fundamental empathy for its customers, who would rather be hiking, walking or cycling than shopping. The hashtag #OptOutside captured the imaginations of both consumers and REI employees, in what REI called “a cultural counterweight to Black Friday” and “a new holiday tradition for all Americans.”

The move was so successful that REI repeated it in 2016, with the #OptOutside movement attracting six million participants, while on Black Friday itself, reportedly netted 716,000 visitors, up 36% from Black Friday in 2015. The brand also saw a 35% increase in traffic on Cyber Monday compared to 2015. REI is continuing its campaign in 2017.

3. Heathrow Airport, Summer 2016

In July 2016, Heathrow used its first TV campaign to make an emotional connection with its audience, reflecting on the stories behind why people use the airport. The ‘First Flight’ campaign launched as the school summer holidays began, and was built on 18 months of research that revealed Heathrow wasn’t seen as just an airport, but rather marked a change in the lives of their consumers, or the end to one of their biggest life journeys.

This insight fuelled the creation of an advert featuring a young girl making her way through the airport for her first flight. At the end, a young boy joins her walking through the terminal, as the words ‘To the next 70 years of first flights’ appears, in celebration of Heathrow’s 70th anniversary.

The concept aimed to make viewers reminisce over their own first flight and their own memorable experiences they shared at the airport. Set to David Bowie’s ‘When I Live My Dream’, the ad was part of a wider campaign telling customer stories through digital, print and outdoor media.

As Rebecca White, Head of Marketing and Brand at Heathrow Airport told Marketing Week, “Our customers see themselves in the little girl’s journey and everyone remembers their first flight. We’ve had such an emotive part to play in customer journeys, including our role in [the film] Love Actually, 13 years ago. This showcased a genuinely emotional moment Heathrow can own and should be demonstrating.”

Proving the power of emotive marketing around the holiday season, the campaign earned 110 million Facebook views during a six-week period and led to an increase in participating passengers (those who spend in the airport) by 11%.

4. Morrisons, Christmas 2015

Andy Atkinson, Group Customer and Marketing Director at Morrisons told Marketing Week in 2015 that the brand’s “big customer learning was that people wanted us to celebrate our colleagues and the fact they were shopkeepers.”

As a result, Morrison’s 2015 Christmas campaign didn’t feature its brand ambassadors, Ant and Dec, instead putting the retailer’s own staff in the spotlight.

The campaign, ‘Make it magical’, comprised three ads, each of which showed Morrisons’ butchers, bakers and fishmongers explaining how they source, prepare or make the foods that people traditionally eat at Christmas. The TV spots were backed by in-store, outdoor, radio, direct, digital and press.

The campaign was based on three key insights: customers value the store for its fresh produce and the service provided by staff, along with the fact that it makes so much food in-house and personalizes products for its customers.

As Atkinson said, “All this came from our customers and listening to what they love about us and then wrapping that up in the idea that we can help them have a magical experience.”

5. Halfords, Summer 2016

In summer 2016, Halfords overhauled its marketing to put the focus on data, insights and building an emotional – rather than a purely rational – relationship with its customers. The new approach aimed to boost loyalty and increase sales.

The campaign followed an extensive piece of customer insight work which saw thousands of people interviewed online and offline to get an understanding of what they thought of the brand and its place on the high street.

The research revealed insights into what was most important to customers when planning and making journeys, uncovering a desire to make journeys simpler.

This insight gave rise to the strapline, ‘For Life’s Journeys’, which aimed to make consumers aware of Halfords’ service propositions and products that can give them peace of mind and mean the difference between a ‘good journey and a bad journey’.

The brand relaunch included a TV brand campaign featuring a family of four on a journey, bringing together Halfords offering.

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