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Hackneyed Holidays

By Joe Walsh 
December 10, 2007
Hackneyed Holidays

May the calendar keep bringing
Happy holidays to you

Come to Holiday Inn
If you’re burdened down with trouble
If your nerves are wearing thin
Park your load down the road
And come to Holiday Inn

— Bing Crosby: “Happy Holidays”

As the holiday season approaches, so does the often cheerless task—ironically—of producing and mailing the firm’s holiday card. If you’ve received this assignment, you could be forgiven for taking an axe to Bing Crosby’s perennial noel… but a closer look at the lyrics above suggests that Bing may have shared your pain. (By the way, these are the real lyrics; we looked them up.) We know these thoughts are too late for this year, but seasoned veterans know that it’s never too early to start planning for the next.

For years, we’ve heard horror stories surrounding the production of what is supposed to be the year’s warmest sentiment. So we thought we would share some of what we’ve learned, advice that might turn this annual chore into the celebration of gratitude and affection from your organization to your friends and clients as it was originally intended. Then you, too, may be singing:

If the traffic noise affects you
Like a squeaky violin
Kick your cares down the stairs
And come to
 [insert your organization here]

What Works in Holiday Promotions?

Every year, we collect all the cards and gifts that come into our office and spend a firmwide lunch discussing them. We vote on the best and shamelessly belittle the worst. We are merciless even though we know very well that the worst card we get has best wishes for us in mind. Are we particularly cruel? The jury’s out on that one, but here’s what we know: the impression your card or gift makes is the difference between a wasted effort and a memorable one.

Here, then, are some standards of excellence in holiday promotion:

1. Give something edible. Harry & David are on to something. So is A Taste of the South. It’s hard to go wrong with fruit, food or chocolate. They’re easy and require almost no thought, but if you want to up the ante…

2. Give something useful or charming or full of sentiment (without being sentimental). This is tough. Not only does this require thought, it can be expensive. Well-chosen books can be prized, for example, but not everyone on your list is a candidate for such special treatment so, eventually, you’ll have to negotiate…

The Holiday Card

Before we tell you what we believe works in a holiday card, scan the list below of what brings out the Grinch in us:

  • Pictures of children that aren’t yours

  • Pointless winter scenes and particularly on the West Coast, palm trees with Christmas lights

  • Cards that are red and green

  • Religious scenes (unless you’re a religious organization)

  • Blatant Christmas sentiments (insensitive) or ChrisHannuKwanzaa morphs (too sensitive)

  • Cute children’s drawings

  • Patriotic stuff (yes, we love our soldiers, too)

  • Foil leaves and/or ornaments

  • Flocking of any sort

  • Business cards included with the card

  • Printed signatures

  • Bad puns

  • Mindless platitudes

  • Focus on a general disease

Of course, there are exceptions to everything on this list. It’s possible a child’s drawing is stunning, but then it wouldn’t be cute, would it? It’s possible the disease cuts close to home, in which case, nothing could be more appropriate. Foil leaves might be fun if they were scratch ’n sniff. In other words, let the list be a guide.

Beat the Christmas rush

One way to avoid almost all of these problems is to change the category. Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd in South Carolina sent out a delightful Thanksgiving card this year. Helms Mulliss Wicker sent a New Year’s card two years ago. Valentine’s Day is another opportunity to avoid competition for the attention of your clients and friends.

Issue 7 Hackneyed Holidays HMW

“Useful or charming”

Our first rule for gifts is to give something “useful or charming.” Our own holiday gifts provide one example. For the last three years, we’ve given children’s books to our clients in support of our pro bono work for The Reading Connection. The positive response to year one only grew in year two, so we intend to continue the “tradition.”

Issue 7 Hackneyed Holidays

Since we’re tooting our own horn, let’s blow another note: We don’t know about you, but the long road to spring can bring on the winter blues (cf. seasonal affective disorder), so we delivered (regular) grass seeds one year to herald the coming spring.

Issue 7 Hackneyed Holidays Inline Image GB

Tackling the Holiday Card

Here are some strategies for holiday cards using seasonal themes that we believe give a new twist to old ideas:

Be true to your cause

Piper Rudnick (on the road to becoming DLA Piper) signaled its national support of local area food banks with a gourmet look at Frosty.

Issue 7 Hackneyed Holidays Inline Image DLA

We’ve already shown our commitment to early reading programs as a way to give kids a head start in the world. Another organization like The Reading Connection, called In2Books, sent caroling snowmen to their supporters.

Issue 7 Hackneyed Holidays Inline Image In2Books

Leverage the brand

Of course, you won’t find a brand design firm anywhere that will not encourage you to leverage your brand equities through the holiday season. Beveridge & Diamond’s stop/go campaign was transformed into holiday stickers for clients and friends to peel off and affix to their own gifts. Orrick makes the most of its “O” in holiday sentiments. The challenge is not to make the card heavy-handed or stink of “sales.”

Issue 7 Hackneyed Holidays Inline Image BED

Issue 7 Hackneyed Holidays Inline Image Orrick

There are many other notable examples of memorable holiday wishes we’ve seen or created through the years. But there are few that we look forward to creating more than Womble Carlyle’s annual greeting from Winston, the firm’s well-known and admired “spokes-dog.”

Winston always makes us smile and feel merry. Which, we understand, is the point.

Issue 7 Inline Image

Happy holidays from all of us at Greenfield/Belser.