3 Experiential Advertising Campaigns That Rocked the 2016 Holiday Season


The holiday season is one of the biggest times for consumer spending, and so it’s one of the times when advertisers want to make the most out of their budgets with campaigns and experiences that customers will remember.

In 2016, from Thanksgiving through the New Year, the advertising world did not disappoint. The following three experiential campaigns managed to captivate and compel audiences, give customers and potential customers a little something extra outside of run-of-the-mill advertising, and rock the all-important holiday advertising season.  

1. Samsung: Unwrap the Feels


What are “the feels”? This social media–era grammatical construction is one easily identifiable to Millennials, and one that Samsung wisely tacked on to its ad campaign promoting its new virtual reality (VR) headset. The campaign’s main commercial, which features families opening gifts of the VR headset and trying them out, gives us a double dose of “feels” (the sense of togetherness that comes with families unwrapping presents together) and the unbelievably realistic sensations created by next-gen VR technology. Granted, we saw a few commercials this holiday season playing on a similar concept, but the commercial was only half of Samsung’s “Unwrap the Feels” campaign.

Those blue boxes seen being unwrapped in the ad spot made their way from the virtual world of the commercial to the reality of Samsung’s flagship store in New York City, where the entire store was converted into a giant blue box for the holiday season. The converted flagship store featured holiday promotional events and prizes and brought it all back to VR, debuting an exclusive VR sleigh ride with Santa. In doing so, Samsung extended both emotions and sensations.   

2. Macy’s: Old Friends


While the word “experiential” has a uniquely 21st-century ring to it, that doesn’t mean that advertising didn’t have an experiential element to it before the new millennium. Long before innovations like touch screens enabled us to create new, more immediate forms of interactions with brands, the best advertisers brought people together to have unforgettable experiences. Viewed from that perspective, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade may be the most enduring experiential advertising campaign in history.  

With a 90-year-plus tradition, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has brand recognition built not over the course of a few weeks, but over the course of nearly a century. Generations of people associate the parade with the Macy’s name. And in 2016, for the first time, Macy’s decided to tie an ad campaign into the experience. The commercial spot shows us a person attending the parade throughout the various stages of his life, from youth to old age, and getting a personal wink from a passing Santa float each year—ending with a truly heartwarming conclusion.

The advertisement doesn’t just extend the experience of the parade into the living room of the viewer the way the yearly televised broadcast does; it drives home the significance of the experience and the brand—culturally, historically, and personally—in a way that few campaigns can.

3. Netflix: Gilmore Girls Pop-Up Shops


“Old is new” has been a marketing mantra for the last couple of years. Both in the cinema and streaming, an entire wing of the media world has cropped up around showing Generation Xers and older Millennials the sequels and continuations to the films and shows they once loved. Such is the case with the cult classic Gilmore Girls, which made its return on Netflix this past Thanksgiving weekend. And those longtime fans planning to do some Thanksgiving binge-watching were well-prepped for communal viewing. That’s because Netflix was as smart with the promotion of Gilmore Girls as the show’s bantering dialogue was.

The streaming media company spent the ramp-up to the new season debut generating buzz by turning 200 coffee shops throughout the country into replicas of the show’s staple hangout, Luke’s Diner. The Luke’s Diner experience, punctuated by—of course—free coffee, led to a spike in discussion that had the world of Gilmore Girls fanatics sharing pictures of themselves (and their Luke’s Diner knock-off coffee cups) at the pop-up through social media. Bringing what was on screen into the real world successfully got both those who made it to the pop-ups and those who saw them on social media into the Gilmore Girls zone.

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