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To every brand, there is a season

Find creative new ways to celebrate holidays, seasons, and special occasions through your product and packaging to keep your brand top-of-mind all year long.

One of the most cherished icons of Christmas, Santa Claus, was actually a marketing creation of the Coca-Cola Company in the 1930s.
One of the most cherished icons of Christmas, Santa Claus, was actually a marketing creation of the Coca-Cola Company in the 1930s.

Brands have long capitalized on those holidays for which their products are well suited, such as candy for Halloween, Easter, and Valentine’s Day, snacks and beverages for the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four, and stationery products for Back-To-School.

But with every brand in a category providing a seasonal offering, how can you avoid simply being just another “me too”? How can your brand leverage holidays and other relevant opportunities to break through at shelf and drive incremental sales?

There are several approaches brands can use to move beyond the obvious—and limited—seasonal merchandising strategies they’ve been using, and instead keep their brands fresh, relevant, and top-of-mind throughout the year.

Capitalize on your season
Thanksgiving is a natural promotional fit for every food brand out there, which is why it’s exciting to see brands thinking out-of-the-box when it comes to this holiday. One of the best examples of this kind of creativity is the holiday-themed packs put out by Jones Soda a few years ago. Thanksgiving flavors included Tofurky & Gravy Soda (a vegan-friendly, sugar-free flavor), Green Bean Casserole, and Mashed Potato & Butter…and believe it or not, Tofurkey wasn’t that awful.

The offerings were so successful that Jones followed them up with a Christmas edition, including Christmas Tree, Egg Nog, and Sugar Plum sodas, and a Chanukah package with Latke, Apple Sauce, Chocolate Coins, and Jelly Doughnut sodas. Other special occasion series include Halloween flavors, a Valentine’s Pack, Easter flavors, and a Dessert Pack. The package designs all play into the look of the holiday, and are completely on brand with Jones’ typically fun spin.

Make it your season too
Brands have figured out that you don’t necessarily need to be an obvious fit with a holiday/season in order to “own it.” Certain unexpected partnerships use promotions as a way to capitalize on special occasions. For example, a Kraft string cheese/Crayola crayon promo for “back-to-school” that makes the string cheese look as if it were packaged in a Crayola crayon box, comes to mind, while others simply do this through packaging (see

One of the best back to school promotions is the Bath & Body Works “lunch box bundle” of hand sanitizers. In scents including Marshmallow Treat, PB&J, Honey Pretzel, Juice Box, and Bag of Grapes, these sanitizers were a huge hit with young girls (and their moms) everywhere.

Another brand that has figured out ways to “own” certain holidays and seasons is Lego. For example, Lego has gotten in on the Easter action by creating a product and special packaging for a bunny with his Easter basket made out of Legos. Kleenex “slice” boxes—made to look like watermelon, lime, and orange wedges—were created exclusively for Target to sell during the summer months, and injected new life into the brand in the off-season, making them mouthwatering in more ways than one. Kleenex followed up the designs the next year with equally adorable boxes that featured scoops of ice cream. 

Create (and leverage) seasonal assets
Some people bemoan the commercialization of the holidays—especially Christmas. But it’s interesting to note that one of the most cherished icons of that holiday, Santa Claus, was actually a marketing creation of the Coca-Cola Company in the 1930s. By promoting Santa—who up until that point had been visually portrayed in many different ways—as a big, jolly man in a red suit with a white beard, Coca-Cola not only created an emotional link with one of the world’s most recognized holidays and created brand associations in its “off-season,” but it also commercialized the gift-bearing folklore with an accessible personification. This visual was so strong that it could have become a brand character, but instead, it transcended that role to be much more universal. Years later, Coca-Cola did for polar bears what it had done for Santa:
made them synonymous with Christmas.

In the same vein, M&Ms has leveraged its personified M&Ms characters and placed them into holiday and seasonal situations (such as a yellow M&M getting frisky with holiday lighting) to take ownership of these holidays in a way that seems honest and innovative. 

Create new holidays
These days, special events can be created, or novel ways of promoting less mainstream events established, to connect with consumers. For example, Solo cups posts ideas on Facebook for how to use its products to honor unexpected events like National Boss’ Day and National Hamburger Day.

Many brands show their support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month by creating some form of pink packaging in October, but Danish bread manufacturer Kohberg went one step further by packaging their Rye Bread Buns in a pink bag that made the buns look like breasts in a bra. While understandably controversial, it did get noticed and created attention for the cause as well as the company.

No matter what holiday, season, or occasion you choose for your brand, there are options for forging authentic connections on-pack. Here are five guidelines that will help you get noticed on shelf at all times of the year:
1. Engage your audience: Create something that shoppers will not only notice, but will also talk about, laugh about, and best of all, care about enough to want to buy.
2. Stay true to your brand: Build long-term equity, not just short-term sales boosts, by figuring out a connection that seems authentic, not hokey.
3. Be controversial: Whether it’s the holiday you select for your brand or what you do with that holiday tie-in, go for it and push the envelope. A little controversy can go a long way.
4. Create an idea with longevity:  Get consumers excited about your season, create buzz around your brand, and make them look forward to and anticipate next year’s offering.
5. Spare no expense: Graphics and structure matter, so dream big with a unique structural package and proprietary graphics that take your package to the next level.

Nancy Brown is managing partner of brand agency CBX.

To see a spin + zoom 360° photo, click here.

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