07 Dec 2015

Brand Salvage - Episode #1: Christmas

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Agency | Branding
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It was hard to find the office of Christmas’s new brand manager. The brand team recently moved from their expansive digs on Park Avenue (opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral) to a more affordable space in Queens. Their modest suite was located amidst a tangle of warehouses and storage facilities – the kind used by folks who own things they don’t currently have a use for … but don’t want to discard.

As I climbed the stairs to the top floor, I began to think about how I might help. When Emmanuel called, he explained they didn’t have a big budget, but the ‘Christmas’ brand needed help. Lots of help.

I had just reviewed the latest Awareness & Usage research. ‘Christmas’ awareness was still high, but usage had plummeted. Though usage of the generic ‘Holiday’ had surged.

“Do they realize ‘holiday’ originated from ‘holy day?’” Emmanuel asked as we sat at the conference table. I could see the irony dripping from his words. “Do people realize they’re wishing each other a ‘Happy Holy Day?’ He sat back and rubbed his forehead. “Oy vey!”

But the A&U study had some positive news. Usage of the word ‘Christmas’ was still strong among children. Kids are still telling parents what they want for Christmas. “Do kids in Wal-Mart point to a Nerf gun and say, ‘Can I have this for the holidays?’” Emmanuel asked. Before I could answer, he followed up with a quick, “Not!”

According to the research, ‘Christmas’ brand usage tended to decline during the high school years, and then plummeted through college.

“What can we do?” Emmanuel asked. “Things have never been this bad. Even the Volkswagen brand manager said she was glad she wasn’t me.”

So here was my advice.

First, more research. I explained we needed to get to the root of the problem. “Focus groups,” I said. “It’ll help us understand why people aren’t using the word ‘Christmas.’” Peer pressure? A fear of offending? Perhaps a traumatic experience using the word ‘Christmas’ in the past? “How can we get folks to feel good again about using the word ‘Christmas’?” I mused out loud. Emmanuel nodded enthusiastically, his spirits starting to rise.

I suggested that maybe there were brand misperceptions. Do people feel that not everyone can celebrate Christmas? “You mean, like they do St. Patrick’s Day?” Emmanuel asked. When I pointed out that St. Patrick’s Day often revolves around day-drinking, he nodded sagely.

Then I suggested specific Rinck tools. Brand Touch, for example. I explained Brand Touch leverages highly influential people, often using social media. “How do we get influential people to start using the word ‘Christmas’ again?” I asked.

I also suggested Rinck’s Listening tool, which monitors more than 65 million sources to track real-time conversations. “If we see an uptick in ‘Christmas’ chatter, we know we’re making headway,” I explained. Emmanuel’s eyes lit up.

And finally, I suggested a Brand Platform. “It’s all about understanding your audience’s needs,” I explained, “and meeting these needs. It’s not about you, it’s about them.”

“Wow,” Emmanuel uttered, slapping his forehead.

“Don’t worry, most brands think it’s more about them too,” I said, pulling out my iPhone to check messages. “But the Brand Platform also asks you to get to the heart of what your brand is all about.”

“Well,” Emmanuel mused. “How about ‘peace’? And ‘joy’?” He continued to think. “Hope!” he exclaimed. “Who doesn’t like ‘hope’?”

I think he was starting to get it. Then he suggested a tagline.

“Something aspirational,“ he suggested. “You’ve always told me to envision success.”

Indeed I have. Emmanuel scribbled on a piece of paper and handed it to me.

“Christmas. It’s back.”

Hmmm. Not bad. Folks always love an underdog story. This might just work.