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24 DEC. 2018

Christmas in Asia: How Brands are Winning Over Audiences with Insights-led Christmas Messaging

Min Li Chan

Brand Strategy Team, Singapore

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again. Festive decorations are seen everywhere - on the streets, within the malls, in-stores and on our social media feeds. As the countdown to the 25th of December begins, brands are giving a final push to round up the year with products, promotions and communication messages tailored for Christmas.

Unlike our western counterparts, Christmas is not as widely celebrated here in the East. With the exception of a few countries, Christmas is regarded more as a festive occasion for gifting and get-togethers, with lesser emphasis on its cultural roots. Every year, brands push aesthetically pleasing and limited edition products onto the market, through initiatives filled with festive elements like Santa Claus, snowflakes and sparkles. However, the saccharine Christmas packaging accompanying products often reuse common tropes and clichés related to the festival. As a result, marketing efforts during the holiday season feel derivative and monotonous, especially for Asian customers who may not attach the same cultural meaning towards Christmas as those in the West do.

That being said, there are some brands who come up with new and creative campaigns that take a new spin on traditional Christmas expressions. Beyond the commercial aspect, the festive campaigns can be expressed with heart-warming and emotionally resonant messages while also reflecting the brand’s offerings and core values. In this article, we will share 4 examples of brands in Asia that delivered their festive campaigns with a thoughtful touch.

Examples of brands with Christmas Edition Packaging.

Levi’s Philippines: Making Memories with a Personalized Gift

For Levi’s, the brand understood that the festive is fundamentally about love and family to the Filipino audience. For their Christmas ad this year, the context of Christmas is set as “the season of giving”. The ad follows a loving father personalizing a Levi’s denim jacket with studs for his visually impaired son with a message that reads “Anywhere you go, I’ll always be here - Papa”. 

Levi’s Philippines Holiday 2018 Advertisement.

Drawing to the Christmas gift-giving tradition, Levi’s decoded and understood the language of gifting as an expression of love. The personalized denim jacket is not just a piece of apparel that the brand is trying to sell, but a symbol of the father’s unconditional love, encouragement and support for his son. In a direct yet understated manner, the ad was also able to communicate the brand’s latest Levi’s Tailor Shop initiative, which allows one to customize gifts for his or her special someone, while still maintaining the cheery and heart-warming tone traditionally related to the occasion.

Reception of the advertisement proved that it did enough to tug the hearts of the Filipinos. Within a month, the ad garnered 2.8 million views and generated more than 145,000 engagements on Facebook, including more than 32,000 shares and 3,000 comments. 

Alaska Milk Cooperation: A Different First Christmas

Alaska, a member of Royal FrieslandCampina, is a home-grown manufacturer of milk products in The Philippines and has provided affordable nutrition to Filipino homes over the last four decades.

The company’s festive ad narrates the story of a Filipino family who is celebrating Christmas a little differently this year. With the recent loss of her mother, the female protagonist decides to make her mother’s signature dish Sapin-Sapin, a Christmas dessert delicacy made with Alaska Milk, using the family’s heirloom recipe. The dish brings back the memories associated with her mother and unites the family again, bringing back the joy of the season. 

Alaska Milk’s Christmas Advertisement (First Christmas).

The tear-jerking advertisement depicts what Christmas, an important occasion for Filipino families celebrated with a feast, is like when it is combined with the pain of a recent loss. Alaska tucked the heartstring of its audience with a strong understanding of what magkasama (togetherness) meant to Filipinos. It showcased an interaction that goes beyond the physical touch, and taps deeply into love, emotion and memories, all brought together by the familiar taste of a family recipe. The unconventional approach to tie the passing of a loved one with a joyous occasion like Christmas further highlights the importance of strong family ties to the Filipinos, and is extremely relevant to consumers as it speaks the unspoken emotions of grief and celebration.

Comments from Netizen in response to Alaska Milk’s Christmas Advertisement #FirstChristmas.

Singapore Airlines: Gifts That Close the Distance

Seated in forward-facing rows, away from the distraction of phones, instant messages and emails, flying is both an onward and inward process. With little to do, thoughts and emotions are heightened as the environment allows for a quiet moment of self-introspection. Singapore Airlines recognizes that flying provides this distinct experience to their travelers and elaborates this idea in their Christmas ad. The ad features a businessman who travels frequently and receives surprises from his daughter in his bag every time he is up in the air. As his daughter grows older, the gifts become fewer and farther in between. But for one Christmas, she decides to bring back the tradition with a surprise for her father. 

Singapore Airline’s Christmas Advertisement (The Briefcase).

Relating to the occasion of Christmas as a season of giving, Singapore Airlines demonstrated the impact of gifts as an expression of love through a child-parent interaction, which is similarly seen in Levi’s ad. It also featured a cultural insight observed amongst Singaporeans - that the expression of love in a child-parent interaction evolves with age, shifting from emblematic moments derived from everyday life to milestone events in life (e.g. pregnancy). The slogan “You are never far from those you love” also reflects travellers’ heightened yearning to be with their loved ones during the festive periods.

By telling a personal and memorable story from the traveller’s perspective, Singapore Airlines adopted a different approach with its festive communication. While maintaining an emphasis on the delightful in-flight experience, Singapore Airlines also presented itself as a medium of a travelling journey. 

KFC China: A Fully Recharged Merry Christmas

Distinct from the familiar analogy of Christmas being a season of joy and giving, KFC China interprets the occasion as a time for people to recharge their hearts and soul at the end of a year. This is delivered through its Christmas ad featuring a young rural-to-urban dweller working in Shanghai. Feeling demoralized by work, she wonders if she should continue pursuing her aspirations or settle for a pre-arranged role in her hometown. While deciding between persevering or giving up, she is reminded of her aspirations for Shanghai and the support from her friends to keep her going. 

KFC China’s Christmas Advertisement.

This holiday ad resonates highly with consumers in China, a significant proportion of whom is urban dwellers who left their hometown in pursuit of loftier dreams and a better life in the bigger city. Life is a constant struggle, and dealing with it requires effort and commitment. With that in mind, KFC China positioned itself as a place for weary souls to recharge from an exhausting year through delicious soul food. Personified as the store manager, KFC China is a close friend who has witnessed one’s hardship and struggles and is constantly by one’s side to give moral support.

As part of the Christmas campaign, KFC China also launched activations across the country where it converted outlets into “recharging stations”. Consumers are encouraged to write a letter to themselves and their loved ones to conclude the year while making resolutions for the new year. 

Brand activation efforts from KFC China for its “Stay Recharged” campaign.

What Can Brands Learn From This?

Despite Christmas becoming a more secular event with a lower cultural emphasis in Asia, brands should still design their festive campaigns around ideas that trigger emotional resonance with their target audience. To deliver a successful and impactful communication for occasion, brand marketers should consider the following when planning their brand messages during the festive holidays.

  • What does this festive occasion mean to the target audience?
  • How does the brand offering relate to the festive occasion?
  • How is the festive occasion celebrated in different markets that drives cultural insights for the distinct behaviors?
  • How can these cultural insights be integrated into the marketing communication – through visuals, a narrative thread or verbal messaging?

A good brand communication campaign is one that tugs the target audience’s heartstrings while still conveying the functional benefits of the products or services. For festive messaging, it is of the utmost importance to communicate the relevance of the brand’s offering along with the intent and cultural interpretation of the occasion. An expression that takes the cultural insight of the occasion into consideration is one that will go a long way.

As we round up the year with Christmas drawing close, it is also time for you to consider how to best represent your brand during the festive holidays in the new year. 

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