Ecommerce Marketing

150 Years of the Best Holiday Campaigns

/ 23 min total read


Table of Contents

Chapter 1 The Genesis of Holiday Window Displays Chapter 2 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Brings Spectacle to the Season
Chapter 3 How Coca-Cola Invented The Father of Christmas (Or did they?) Chapter 4 Budweiser Celebrates the End to Prohibition
Chapter 5 Montgomery Ward Employee Invents Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Chapter 6 Campbell’s Soup Speaks to the ’50s Housewife
Chapter 7 Mr. Potato Head Becomes First Toy Ever Televised Chapter 8 NORAD Tracks Santa’s Journey Around the World
Chapter 9 Norelco Popularizes Stop-Motion Animation Chapter 10 Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas? Why You’ll Eat KFC in Japan
Chapter 11 Folgers Advertises the Intangible Chapter 12 Hershey’s Holiday Bells Defy an Ad Agency
Chapter 13 Coca-Cola’s Polar Bears Humanize Global Warming Chapter 14 Coca-Cola’s Christmas Fleet Brings Truckloads of Cheer
Chapter 15 M&M’s Stumble Upon Santa –– No One is Left Standing Chapter 16 Starbucks Red Cups Spark Consumer Salivating (and Controversy)
Chapter 17 Target Keeps it Simple with Their Black Friday Catalog Focuses on Price Chapter 18 Pampers Silent Night Raises $40 Million for Charity
Chapter 19 Give a Garmin Hits on Travel, Humor and Holiday Stress Chapter 20 John Lewis Focuses on Storytelling Over Brand
Chapter 21 Macy’s Believe Campaign Raises $10 Million, Involves Schools Chapter 22 American Express Small Business Saturday Supports Local
Chapter 23 Apple Misunderstood Campaign Makes Technology and Family a Priority Chapter 24 REI’s #OptOutside Campaign Bucks Tradition

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Did Coca-Cola create the modern day Santa Claus? Is Mr. Potato Head responsible for reshaping holiday TV advertising? How did a single advertising campaign raise over $40 million to fund children’s vaccines?

It’s that time of year — the holiday season is approaching us fast (it’s the time for making your holiday email lists and checking them twice). For those in the retail, ecommerce, and marketing world we have already begun strategizing and executing our holiday marketing campaigns. It feels a bit different though this year, as we are focusing on more channels and marketplaces than ever before: Amazon, Facebook, Pinterest, eBay, Twitter, Google Shopping, plus our own physical and online shops, to name a few.

After all, countries around the world have seen slow economic recovery, resulting in recent challenges for retailers. That means these next few months might be a make-or-break quarter for your business.

Whenever I am looking for inspiration, I always dive deep into the fundamentals and see what the most successful brands have done in the past. This is exactly what we have done at BigCommerce with our partner, PayPal: researched the most iconic holiday marketing campaigns, so you can create a legacy holiday tradition that brings you customers beyond 2016.

In the infographic below, you’ll get a snapshot of the last 150 years of these memorable holiday retail marketing campaigns from some of the world’s most well known brands, such as Apple, Starbucks, and Macy’s. From there, we’ll take you on a journey through time, where you’ll learn more about the backstory — and actionable learnings — behind each of these brand building initiatives.


best holiday retail marketing campaigns

Did Modern Holiday Shopping Begin in the 1800s?

Before we dig into the most memorable campaigns in holiday retail history, let’s briefly review where we started. The popularity and commercialization of Christmas is often depicted as a recent phenomenon, but it actually began in the 1800s:

  • In the 1840s, Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s German husband) popularized the Christmas tree in England, when he put one up Windsor Castle.
  • In 1843, Charles Dickens published the now classic book “The Christmas Carol,” in which he encouraged rich Victorians to redistribute their wealth by giving money and gifts to the poor.
  • By 1870, Macy’s hired their first Santa Claus to bring the newfound Christmas cheer across the pond, followed closely by the first electrically illuminated christmas trees arriving in 1882.
  • In 1879, British stores began dedicating areas to ‘Santa Land’ where customers could wander around immersed in Christmas scenery.

Fast-forward to the 1900s and we discover that retail brands intelligently and very purposefully created some of the most unforgettable characters and imagery of the holiday season. Some of the questions we were confronted with along the way include:

Without further ado, learn what window displays, Macy’s and porcelain dolls all have in common.