The Top Three Holiday Marketing Stunts of 2013


It’s that time of year when we scram­ble to rank the bests and worsts of the last 12 months. We also begin defin­ing our New Year’s res­o­lu­tions, in hopes we’ll end up on a “best of” list next time around. In the spirit of the hol­i­day, I decided to share my top three hol­i­day mar­ket­ing stunts of 2013. These customer-driven mar­ket­ing inno­va­tions inspire me to reach higher, design­ing dig­i­tal expe­ri­ences that con­nect and delight. I hope you find some inspi­ra­tion in them as well.

1. West­Jet Christmas

West­Jet Air­lines deliv­ered a Christ­mas mir­a­cle to 250 unsus­pect­ing cus­tomers in early Decem­ber. When pas­sen­gers checked in, they encoun­tered a dig­i­tal kiosk live stream­ing Santa Claus. Decked in West­Jet blue, Santa asked trav­el­ers what they wanted for Christ­mas. It could have ended there. Instead, West­Jet employ­ees rushed to pur­chase each item on Santa’s list. When they landed, pas­sen­gers were shocked to find wrapped and per­son­al­ized gifts at bag­gage claim.

West­Jet cap­tured the stunt from start to fin­ish and made a 5-minute video for its pop­u­lar YouTube chan­nel. It went viral, amass­ing 31.9 mil­lion views in a week. Peo­ple all over the world watched a young woman cheer for her free flight home for the hol­i­days, and another cry as she unwrapped her dig­i­tal camera.

Why It Worked

West­Jet didn’t make a flashy video for the sake of going viral. The com­pany started with a one-to-one expe­ri­ence for real cus­tomers and then made that expe­ri­ence avail­able to a wider audience.

The engage­ment went deep. You can see the pride on West­Jet employ­ees’ faces as the gifts are unveiled. The com­pany also wove a Twit­ter con­test into the cam­paign: If you tweeted the video, you were entered for a chance to win free air­fare for two. And, “If the chance to win flights isn’t enough moti­va­tion,” they wrote, “we’re also going to give Christ­mas flights to a fam­ily in need if our video hits 200,000 views.”

The com­ments on the West­Jet blog post read like effu­sive Christ­mas cards:

“This brought tears to my eyes. What an awe­some idea to put smiles on the faces of all their pas­sen­gers. West­Jet really cares about peo­ple, and that is why they are so loved.”

“I’m already a loyal guest of yours, and you keep giv­ing me rea­sons to tell every­one I know why you are amaz­ing. This is incredible!”

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Inspire pride in your brand, and cus­tomers will share your mes­sage for you. The video led view­ers to asso­ciate deep emotions—such as joy and connectedness—with the air­line, and to want to iden­tify as loyal customers.

This is the sec­ond year West­Jet exe­cuted an expe­ri­en­tial cam­paign, and they’ve main­tained an active social pres­ence to sup­port the brand’s com­mu­nity. This year’s cre­ative “stunt” was much more, stem­ming from an ongo­ing pro­gram of customer-driven engagement.

2. Beyoncé’s Secret Album Launch

Beyoncé’s big hol­i­day sur­prise was more than a sin­gle: she released 14 songs and 17 music videos at once. Her self-titled album dropped with­out any talk show rounds, press jun­kets, early leaks, or blog­ger spec­u­la­tion. It sold 991 thou­sand copies in its first 10 days—and kept selling—becoming 2013’s best-selling album by a female artist.

Why It Worked

A secret launch would be a bad idea for an emerg­ing artist. As the reign­ing queen of pop, how­ever, Bey­oncé could use the strat­egy to nur­ture deep com­mit­ment from her fan base. The sur­prise release was about going above and beyond the expec­ta­tions of her fol­low­ers and adding unique value to her fifth stu­dio album.

Bey­oncé wanted “to speak directly to [her] fans” with­out the usual inter­me­di­aries. This kind of direct con­nec­tion from artist to con­sumer is pow­er­ful. Peo­ple feel spe­cial, noticed, and cared for when a per­former bypasses the buzz and gives them what they want.


Con­sumers seek longer, deeper rela­tion­ships with brands and con­tent. Bey­oncé gave fans an extended con­ver­sa­tion, allow­ing them to expe­ri­ence the entire arc of an album rather than dol­ing out songs piece­meal. Although mar­ket­ing and media have largely aban­doned length and depth for tweets and sound bites, the pop artist reminds us that super­fans emerge when we dig deep and deliver qual­ity. In a crowded mar­ket, brands often focus their energy on acqui­si­tion. Save some energy for build­ing loy­alty, and you can extend the con­ver­sa­tion with your customers.

3. Amazon’s Drone Attack

Ama­zon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed Prime Air, the company’s new test pro­gram fea­tur­ing “octo­copters” that promise to deliver pack­ages to cus­tomers’ doorsteps within 30 min­utes. The announce­ment was made just in time for Black Fri­day and Cyber Mon­day, help­ing Ama­zon cut through the din of retail­ers prac­ti­cally scream­ing their pro­mo­tions and discounts.

Deliv­ery by Ama­zon drone isn’t yet a real­ity, but the con­cept was enough to cap­ture con­sumers’ imag­i­na­tions over the Thanks­giv­ing week­end. Even con­tro­versy and crit­i­cism helped Ama­zon make top news out­lets and invade the blo­gos­phere, gave Bezos a spot on 60 Min­utes, and inspired count­less con­ver­sa­tions over pump­kin pie.

Why It Worked

Bezos added a futur­is­tic, sci-fi ele­ment to his brand to get peo­ple talk­ing. Yet Prime Air is grounded in enough real­ity to be taken seri­ously. Drones were already top­i­cal, after all.

The con­cept of ultra-quick drone deliv­ery aligns with Amazon’s brand­ing. The com­pany dif­fer­en­ti­ates with fast deliv­ery and even faster access when prod­ucts are in stock at brick-and-mortar loca­tions. Ama­zon is about buy­ing any­thing you want or need with one click and see­ing it on your doorstep within two days. The octo­copters enhance the company’s image of remark­able and exclu­sive convenience.


You don’t hear many B2C com­pa­nies talk about roadmaps. But Ama­zon brought cus­tomers in on their vision, aspi­ra­tion, and ideals. When the announce­ment came, we all pic­tured drones land­ing qui­etly on our front stoops or driveways—and that’s an image we won’t soon for­get. What’s more, the announce­ment came not from an anony­mous press release, but directly from the company’s CEO. Hav­ing Bezos pull back the cur­tain him­self made it all the more meaningful.

Customer-Driven Mar­ket­ing Inspi­ra­tion for 2014

These three mar­ket­ing efforts were built on exist­ing cus­tomer engage­ment. There are no short­cuts. Even the most cre­ative viral stunt can’t replace con­sis­tent and valu­able brand inter­ac­tions. These exam­ples place the cus­tomer front and cen­ter, speak­ing to their desires, needs, and emo­tions. They cre­ate a sense of con­nec­tion that stands out in our often dis­con­nected dig­i­tal lives.

This is by no means a com­plete list. There are many other stel­lar exam­ples of hol­i­day mar­ket­ing. What do you think were the most daz­zling mar­ket­ing feats of the 2013 hol­i­day sea­son? Share your addi­tions in the com­ments below.

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