Santa’s Gone Viral This Year

The holiday season is clearly in full swing, but one way to know for certain that Santa’s on his way is his sudden pervasiveness in holiday marketing efforts. Although he’s had it rough in the past, this year’s viral campaigns do a good job of ensuring their creators retain their spots on the nice list. Before we all settle down for a long winter’s nap, let’s take a look at how digital advertisers are featuring the jolly old man and other holiday themes to increase brand affinity and engage current and potential customers.

Santa Gets Personal on Portals

There’s no question as to the star of Canadian Web portal Sympatico.ca’s viral holiday offering; though Santa plays a leading role, it’s the site’s users who are front and center. Through a branded online tool called the “Portable North Pole,” users can customize a video of Santa talking directly to a child (or, alternately, a nice or naughty adult) about both what it’s like to be the man in red and the gifts they’re wishing for this year. The tool — which was initially launched in 2008 and was reintroduced this year after tremendous success — combines a clever concept with a fluid execution. As evidenced by the reaction of my young daughter and nephews, the result can be pretty convincing.

Sympatico promoted the app through its editorial content (including advertorials and house ads), e-mail newsletters, e-mails to its member database, and on its holiday guide, in addition to doing some offline seeding and placement on social networks and blogs. But consumers aren’t the only ones to benefit from its exposure. Third-party advertisers can place banners that appear throughout the customization process, and sponsorship packages such as clickable logos on the console are also available.

At Disney’s Family.com consumers can create a similar experience for the little ones in their lives by creating a personalized greeting from Santa. This tool — which, as part of the Family.com site, also allows for surrounding third-party advertising — lets kids know whether they’ve made the nice list. Apart from requiring a lengthy site registration process, which is guaranteed to reduce its popularity and viral appeal, this application promises to amuse and delight — and maybe even increase brand loyalty.

Holiday Song and Dance

In the spirit of the popular ElfYourself app released by OfficeMax in 2006 (and relaunched every year since), Intel’s “Make Your Holidays Sing” microsite invites Web site visitors to create a 3-D animated version of themselves. The purpose of the offering is to create a customized music video and e-card that can be shared by e-mail and through social sites and social news services. Consumers can find the Intel application by linking from the brand’s Holiday Gift Guide.

Another branding effort comes courtesy of Coke, with its “Coca-Cola Christmas” microsite. In addition to activities like creating custom desktop wallpaper and downloading holiday-themed ringtones, users can employ Google Maps to zero in on their home, virtually decorate it, and share the results with others.

Purposeful Holiday Humor

Also from Canada (its marketers are extra inspired, you see, being that much closer to the North Pole), BMW’s Mini has launched a highly amusing microsite that focuses on the less attractive aspects of the holiday. After lamenting the “constant caroling” and “Santas with real red noses,” Mini asks users to “honor the ugly festive sweater” tradition by selecting from among several funny backgrounds and customizing their own holiday e-card.

As far as branded holiday content goes, this one definitely hits the mark. The Mini site has broad appeal and viral chops, and manages to strike that delicate balance of being both entertaining and completely on-brand.

As consumers partake in viral campaigns for the holidays, let’s hope they make a point of noting the brands responsible for providing the online festivities. The marketers behind these offerings are deserving of some seasonal cheer.

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