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, and 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.

In fact, this year, 37.52% of online brands reported that they began holiday planning 1-4 months earlier than last year.  

Of course, as you might expect, the holidays feel a little different this year. In 2017, social commerce and true omnichannel expansion began to drive 3x in revenue for brands taking advantage of it.

Top Ecommerce Sales Channels for 2017 Holidays

Here’s the breakdown of where brands expect to make their sales this holiday season:

  • Branded website: 64.66%
  • Owned retail store: 24.7%
  • Amazon: 24.5%
  • Facebook: 17.47%
  • Wholesale + Distributors: 17.07%
  • Other: 10.84%
  • Etsy: 7.23%
  • Instagram: 6.22%
  • Pinterest: 2.21%
  • Walmart.com: 1.61%

And here is a breakdown of the advertising channels brands expect to make them the most money:

  • Facebook: 51.61%
  • Email campaigns: 51.2%
  • Instagram: 29.32%
  • SEO: 24.9%
  • Google Shopping: 25.3%
  • Google Retargeting: 13.25%
  • Other: 9.64%
  • Pinterest: 9.44%
  • Trade shows: 8.84%
  • Influencers: 8.03%
  • Twitter: 6.83%
  • Print: 6.22%
  • SEM: 3.82%
  • Affiliates: 3.21%
  • Radio: 2.61%
  • TV: 2.01%
  • Podcasts: 0.6%

No matter which channels you use, for many brands (and likely even you), the holiday season (specifically Cyber Five, Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday) is a make or break time.

The promotions you use, the speed your site loads, which payment options customers use the most: all of this will help you understand exactly what to do more of (or not ever again!) in 2018.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a single season!

Whenever I am looking for inspiration during a stressful time, 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 2017.

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.

Top Holiday Marketing Campaigns in History

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

From here, 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.


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:

  • Did a department store really invent Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?
  • Why is an American fast food chain the go-to destination for Japanese Christmas dinner?
  • Is nostalgia the most persuasive emotion over the holidays?

You can explore each stop on our time machine through our chaptered guide. Let’s dive in!