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From Meme Cups to Grinch Caves, Holiday Marketing is Next Level This Year

How 5 brands tapped big trends and brought holiday marketing to the next level this year…


Brands and retailers launched holiday marketing earlier than ever this year, and our data shows that young people were here for it. But to stand out in the sea of twinkly lights and red and green, some have been coming up with even more innovative ways to get young shoppers’ attention this season.

In years past we’ve seen holiday marketing get both weird and kitschy, and these days, branded holiday ugly sweaters are the norm. To really break through, we’re seeing brands tap digital trends, create virtual worlds, and build immersive IRL experiences. Brands are even one-upping their own ghosts of Christmas marketing past: This year, KFC brought back their herbs and spices firelog, but added on giveaway to the Kentucky Fried Chicken Firelog Cabin (located in Kentucky, of course), featuring four bedrooms, a theater, built-in bar, and a pool and hot tub all themed around fried-chicken. But they’re not alone in upping the ante this season. From creating virtual worlds to leaning into viral and nostalgic moments, here are 5 brands that took their holiday marketing to the next level this year:

Panera x Emily Zugay’s Ugly Holiday Cup Collection
Sometimes the way to a young person’s heart isn’t through high-tech experiences, but rather through scrappy marketing. At the beginning of the month, Panera introduced an “Ugly Holiday Cup Collection” designed by TikTok’s Emily Zugay, who went viral in September for (jokingly) redesigning major companies’ logos. Since then, Zugay has been teaming up with brands for ad campaigns on TikTok while consistently gracing social media with more ugly logo designs. But Panera decided to put a spin on the holiday cup tradition Starbucks is known for by releasing an ugly holiday cup collection designed by her. The cups feature intentionally misspelled words like “RAINDEER,” choppy graphics, and fonts designers would never dare using—all noteworthy marks of Zugay’s beloved viral work. According to Panera,the collection emphasizes that the only thing that matters this holiday is what’s on the inside. The cups have already been awarded to 125 lucky fans who entered the giveaway through the campaign’s website. YPulse’s Pop Culture Redefined trend research shows 62% of young consumers say brands should comment on viral pop culture moments to stay relevant with their generation.

Saks x Yahoo Creative Studios’ Virtual Holiday World
Saks Fifth Avenue teamed up with Yahoo Creative Studios to create an interactive augmented reality selfie filter for Instagram where users can explore a Saks-inspired virtual holiday world via the brand’s Instagram page. Users have the opportunity to choose from three options: a glam filter adorns Instagrammers with jewelry and invites them to a festive party, a seaside resort filter instantly puts them in vacation mode complete with sunglasses and a hat, and a ski slope filter dresses them in goggles and a warm scarf. Saks’ activation was inspired by a Drapers survey that found more than one-half of Gen Z and Millennials go to Instagram for fashion inspiration.

Snap’s Virtual Holiday Market
Saks isn’t the only brand tapping into augmented reality to grab young shoppers’ attention this holiday season. For Black Friday, Snapchat hosted a first-of-its-kind virtual holiday market using its AR technology for six brands including Amazon Prime Video, Coca-Cola, Hollister, Under Armour, Verizon, and Walmart. Users were able to browse each brand’s products via their custom virtual shops and purchase items in-app, or access the experiences through the Lens Carousel, and the participating brands used Snap Lenses to help them discover apparel, gift ideas, and holiday discounts. Shoppable content is booming this holiday season as brands find new and engaging ways to connect with young shoppers, and YPulse’s holiday shopping research shows 51% of Gen Z and 39% of Millennials find gift ideas for others on social media. We’ve told you how brands have been taking advantage of Snapchat’s massive growth—and this is clearly another way that (several) brands are doing so, especially during the busy holiday shopping season. We’ve also been telling you that AR is a necessary tool for engaging with young consumers, and clearly, Saks and Snap’s virtual holiday world and market are attempts to boost engagement with young digital shoppers.

The Vacasa Grinch Cave
We told you that young consumers are into staying at themed-Airbnb and vacation rentals based on popular TV shows, movies, and iconic locations—and ahead of the holidays, vacation rental management company Vacasa partnered with Dr. Seuss Enterprises to recreate the Grinch’s famous cave just outside of Boulder, Utah.  It includes a kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a library, with each room decorated with items belonging to the Grinch. The kitchen is fully stocked with Who-hash and Who-pudding, while the furniture is styled after the Dr. Suess art style. Because of the remote location, the brand is suggesting that guests bring their own food for the entire stay and will need a car capable of “handling the terrain.” And while there is no internet connection or TV, a landline phone will be provided at the site. The multi-level, 5,700-square-foot cave is available on a first come, first serve basis between December 13 through 23, for only $19.57 a night, which is based on the book’s publication year.

Home Alone x Adidas Forum Lo Sneakers

You already know about the Home Alone themed-Airbnb in Chicago, but this isn’t the only way the popular movie franchise is being leveraged in marketing to reach nostalgic movie fans. To coincide with the release of Disney+’s Home Sweet Home Alone reboot, Adidas released Forum Lo sneakers “modeled” after the ones worn by Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin in the movie. They are red and white with a mini Home Alone house on the left shoe as an homage to the classic ‘90s flick. They’re also purposely made to make it look like the pair of shoes have been put through the ringer, including burn marks in various spots and a glow-in-the-dark heel loop that references the heated doorknob. Behind the straps is a quote from Kevin: “This is my house, I have to defend it,” along with different graphic insoles featuring different scenes from the movie, and finally, they are topped off with co-branded chenille tongue tags inspired by the home’s rugs.

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