Ah, the holidays. When all sorts of companies across every industry try to find a tie-in -- any tie-in -- between their product or service and a holiday theme.
Okay, I'm being a little snarky, because I usually really love it when companies think outside the box to market themselves. After all, who cares if someone like Old Navy comes up with a cool holiday campaign? They have millions of dollars to spend, and everyone's going to hit them up for gifts of sweaters and socks, regardless. What's awesome is when you see a company unexpectedly nail it.
But we've already covered the companies that conceived awesome holiday campaigns. So now, it's time to review the ones that totally missed the mark. Whether offensive, petty, or just plain ridiculous, check out five of the holiday campaigns that threw us for a loop.
Lexus' 'A December to Remember'
This year, Lexus is running its December to Remember holiday sales campaign again -- one they've been running since 1998. You know the one. On Christmas morning, a husband leads his confused wife outside to find, SURPRISE, a brand new Lexus with a big red bow on it.
Or perhaps you recall one of the most egregious of the campaign's commercials, where a teenager received a bow-adorned Lexus as a present after asking for a CD player for Christmas. Oh, she got her CD-player ... wrapped in a luxury car! Daddy, you're the best.
I have a few words on why I think this campaign doesn't quite hit the mark despite its long run, but this parody video, in my opinion, says it best:
Finish watching? Those sentiments -- "Do you have any idea how much insurance alone on that car costs?" "We're gonna get evicted," and "We don't even have health insurance!" -- are more along the lines of what I'd expect to hear if anyone I knew pulled this stunt on their significant other.
As a marketer, I "get" that the point behind this is to instill a sense of fancy and wonderment in viewers, even if they're not part of Lexus' target market. But the flip side of the coin is how obscenely ridiculous the call-to-action is, especially when the economy was really in the tank and these commercials were still running. How out of touch can you be?
I'd take less issue with this campaign if they were targeting it to, say, Yachting. Hey, there's a corner of the earth that actually does buy luxury cars as presents, so if you can find a way to target them, and not the 99.99% of us eating store-brand tortilla chips on our couch during Monday night football, more power to ya.
Good on Lexus, I suppose, for having a long-running campaign that makes December their most profitable month of the year. But this one just doesn't strike a chord that's in tune with the whole "holiday spirit" thing. In fact, maybe ZipCar could do a response campaign about the more realistic, economically-feasible way to give the gift of car travel this holiday season ;-)
Starbucks' 'Rekindle' Campaign
It took me a while to find this video, but find it I did, and most of what I wanted to say about why this campaign falls short, someone else -- Eli Sussman, former advertising executive -- already said. (Ah, the internet.) But he said it really well, so I encourage you to read it.
Here's the video before I go into why this campaign is just ... ridiculous.
Alright, here's where I take issue with this commercial:
1) If Derrell wanted to see his mother, he could fly her out himself by cutting out the Starbucks. I did a little rogue math to figure this out. Assuming Derrell and his wife are only buying Starbucks' cheapest menu item, the small cup of regular coffee, it'll cost them about $3.30 each (tax not included) to buy coffee every day, rounding out to about $99 a month they're spending on Starbucks. Alternately, they could brew their coffee at home, where a 12 ounce bag of approximately $7 coffee would yield them a cup of coffee costing around $0.58. So in one month, they could have coffee at home for about $34.80, saving them $64.20 a month. I don't know how much the plane travel costs, but after 3-4 months of cutting out the Starbucks, I bet the travel plans could be arranged.
2) I'm going to assume Derrell saw this money-saving opportunity in front of him, but for some reason, didn't take it. You know what? That's your business, Derrell. It's not for me, or anyone -- that includes Starbucks baristas -- to meddle in your personal life. How did this barista find his mom's contact information? How did she know Derrell and his mother hadn't had a huge falling out? What if Derrell was going out of town with his wife that weekend? There are too many variables here, which is why most people -- who you'd consider acquaintances, at best -- don't typically fly your family members out on a whim to hang out with you.
I think Eli Sussman summed up the general tone of the commercial best: "A Starbucks commercial about family guilt with sappiness as thick as the foam on top of that vente half-caf pumpkin spice espressachino."
The Walt Disney Co.'s and Barneys' 'Electric Holiday' Campaign
The idea of combining Barneys' high fashion world with the magic of Disney sounds like a marketing match made in heaven, especially for creatives and branding professionals. What came out of the campaign, however, had some people wondering if Disney had jumped on the "thinspiration" bandwagon. And frankly, I didn't quite get the holiday tie-in, either. Here, take a look at how Barneys and Disney did their mashup:
If you can't recognize her, that's Minnie Mouse. Lost some weight, eh? Here, take a look at Daisy:
What exactly is the goal here? What I see is the Disney characters little girls (and boys!) adore being rendered stick thin for a campaign touting high fashion. Upon releasing these images, much of the campaign commentary centered around what came off as a promotion of eating disorders. To little kids. Who like Disney. Not. Good. As the Huffington Post's article entitled "Disney Characters Get Scarily Slimmed Down for Barneys" put it, "So, what do Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and Daisy Duck look like with the Kate Moss treatment? First of all, creepily reed-thin, in the way only a cartoon character can. Could giving characters beloved by children the "thinspo" treatment be a bad idea?"
Despite outcry for the unhealthy imagery back in August, even getting to the point of consumers filing petitions against the images, they went forth with the campaign in November. I think the big name celebrities gracing their runway got more people's attention than the disturbing images.
ASDA's 'Christmas Doesn't Just Happen By Magic' Campaign
The holidays is a stressful time for lots of people -- it's a time of year when many people are stretched for time and budgets, and emotions (and kids' expectations) can run high. This is not a new concept, right? That's why it's strange ASDA hinged their 2012 campaign on it. Here, take a look at the frazzled mom making Christmas happen ... all by her lonesome:
This commercial received a ton of backlash, with many viewers saying it was a sexist. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) stated that most people complained because "the ad is offensive because it is sexist to both men and women and reinforces stereotypes."
I think this campaign missed the mark not because it's offensive necessarily -- I tend to agree with the sentiments expressed in the ASA's quote, but plenty of others feel differently. It missed the mark because the image of the tired, stressed out mom, doing it all herself, is pretty played out. That character has been worn into the ground, and I think most people are looking for something way more creative, and far less simplistic than what the ASDA churned out here.
Bing's 'Scroogled' Campaign
Most marketers pay more attention to optimizing for Google search than Bing. The same goes for paid search -- the big bucks are going to where more consumers flock -- Google. It's safe to say that, for a myriad of reasons, Google's winning the this whole search game.
So, what do you do if you're Bing? Launch a holiday campaign that makes you look like a petty, poor sport. Here's what Scroogled is all about:
The thing is, they have a pretty good point. But you know what makes you look like a total schmuck? Calling out your competitors, and picking on them. Dude, if you're better, show me. The proof is in the pudding. The cream rises to the top. You know, all that jazz. When your marketing centers around what your competitor is doing wrong, instead of what you're doing right, you just look petty. Let's keep the competitive warfare classy, people!
What 2012 holiday campaigns do you think missed the mark, or totally nailed it?
Originally published Dec 25, 2012 9:00:00 AM, updated October 20 2016