Holiday marketing campaigns christmas tree hero image

Why emotion is key for effective holiday marketing campaigns - and how to use it!

The season of emotions

As the holiday season rolls in with the jingle of bells and the cosy warmth of festive lights, it's not just a time for cheer and giving, but also a peak season for marketers to connect with their audiences on a deeper level. Emotions run high during the holidays, and for marketers, tapping into these feelings can turn a standard campaign into an unforgettable one.

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The magic of emotional storytelling

A successful holiday campaign is built around a story that resonates with the audience. This story can be about family togetherness, the joy of giving, or the nostalgia of holidays past.

The power of storytelling lies in its ability to evoke emotions that touch the core of human experience. When marketing goes beyond the product or service and becomes a part of the customer's personal narrative, it transcends its commercial roots.

The most memorable holiday ads are those that tell a story that viewers can relate to. These stories reflect the love, challenges, and triumphs that come with the season. When a brand successfully tells such a story, it doesn't just sell a product; it becomes a topic of conversation, a tradition, and sometimes, a part of the holiday itself.


The role of nostalgia

Nostalgia is a powerful ingredient in the holiday marketing mix. During the holiday season, nostalgia plays a significant role in marketing. It is the sentimental longing for the past that holidays often evoke. By incorporating nostalgic elements into their campaigns, brands can create a sense of warmth and familiarity that is incredibly appealing during the holidays.

For example, a chocolate brand may not only promote its holiday range but also remind you of baking with your grandmother, using chocolate as a key ingredient. Suddenly, it's not just about the chocolate anymore, but about reliving those cherished moments.

Brands that effectively harness nostalgia can generate a strong emotional response that not only boosts immediate sales but also builds long-term brand loyalty.

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The psychology behind emotional engagement

Why does emotional engagement work so well during the holidays?

Psychological studies suggest that emotions significantly influence consumer behaviour (source.) When a marketing campaign makes us feel something—joy, nostalgia, empathy—we're more likely to remember it and engage with the brand.

During the holidays, our emotional receptors are especially receptive as we seek connections and experiences that reinforce the spirit of the season. A campaign that captures the essence of the holidays through emotion can cut through the noise of endless promotions and create a genuine connection with the audience.

Emotion as a differentiator

In a crowded market, emotion can be a key differentiator. While competitors may focus on price slashes and promotions, a brand that connects emotionally can stand out. It’s not about the biggest discount; it's about the message that makes you feel something. That's the brand that gets talked about at the dinner table or shared across social media.

Example: The emotional pull of John Lewis

No discussion of emotional holiday marketing would be complete without mentioning the retailer John Lewis. Their annual Christmas ad has become a much-anticipated event in itself. Each year, they craft a narrative that captures the hearts of millions, without overtly selling a product. Instead, they sell a feeling, an ideal—a moment of pure holiday emotion that lingers long after the season has faded.

Here’s John Lewis’ 2023 Christmas advert, featuring a cheeky carnivorous plant!

Example: Sainsbury's "Mog's Christmas Calamity"

Another remarkable example of effective holiday marketing is Sainsbury's  "Mog’s Christmas Calamity" campaign. This ad featured the beloved children’s book character Mog the cat, who accidentally wreaks havoc in the house on Christmas morning, leading to a series of unfortunate but humorous events. Despite the chaos, the community comes together to save the day, emphasising the message of sharing and togetherness.

The ad's emotional pull was twofold: it tapped into the nostalgia of adults who grew up with Mog, and it also conveyed a message of hope and community spirit. Furthermore, Sainsbury’s partnered with Save the Children, linking the campaign to the sale of a children’s book. This not only increased engagement but also added a layer of social responsibility to the campaign, enhancing the emotional impact and aligning with the spirit of giving.

Example: Marks & Spencer's "Mrs. Claus" campaign

Marks & Spencer (M&S) took a unique approach with their 2016 holiday campaign, "Christmas with Love from Mrs. Claus". The campaign reinvented the Mrs. Claus character, portraying her as a modern, independent woman who steps in to deliver a special gift with style and wit. This refreshing take on a classic Christmas figure captivated audiences with a blend of humour, sophistication, and warmth.

The campaign was a hit because it connected with viewers on multiple emotional levels: it made them laugh, it challenged traditional holiday narratives, and it still maintained the warmth and heart expected from a Christmas ad. M&S's campaign also showed the power of a well-told story to elevate a brand’s image during the holidays, driving home the message that anyone can be a part of spreading the magic of Christmas.

Crafting the emotional arc of your campaign

The key to a compelling narrative is a storyline that peaks at just the right moment, much like the arc of a classic holiday film.

Begin by placing yourself in the shoes of your audience. What are their desires, fears, and challenges during the holidays? An effective emotional campaign empathises with these feelings, acknowledging the stress of holiday planning or the longing for a loved one. By validating these emotions, you form a bond with your audience.

As the narrative develops, so should the anticipation. Building excitement can take many forms, from teasing a holiday-themed product release to counting down to a festive event. The rise is about escalation; each piece of content should build on the last, weaving a story that captures the imagination and stirs the heart.

The climax is the pinnacle of your campaign's story. This is where emotion peaks, in that moment of pure holiday joy. It could be revealed in a heartwarming advertisement, a touching social media post, or a live event that brings people together. This peak should embody the core message of your campaign and leave a lasting impression.

After the high point of your campaign, it's essential to bring your audience back down gently. The resolution is where you wrap up the story with warmth and comfort, reinforcing the positive feelings associated with your brand. It's also an opportunity to reinforce your call to action, whether that's a final sale or a reminder to cherish loved ones.


Other impactful tactics

Leveraging multi-sensory experiences

Emotions are not just about what we see; they're about what we hear, touch, taste, and smell. Holiday campaigns that engage multiple senses can enhance emotional resonance. Think of the smell of fresh pine from a Christmas tree lot or the taste of a seasonal treat; these are experiences that can be evoked through marketing to amplify the emotional impact.

Starbucks' holiday campaigns

Example: The sensory appeal of Starbucks' holiday campaigns

Starbucks provides a perfect example of multi-sensory marketing with its holiday campaigns. The taste of their seasonal drinks, the sound of holiday music in their stores, the sight of their festive cups, and the warmth of holding a hot beverage on a cold day—all contribute to an emotional experience that is eagerly anticipated each year.

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Example: Lush's handmade Christmas

Lush, renowned for its fragrant bath products, excels in creating a multi-sensory Christmas marketing experience. During the holidays, their stores become a sensory showcase, brimming with the scents of cinnamon and peppermint, vividly coloured bath bombs, and engaging tactile experiences. Festive music completes the atmosphere, encouraging a deep emotional connection with the brand. This approach is not only memorable but reinforces Lush's commitment to handcrafted, sensory-rich products, making their stores a holiday destination in themselves.

The power of music in holiday campaigns

Music is a universal language that can evoke powerful emotions. Incorporating a seasonal soundtrack or a unique holiday jingle can significantly enhance the emotional pull of your campaign. Music has the power to transport us to a particular time or place, evoking memories and feelings that are deeply tied to the holiday season.


Interactive and personalised campaigns

Interactive campaigns that involve the audience can create a personal connection to the brand.

Personalisation, such as using a customer's name or allowing them to create their own holiday story with your brand, can foster a deeper emotional investment. The key is to make the interaction feel genuine and not just a gimmick.


The role of social proof

Social proof, such as testimonials or user-generated content, can add an element of trust and relatability to your campaign. Seeing real people experiencing real emotions can be incredibly persuasive. Encouraging your customers to share their own stories can amplify the emotional reach of your campaign.

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All of this is for nothing if you can’t strike the right cord.

Crafting campaigns that resonate emotionally is both an art and a science. It requires attention to detail, an understanding of your audience, and a commitment to authenticity.


Authenticity is the cornerstone of all these efforts.  Consumers are adept at distinguishing between campaigns that are genuinely heartfelt and those that are contrived. Authentic campaigns reflect the brand’s true values and mission, and they speak to the audience in a sincere, relatable voice.

Waitrose Christmas Community Image

Example: ​​Waitrose nails the power of an authentic community

​​Waitrose has consistently embraced the power of community and emotion in its holiday campaigns. One effective approach is their initiative to support local charities and community groups during the festive season, often highlighted in their marketing. This strategy not only positions Waitrose as a community-centric brand but also resonates emotionally with customers who value social responsibility. Their campaigns often feature real stories from the community, reinforcing the message that the holidays are a time for coming together and giving back.

Maintaining brand consistency

While it's tempting to jump on the holiday bandwagon with bells on, it's crucial to maintain brand consistency. Your holiday campaign should be an extension of your brand’s story, not a departure from it. Consistency reinforces brand recognition and trust, which are especially important during the hectic holiday season.

Coca-Cola Christmas Santa

Example: Coca-Cola’s authentic holiday narratives

Coca-Cola's holiday campaigns are a masterclass in brand consistency and authenticity. Their message of happiness and sharing has remained unchanged over the years, seamlessly integrating into their holiday marketing. The famous Coca-Cola Santa is a symbol of joy and nostalgia, consistent with the brand's year-round messaging.


The holidays stir a wide range of emotions, and not all are jolly. An effective campaign acknowledges and embraces this spectrum, catering to feelings of reflection, longing, and hope. Inclusivity in emotional marketing means recognising the diverse experiences of your audience and creating campaigns that are accessible to all.


Engaging emotions year-round

While the holidays are a prime time for emotional marketing, the principles can be applied year-round. The goal is to create an emotional thread that runs through all your marketing efforts, connecting with customers on a human level and building a strong, enduring relationship.

The h2o magic

Looking for some help with crafting the perfect holiday campaign for your brand’s unique identity and values? At h2o, we are passionate about bringing these stories to life, crafting campaigns that don't just chase the holiday buzz but build a heartfelt connection with your brand. By aligning with your values and mission, we aim to design campaigns that resonate on an emotional level, ensuring your message is not just seen but felt and remembered.

Final thoughts

As we wrap up our blog, it’s clear that emotional connection is the gift that keeps on giving in the world of marketing. This holiday season, and in all seasons to come, let’s aspire to create campaigns that do more than drive sales. Let’s create campaigns that touch hearts, bring joy, and celebrate the human experience.

The true measure of a successful holiday marketing campaign is not just in the immediate revenue it generates but in the lasting memories it creates and the traditions it becomes a part of. When you pull on the heartstrings with sincerity, respect, and a dash of holiday magic, you're not just selling a product; you're enriching lives.

As the snow settles and the lights dim on another festive season, take a moment to reflect on the emotions that your brand has stirred. Did you bring smiles, spark nostalgia, and foster togetherness? If the answer is yes, then you've tapped into the true spirit of holiday marketing. If the answer is no and you are looking for some help just get in touch.

Happy holidays, and here's to campaigns that capture the wonder of the season!

If you are feeling particularly festive you may also enjoy our blog 'The best Christmas versions of famous logos'