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'Tis the Season for Brilliant Food Marketing

'Tis the Season for Brilliant Food Marketing Doug Austin
You would have to be very crusty not to be moved by Budweiser's magnificent Clydesdales trotting through the snow with a perfect Christmas tree in tow. Of course, beer is beer, but what about when you add snow, a tree, a home, and eight 2,000-pound, chestnut-colored Clydesdales?

Now that’s a TV commercial.

Budweiser pulled out all the stops to appeal to viewers’ emotions; as a result, it created a magical story. It’s a story everyone can relate to on some level — regardless of your personal experience with sleighs and fantastic magical Clydesdales. It’s a classic example of appealing to emotion rather than reason to connect with customers, and it’s a marketing strategy as old as time.

But Budweiser is hardly alone in using family, scenery, sound, storytelling, and music to nurture nostalgia, especially during the holiday season. And because food is at the heart of so many family traditions, it only makes sense that food brands are the heavyweight contenders in the holiday marketing space.

The good news is that Budweiser doesn’t have a lock on emotional connection; it just does it very well. Any brand can appeal to your sense of emotion, and storytelling can be the doorway to the soul.

The Inner Appeal of Emotional Advertising

To capitalize on holiday marketing, you need to understand the appeal and power of storytelling.

The best brands ignite emotional responses rather than trigger logical thinking, and one way to do that is through nostalgia. When you can extract personal thoughts and memories (real or perceived) from viewers, they’ll connect those positive feelings to your brand. They’ll think, “This brand gets me!” within 30 seconds.

Of course, seasonal food is naturally associated with the holidays because historically, this was the time when those items could be harvested. Food brands have taken full advantage of this — we can all relate to a few key seasonal favorites which, on their own, evoke a sense of holiday. Cinnamon, eggnog, pumpkin pies, and turkeys, for example, have all become synonymous with the holidays.

But that’s not to say that nostalgia is the only emotion you can appeal to, even during the holidays. Just think of Coca-Cola’s lovable polar bears, Budweiser’s Clydesdales, or even Campbell’s snowman-turned-boy. The canned soup company aired a segment that featured a snowman coming out of a blizzard to a bowl of hot soup and melting into a little boy. It only took 15 seconds to strike an emotional chord in every mother.

Create Your Own Clydesdales

All of these brands are hitting on everything that evokes an emotional reaction — the sound of chestnuts popping over a fire or the crack of a beer being opened. When you’re able to reach your customer at the most personal level, you can make a real connection.

On the other hand, if you focus on features and benefits, your customers might miss the real value of your brand. For your brand to even be considered on a functional level, you’re better served by connecting emotionally first. Our hearts oftentimes outweigh our heads when it comes to making brand purchase decisions. This powerful connection eases a consumer’s mind and gives him permission to say “yes” to the functionality more easily.

Here are three strategies you can learn from holiday food marketing and apply to your own strategy:

  • Immerse yourself in your customers’ lives. Take a look at what you’re selling, and identify the personal experiences your customers have with your product. How does it fit into their lives? How does it connect with an emotional moment for them? Tell a story by highlighting those connections.



  • Take advantage of seasonal elements. Capitalize on the seasonal elements of your product. This can come from anywhere — whether that’s color, ritual, or language. Think back to Cola-Cola. Those lovable polar bears are a spectacle, no matter what your reference is. Find your brand’s unique connection to the holidays.



  • Take your target audience back home. Consumers are currently very interested in finding products and brands that resonate with their idea of home. That being said, understanding your target audience, where they live, and what defines “home” for them will help you find ways to personalize your marketing strategy.


Connecting with your customers on a personal level is more important than ever, especially with the influx of holiday marketing initiatives. What will make your brand stand out from the noise? More importantly, what will make your customers choose your product? When you immerse your brand in storytelling marketing, you foster brand loyalty and create lifelong brand advocates.

For nearly 30 years, Doug Austin has been studying the “art of observation” and filtering out the human truths. Whether digging for key consumer insights or preparing the next national retail promotion, it’s all about the ability...

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