The Top Three Holiday Marketing Stunts of 2013

The Top Three Holiday Marketing Stunts of 2013 image 1799766501The Top Three Holiday Marketing Stunts of 2013

It’s that time of year when we scram­ble to rank the bests and worsts of the last 12 months. We also begin defin­ing our New Year’s res­o­lu­tions, in hopes we’ll end up on a “best of” list next time around. In the spirit of the hol­i­day, I decided to share my top three hol­i­day mar­ket­ing stunts of 2013. These customer-driven mar­ket­ing inno­va­tions inspire me to reach higher, design­ing dig­i­tal expe­ri­ences that con­nect and delight. I hope you find some inspi­ra­tion in them as well.

1. West­Jet Christmas

West­Jet Air­lines deliv­ered a Christ­mas mir­a­cle to 250 unsus­pect­ing cus­tomers in early Decem­ber. When pas­sen­gers checked in, they encoun­tered a dig­i­tal kiosk live stream­ing Santa Claus. Decked in West­Jet blue, Santa asked trav­el­ers what they wanted for Christ­mas. It could have ended there. Instead, West­Jet employ­ees rushed to pur­chase each item on Santa’s list. When they landed, pas­sen­gers were shocked to find wrapped and per­son­al­ized gifts at bag­gage claim.

West­Jet cap­tured the stunt from start to fin­ish and made a 5-minute video for its pop­u­lar YouTube chan­nel. It went viral, amass­ing 31.9 mil­lion views in a week. Peo­ple all over the world watched a young woman cheer for her free flight home for the hol­i­days, and another cry as she unwrapped her dig­i­tal camera.

Why It Worked

West­Jet didn’t make a flashy video for the sake of going viral. The com­pany started with a one-to-one expe­ri­ence for real cus­tomers and then made that expe­ri­ence avail­able to a wider audience.

The engage­ment went deep. You can see the pride on West­Jet employ­ees’ faces as the gifts are unveiled. The com­pany also wove a Twit­ter con­test into the cam­paign: If you tweeted the video, you were entered for a chance to win free air­fare for two. And, “If the chance to win flights isn’t enough moti­va­tion,” they wrote, “we’re also going to give Christ­mas flights to a fam­ily in need if our video hits 200,000 views.”

The com­ments on the West­Jet blog post read like effu­sive Christ­mas cards:

“This brought tears to my eyes. What an awe­some idea to put smiles on the faces of all their pas­sen­gers. West­Jet really cares about peo­ple, and that is why they are so loved.”

“I’m already a loyal guest of yours, and you keep giv­ing me rea­sons to tell every­one I know why you are amaz­ing. This is incredible!”

Take­away

Inspire pride in your brand, and cus­tomers will share your mes­sage for you. The video led view­ers to asso­ciate deep emotions—such as joy and connectedness—with the air­line, and to want to iden­tify as loyal customers.

This is the sec­ond year West­Jet exe­cuted an expe­ri­en­tial cam­paign, and they’ve main­tained an active social pres­ence to sup­port the brand’s com­mu­nity. This year’s cre­ative “stunt” was much more, stem­ming from an ongo­ing pro­gram of customer-driven engagement.

2. Beyoncé’s Secret Album Launch

Beyoncé’s big hol­i­day sur­prise was more than a sin­gle: she released 14 songs and 17 music videos at once. Her self-titled album dropped with­out any talk show rounds, press jun­kets, early leaks, or blog­ger spec­u­la­tion. It sold 991 thou­sand copies in its first 10 days—and kept selling—becoming 2013’s best-selling album by a female artist.

Why It Worked

A secret launch would be a bad idea for an emerg­ing artist. As the reign­ing queen of pop, how­ever, Bey­oncé could use the strat­egy to nur­ture deep com­mit­ment from her fan base. The sur­prise release was about going above and beyond the expec­ta­tions of her fol­low­ers and adding unique value to her fifth stu­dio album.

Bey­oncé wanted “to speak directly to [her] fans” with­out the usual inter­me­di­aries. This kind of direct con­nec­tion from artist to con­sumer is pow­er­ful. Peo­ple feel spe­cial, noticed, and cared for when a per­former bypasses the buzz and gives them what they want.

Take­away

Con­sumers seek longer, deeper rela­tion­ships with brands and con­tent. Bey­oncé gave fans an extended con­ver­sa­tion, allow­ing them to expe­ri­ence the entire arc of an album rather than dol­ing out songs piece­meal. Although mar­ket­ing and media have largely aban­doned length and depth for tweets and sound bites, the pop artist reminds us that super­fans emerge when we dig deep and deliver qual­ity. In a crowded mar­ket, brands often focus their energy on acqui­si­tion. Save some energy for build­ing loy­alty, and you can extend the con­ver­sa­tion with your customers.

3. Amazon’s Drone Attack

Ama­zon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed Prime Air, the company’s new test pro­gram fea­tur­ing “octo­copters” that promise to deliver pack­ages to cus­tomers’ doorsteps within 30 min­utes. The announce­ment was made just in time for Black Fri­day and Cyber Mon­day, help­ing Ama­zon cut through the din of retail­ers prac­ti­cally scream­ing their pro­mo­tions and discounts.

Deliv­ery by Ama­zon drone isn’t yet a real­ity, but the con­cept was enough to cap­ture con­sumers’ imag­i­na­tions over the Thanks­giv­ing week­end. Even con­tro­versy and crit­i­cism helped Ama­zon make top news out­lets and invade the blo­gos­phere, gave Bezos a spot on 60 Min­utes, and inspired count­less con­ver­sa­tions over pump­kin pie.

Why It Worked

Bezos added a futur­is­tic, sci-fi ele­ment to his brand to get peo­ple talk­ing. Yet Prime Air is grounded in enough real­ity to be taken seri­ously. Drones were already top­i­cal, after all.

The con­cept of ultra-quick drone deliv­ery aligns with Amazon’s brand­ing. The com­pany dif­fer­en­ti­ates with fast deliv­ery and even faster access when prod­ucts are in stock at brick-and-mortar loca­tions. Ama­zon is about buy­ing any­thing you want or need with one click and see­ing it on your doorstep within two days. The octo­copters enhance the company’s image of remark­able and exclu­sive convenience.

Take­away

You don’t hear many B2C com­pa­nies talk about roadmaps. But Ama­zon brought cus­tomers in on their vision, aspi­ra­tion, and ideals. When the announce­ment came, we all pic­tured drones land­ing qui­etly on our front stoops or driveways—and that’s an image we won’t soon for­get. What’s more, the announce­ment came not from an anony­mous press release, but directly from the company’s CEO. Hav­ing Bezos pull back the cur­tain him­self made it all the more meaningful.

Customer-Driven Mar­ket­ing Inspi­ra­tion for 2014

These three mar­ket­ing efforts were built on exist­ing cus­tomer engage­ment. There are no short­cuts. Even the most cre­ative viral stunt can’t replace con­sis­tent and valu­able brand inter­ac­tions. These exam­ples place the cus­tomer front and cen­ter, speak­ing to their desires, needs, and emo­tions. They cre­ate a sense of con­nec­tion that stands out in our often dis­con­nected dig­i­tal lives.

This is by no means a com­plete list. There are many other stel­lar exam­ples of hol­i­day mar­ket­ing. What do you think were the most daz­zling mar­ket­ing feats of the 2013 hol­i­day sea­son? Share your addi­tions in the com­ments below.

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