By: Lisa Rosenberg
For many Americans, the Thanksgiving weekend traditionally marks the start of the holiday season – 37 days filled with family get-togethers, parties and celebrations, cooking, decorating and shopping, all of which will look and feel quite a bit different this year. While the country (and much of the world) battles both COVID-19 and pandemic fatigue, brands are focused on setting the right tone as they look to connect with consumers during the most important selling season of the year.
As has been the case over the last few years, holiday marketing starts earlier and earlier. This year, some brands leaned into Thanksgiving dinner as a way to connect with consumers prior to the holiday shopping season starting in earnest.
Whole Foods offered amateur cooks a safety net by teaming up with Progressive Insurance for its
“Thanksgiving Turkey Protection Plan.” With more Americans planning smaller Thanksgiving gatherings, the brand anticipated an increase in first-time cooks attempting to tackle the traditional turkey dinner. Turkey “fails” were rewarded with a gift card redeemable at Whole Foods.
Budweiser introduced a Bud Can Turkey Grill Stand that encouraged outdoor turkey prep and hoped to minimize people gathering inside kitchens, where social distancing is difficult. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants put a twist on the traditional Friendsgiving and launched a Solobrations menu – take-home Thanksgiving meals for one.
Building on the pre-pandemic trend of branded pop-up shops, beloved food brands have introduced quirky holiday items designed to elicit smiles from diehard fans. Pizza Hut teamed up with weighted blanket maker Gravity Blanket to make the “Original Pan Weighted Blanket,” which looks like a giant cheese or pepperoni pizza. Launched in response to a “heavy” year, the blanket has a 72-inch diameter, weighs 15 pounds and sold out in less than a day.
Building on the popularity of branded merchandise, some brands expanded their offerings this season and marketed them as collections. Snack giant Frito-Lay introduced “holiday bundles” in its first holiday shop. There, fans can find “ugly” Doritos Christmas sweaters, adult-sized Cheetos hooded onesies and Tostitos fuzzy socks, each bundled with a bag of the corresponding snack. Taking a play from fashion retailers, Dunkin’ dropped in mid-November its full line of holiday merch, including clothing, accessories, housewares and even a branded tandem bike, on ShopDunkin.com. When last checked, most of the items were already sold out, proving brand love is a powerful purchase driver.
The retail sector has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, having lost billions in U.S. sales since store shutdowns began in March. While retailers approach this holiday season with an abundance of caution, Old Navy's holiday campaign sets out to remind people holiday festivities can still be fun, even in the midst of a pandemic. The brand kicked off its holiday marketing campaign with TV personality RuPaul starring in five new spots. The commercials each include the drag queen's song "Hey Sis," my favorite of which hypes the brand's holiday-themed pajamas and suggests people can "normalize conference calls in their pjs." A four-part content series, titled "RuPaul-iday," premiered on Old Navy's YouTube channel on Black Friday. Each video showcases the reality TV star's twists on various holiday-inspired activities, such as wreath-making, cookie decorating, gift wrapping and crafting cocktails.
While some brands have leaned into humor, others look to set an optimistic tone and reinforce the importance of connection during the pandemic. Gap’s new “Dream the Future” TV commercial features a colorful song and dance that highlights togetherness even during a time of crisis. In the spot, casually dressed people meet in the center of a white room and react to construction paper signs sporting handwritten words like "hope," "trust" and "connection."
No holiday season would be complete without a spot that tugs at the heartstrings, and Kohl’s latest from the "Give With All Your Heart" campaign does that and more. The emotional 90-second film depicts a sweet friendship between a little girl and an older neighbor in lockdown during the pandemic. The spot is a wonderful celebration of friendship and the power of connection that leaves us all with a sense of hope this holiday season.
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Lisa Rosenberg is a partner and president of Consumer Brands at Allison+Partners. She has more than 30 years of experience leading brand initiatives across the beauty + personal care, CPG, Food + Beverage, Automotive, Travel + Hospitality, Consumer Health + Wellness, Luxury Goods and Retail sectors and has been a hands-on force for many successful brand journeys.