We’ve heard a lot lately that brands need to show empathy, that they need to make a “human connection” with consumers. While that has always been true, it’s recently become more important with consumer trust at a historic low. This development makes trust a vital trait for brands to build—more than one in three consumers rank “trust in brand” as among their top three reasons they shop at a particular retailer.
The holidays represent an unusually promising time for brands to show their human side. When it comes to branding, major American companies tend to focus a lot on the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, across the pond in the U.K., yuletide campaigns have long been valued as the best branding juncture on the calendar. During this moment in time when empathy and authenticity are seen as keys to branding success, U.S. marketers have an opportunity to reimagine their holiday season strategies as more inspirational and less transactional.
Sure, some leading U.S. brands have made a habit out of appealing to consumers’ humanity during the holidays. Take Lexus’ “December to Remember” tagline, which resonates with Americans like few other campaigns—in fact it’s the leading car name for brand awareness during the holidays. Budweiser has regularly had the Clydesdales in Christmas ads. And Coca-Cola practically made Santa Claus part of its logo for decades to tap into the holiday spirit.
There’s an opportunity for more U.S. marketers to adopt the holiday playbook. With that in mind, here are three campaigns from Europe that should inspire marketers everywhere to tell more empathetic stories during this season and in seasons to come.
Called “Love Is A Gift,” this video has made millions of folks misty-eyed. It chronicles a young man’s journey through the first 25 days of December, marking each successive day off of his kitchen calendar as if he’s a grade schooler anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus. What he’s looking forward to is a visit from his deceased mother’s voice via an audio cassette tape that was made 13 years prior. This video suggests that the mother was terminally ill and made 13 recordings for her son—named Chris, or “Puppet” to his mum—to listen to every Christmas morning after she had left the world. It’s a slow build but packs an emotional wallop at the end.
Which brand is the advertiser? It’s an ad for the filmmaker, and his name is Phil Beastall. And it was made in…2014. But it went viral this holiday season. And it cost only $65. What a remarkable, creative story, and it should be viewed as one the best B2B ads of recent memory. It seems highly likely that Beastall’s phone’s been ringing off the hook with calls from marketers in recent weeks—after all, his 2-minute, 27-second video has been viewed nearly 12 million times on social media.
Elkjøp, which is a Norwegian electronics retailer, tells the story of a young girl with her family at Christmastime. She meets an older relative she’s fearful of at first. They eventually become kindred spirits after it’s clear they share a common interest in flight. It’s a “show, don’t tell” kind of tale, leaving many dots unconnected. It could be even described as cryptic since there is no spoken dialogue, only slight narration. Called “To give more,” the four-minute video is epic by advertising standards, with a message that gifts sometimes mean more than words. Brands that capture deeper themes around the holidays like Elkjøp did strike a meaningful chord that enhances their humanity. The campaign was picked up by dozens of consumer-facing and advertising publications, receiving hundreds of thousands of views for ad vloggers alone.
Back in the U.K., John Lewis & Partners’ TV spot goes through pop music icon Elton John’s life in reverse, ending with the poignant moment when he got an upright piano for Christmas from his mother as a young boy. The two-and-a-half-minute video concludes with the tagline: “Sometimes a gift is more than a gift.”
It’s been like another Top of the Pops hit for the Elton John and John Lewis, a company with a history of successful holiday ads. Similar to the other examples, it’s a brand using a novel storytelling approach to celebrate the deep connections that bring family together around the holidays. Nothing could be more human than that. The John Lewis brand, which operates a chain of high-end department stores throughout the United Kingdom, has garnered at least 25 million views on social media channels.
The season for empathy
Such view metrics make clear that consumers respond when brands show their humanity this time of year. Humanity builds a connection with customers and creates more trust. And even if measuring ROI is your end-all, be-all, note that nearly half of Americans (47 percent) get their holiday shopping information from TV ads. The fact that these spots can be shared by millions on social networks makes them even more impactful.
And as Beastall’s short film showed, it doesn’t matter if you are selling B2B creativity or high-end clothing. The holidays are an incredible opportunity for marketers to show their humanity.
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