Gen Z Holiday Campaigns: An Inexhaustive but Enthusiastic Analysis
from roblox to...the weather channel app
Merry Christmas Eve to those who celebrate, and happy holidays to all!
I’m writing to you from Missouri, where it has been hovering around 0 degrees (reaching -30 with windchill). I hope you’re currently relaxing in front of a fireplace, like I am, or even better, laying on a beach, like I wish I was.
I’m not sure how many of you have logged off of email for the remainder of the year — hopefully most of you — but I couldn’t resist sending one last newsletter* of 2022 about a topic I’ve been obsessively tracking for the last few months: holiday campaigns.
*I can’t actually promise this will be the last letter of 2022 — I anticipate some very good #christmashaul content on TikTok — but it is my intention to take next week away from the computer and to give your inbox a break.
Speaking of computers, here’s my 1995 wishlist for Santa that was republished in the local newspaper this year. Nice computers ONLY.
Amid inflation and recession fears, a whole lot is riding on holiday spending for brands (maybe the desperate shipping emails and Instagram pleas for brand support tipped you off?). Though Black Friday weekend spending was pretty good, breaking records and inspiring many a #BlackFridayHaul, the overall holiday shopping season has been described using dreaded adjectives like “turbulent” and “disappointing.”
Given all of the factors at play, it’s so fascinating (to me) to see how companies — especially the ones competing for Gen Z dollars — are choosing to spend their Q4 marketing budgets.
But first, a few gifting trends that have been on my mind this week:
In a year of inflation, the $25 gift card rules Christmas.
Long viewed as impersonal by some, gift cards have taken on a new shine this season as a way to help givers maneuver around rising prices and let receivers buy what they actually need. Consumers intend to spend 7% more on gift cards this year than last, according to Deloitte’s annual holiday shopping survey of 5,000 respondents in September. All other spending categories were down year-over-year.
And when in doubt, candles.
Was a delight to talk to reporter Anna Kodé about candle mania. Over the years, this object has “evolved from utilitarian objects to meltable symbols of today’s overconsumption. “ “Is this wax heaven,” Kodé asks, “or is it a wax hell?”
Poshmark, ThredUp, and Depop are pushing secondhand gifts for the holidays.
They cite data that this is the kind of thing consumers want - but I’m curious whether this is really as popular of a thing as brands would like it to be. (Then again, a vintage Gucci purse is very different from a candle from Goodwill.)
GEN Z HOLIDAY CAMPAIGNS: AN INEXHAUSTIVE BUT ENTHUSIASTIC ANALYSIS
PACSUN’S VERY MERRY HOLIDAY METAVERSE
The retailer initially launched its metaverse-inspired holiday campaign, called “PacVerse,” via sponcon on Hypebeast. What does a “metaverse-inspired” campaign look like, you ask? Great q. This one features a “real-life cast entering a metaverse created by Pacsun” that merges virtual and physical worlds.
The campaign stars four real-life brand ambassadors, TikTok stars Brooke Monk and Mathieu Simoneau, plus dancer Brynn Rumfallo and stunt performer Hero DW. It also stars the virtual influencer Miquela.
The “metaverse-inspired” campaign lives across PacSun’s digital and social channels, with exclusive content on TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Discord, and YouTube (gotta diversify those platforms!).Tiktok failed to load.
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Coinciding with the “PacVerse” launch, PacSun expanded its PacWorld interactive experience on Roblox to include a virtual holiday gift shop displaying goods from its latest seasonal collection. The virtual shop will allow users to virtually try on the clothing items through an existing partnership with digital fashion store DressX.
PacSun, who has been bullish on NFTs despite underwhelming reception, plans to release digital collectibles associated with the promotion, though they have not elaborated on what that will look like (that I could find, at least).
AMERICAN EAGLE BRINGS THE FESTIVITIES TO BEREAL, TIKTOK, ETC.
Like PacSun, American Eagle took an experimental multi-platform approach to its holiday campaign. The mall retailer — whose stock is down 40% this year — wisely employed different strategies across platforms, unlike PacSun, rather than trying to make one campaign (“PacVerse”) make sense on every single platform.
The brand became one of the first major retailers to experiment with BeReal, utilizing the app’s daily prompts to spotlight a different product each day, giving out promo codes to track how much the emerging app drives sales.
AE additionally launched a TikTok hashtag challenge — called #AEHolidayCard — inviting creators to share their holiday looks for a chance to win gift cards. It appears to have been a success; the hashtag has 8.5 billion views.Tiktok failed to load.
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On Roblox, they launched a branded holiday market in Roblox’s most popular virtual destination, “Mount Crescent.” The virtual store is filled with digital clothing and accessories based on the physical collection available at IRL AE stores. They’ve also activated inside the Roblox game “Livetopia,” releasing interactive challenges with a $5 off reward for up to 10,000 players. (I have to confess to you that after reading and writing about Roblox for more than a year, I’m still not sure what I’m talking about when I type words like “Livetopia.”)
On Snapchat — a platform I do understand — the retailer is celebrating the anniversary of its virtual Snapchat store, which it says drove $2 million in sales during the last year. They launched a Snapchat activation that included three virtual, shoppable stores that will be reset for various themes throughout the holiday window — Outdoor Adventure, Friends Getaway, and Holiday Party — and within each concept, there will be around 20 different items that can be shopped by using the front-facing camera to explore.
LOGITECH, SIMILARLY, LEANED INTO BEREAL
Not the sexiest company, but this very Gen Z tech brand — which has gone mega-viral on TikTok for its very “#aesthetic” pastel mechanical keyboard — launched its first BeReal campaign this holiday season. The strategy was similar to AE’s; dubbed 12 Days of Deals, the rolling gift guide, of sorts, featured a different product each day – from webcams to computer mice – with the help of Elf on the Shelf.
Because BeReal doesn’t have shopping capabilities yet, Logitech’s BeReal captions set viewers to a website to sign up for emails, where discount codes would then be dispatched. I think that’s probably a few too many steps to really make an impact, but it’s still worthwhile for brands to experiment on new platforms, BeReal in particular.
Doubling down on the Gen Z audience, they also partnered with 24-year-old beauty influencer and former Teen Vogue cover star Bretman Rock on an Instagram and TikTok campaign.A post shared by Bretman (Da Baddest) Rock (@bretmanrock)
KLARNA x SHEIN WONDERLAND IN NYC AND ON ROBLOX
Two of the (debatably?) evilest companies in the world — I’m talking about BNPLer Klarna and fast-fashion monster Shein — partnered to create the SHEIN x Klarna Wonderland, a virtual experience in Roblox. There are shoppable spaces, a virtual runway that visitors can practice their model strut on, and a try-on feature that lets you deck your avatar in the brand’s $2 t-shirts (does Roblox have a landfill for the $2 t-shirt to inevitably end up?).
According to the press release, this “unique virtual fashion experience,” which is a “digital-first” for each brand, aims to “encourage fashionistas everywhere to explore endless ways to wear their wonderful and live #SHEINforALL on Roblox.”
Roblox, as a reminder, has 57 million daily users, half of whom are under 12. Gotta get those consumers while they’re young!
There’s also an IRL SHEIN x Klarna Wonderland Fashion Experience in NYC, running through January. To celebrate the opening, Shein hosted a VIP event that, according to Daily Mail, was DJed by Diplo and attended by Chanel Iman, Love Island’s Cashay Proudfoot, The Future X, Too Hot To Handle’s Melinda Melrose and stylist Andrew Gelwicks. I hope they were all paid a lot of money to attend.
NEW BALANCE LAUNCHES GIFTING CONCIERGE USING SNAP’S AR
Snap and New Balance teamed up on a seasonal lens called the “Holiday Gifting Concierge” — gimmick it may be, I personally love a concierge — that utilizes both augmented reality and speech-recognition technology to offer personalized gift recommendations for hard-to-shop-for loved ones.
Speaking of concierges, makeup brand Too Faced also launched an SMS concierge service experience this season to give shoppers gift ideas and respond to some of their questions.
But back to Snap: The worldview mode provides an AR unboxing experience; in selfie mode, users can answer questions about the person they’re holiday gift shopping for using Snap’s VoiceML technology.
Separately from their New Balance partnership, Snap also ran a holiday campaign wherein Snapchatters could earn a share of $125,000 by showing their most festive Snaps.
ELF WEATHER CHANNEL GLOW STORM
Elf teamed up with Meghan Trainor and The Weather Channel on a holiday campaign inspired by the statistic that “eight out of 10 women change their personal care or beauty routine with the weather” (a data point provided by…The Weather Channel).
Dubbed “Glow Storm,” the cross-platform campaign is intended to promote the restock of Halo Glow, a Charlotte Tilbury dupe that sold out and accumulated a 75,000-person waitlist.
The campaign involved TikToks starring Trainor, who has nearly 16 million followers on the app, as well as ads on The Weather Channel’s app and YouTube. Elf has been the No. 1 Gen-Z brand for two years; by tapping Trainor and investing in ads on a weather app, they’re hoping to expand their audience reach among millennials.
Elf also took its “Glow Plow” — an iridescent car with a snow plow attachment — throughout NYC, giving out the brand’s Advent Calendars to passersby.
EOS & MARIAH CAREY’S WINTER WONDERLAND
Eos, Gen Z’s other favorite skincare brand, tapped the Queen of Christmas herself for its holiday campaign — and its very first Roblox activation.
Eos’s “Winter Wonderland,” which exists inside Roblox’s Livetopia, is an immersive world decked out with a stage in the shape of a giant Eos-brand lip balm and free digital items, like headphones and backpacks.
Mariah, appearing as a 3D motion-captured replica of herself, did four separate (live? I guess?) performances on the platform. While she sang, players had access to an exclusive virtual Eos microphone which they could activate to sing onstage with Mariah (“Mariah”).
Though Mariah’s holiday classic "All I Want for Christmas Is You" came out in 1994, it’s perhaps never been more popular. If you’ve spent any time on #GiftTok, you know the song is virtually inescapable. In early December, the track returned to No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100 for the fourth year in a row.
Eos has been cross-promoting (successfully, it seems — a lot of views) the partnership on TikTok, too, where they have nearly 1 million followers.Tiktok failed to load.
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CHARLOTTE TILBURY’S BEAUTY REALM
The British beauty brand that has seen several of its products go viral among Gen Z opened up a “3D gamified shopping” metaverse experience for the holidays. Instead of turning to Roblox, Tilbury partnered with the experiential e-commerce platform Obsess to build out the concept, which is available directly on Tilbury’s website.
Users can design their own avatars, including skin tone, hair color, body type, etc., and they can then try on and buy makeup from the holiday collection.
I understand that the tech is more sophisticated now, but I can’t get past the fact that this is so much like the Seventeen Magazine makeover computer game I used to play on my parent’s desktop in 1995. Does trying on makeup online really have a particular use case beyond being, I guess, “fun”?
There’s also a clever “shop with friends” option that allows consumers to shop with pals online. I can’t imagine that many people actually utilize the feature, but it’s very fun in theory and it’s a good customer acquisition strategy.
There’s also, of course, an NFT component that will grant access to exclusive products and beauty experiences.
COACH’S HOLIDAY-THEMED IMMERSIVE DESTINATION
Coach — which has spent the year trying to reposition itself from accessible luxury to “expressive luxury” to appeal to Gen Z — launched an “immersive virtual experience” that’s “inspired by a vintage Coach store.” Interesting! Shoppers can explore themed rooms, shop the holiday collection, and play games with Rexy, Coach’s dinosaur mascot, to unlock prizes.
Similar to Tilbury’s shop-with-friends feature, there’s also an opportunity to shop via livestream videos on the site alongside friends and influencers. And also like Tilbury’s experience, their virtual store was powered by Obsess.
They also did a cool IRL pop-up with a blow-up Rexy.Tiktok failed to load.
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In 2021 and 2022, Coach had a big win with their puffy Tabby handbag that went viral on TikTok. The bag has remained especially popular among Gen Z, and with this holiday campaign, Coach is trying to duplicate that success with their new Heart bag. (The bag is currently sold out, fwiw, but I suspect it wasn’t the virtual experience that did it.)
A FEW OTHER CAMPAIGNS THAT CAUGHT MY ATTENTION:
I’m not a Kim K stan, but this SKIMS holiday campaign that features Snoop Dogg’s family — including his wife, three children, and five grandkids — wearing matching pajamas is really great.
Speaking of the Kardashians: Smart of Yoox to tap Landon Barker — son of Travis Barker, stepson of Kourtney K, boyfriend to Charli D’Amelio — for their holiday campaign. As a retailer, Yoox is definitely a blind spot for Gen Z; this partnership could help fix that.
Taking a page from Hallmark, Coca-Cola released a Christmas film anthology series on Prime Video. This is the first project from Coca-Cola’s new entertainment platform, “Real Magic Presents,” which will see the brand produce films in various formats that “celebrate stories of human connection, told in magical ways.” A caffeinated Nicolas Sparks, if you will.
Native, the DTC personal-care brand that has managed to keep its cool after being acquired by P&G, sponsored episodes of the viral internet series “The Button” to promote its seasonal collection. In the sponsored episodes, daters choose to wear scents categorized as either “naughty” (Lump of Coal, Fresh Mistletoe) or “nice” (Candy Cane, Sugar Cookie) to reveal to potential partners where they fall on the spectrum (one specific spectrum, at least).
We’ve already talked about this, but my personal favorite holiday campaign is Tiffany & Co.’s, which reimagined the iconic factory of Andy Warhol into a holiday fête hosted by Hailey Bieber. Cool concept, excellent casting.
One last thought:
i love this newsletter!!!!!!
Happy holidays! Can confirm this wax hell also - every person that I had no idea what to get ended up with a candle.