Holiday Copywriting: How to Craft Messages That Resonate All Year Long

The holiday season is a time for your messaging to break out of its normal restrictions and embrace the warmth of the season. Here's how to toe the line between jollity and schmaltz.

Holiday decorations including a silver bauble
Source: Brigitte Tohm

For many businesses, the holidays are the most important time of year for sales. For others, the wintry months represent a slow period punctuated by family feasts and relaxing vacations. Yet whether or not your company’s fortunes turn on Black Friday, you’ve probably at least considered sending out a holiday card to your clients.

If you have, you may have noticed that holiday marketing requires a specific kind of messaging that can be difficult to master. Though the perfect tone is as unique and personal as your business, here at MarketSmiths, we’ve noticed enough patters to put together these lessons in cheery, hot-cocoa copywriting.

Embrace the Magic

There are times when your marketing messages should be serious, corporate, and quietly confident—but the holiday season probably isn’t that time.

From November to January, colder weather, snowstorms, and the prospect of having to bridge familial conversational divides can cast a gloomy shadow over day-to-day life. Plus, our inner children are clamoring for snowflakes, Santas, and sparkling red bows, no matter how many layers of Scrooge-esque cynicism we’ve bundled over them.

In such times, the key ingredient for your marketing is a generous helping of holiday “magic.”

But how can businesses and brands actually incorporate that holiday cheer without resorting to clichés, or seeming inauthentic and cheesy?

Remember that Christmas represents a time when it’s okay to be a bit (or in some cases, a lot) more sentimental than usual. When done right, inspirational and uplifting messages hit harder than ever during the holiday season.

One oft-employed method is to take the opportunity to tell a story through your marketing. The holidays are all about storytelling—especially stories in which the heart triumphs over adversity. The most successful campaigns tend to find a way—often subtly—to tie their own company’s narrative into the traditional themes and tropes of the season.

If you can craft a narrative that captures that spirit, you’re well on your way to a holiday campaign that stands out in the crowd.

Here’s What We Mean

The best holiday branding stories are unmistakable, and though each is unique, they tend to touch on the same themes: togetherness, goodwill toward one another, and somewhat ironically, the idea that love beats consumerism. Of course, they also typically tie in classic holiday icons like snowmen and stockings.

Consider Coca-Cola’s famous holiday campaigns: They’ve evolved over the years to include puffins, polar bears, and their own iconic version of Santa Claus, who chugs Coke in glass bottles and has his face plastered on bright red trucks. Yet their driving message of unity, evident in this spot from 2015, is evergreen:

To see how this works for European brands, Samantha, our MarketSmiths intern from across the pond, suggested this heartstring-tugging long-form ad from Sainsbury’s, a UK-based supermarket chain. Just try not to get choked up at this commemorative video about German and British soldiers forming a brief truce to play football (a.k.a. soccer):


Their “Christmas is for sharing” message, tied to a charity, hammers home the same message as many other spots: that the holiday season is really about spending time with other people.

If that sounds like it ultimately won’t sell the sausage, consider how many majorly successful brands have poured money and resources into their holiday marketing with great results, from Coke, to Macy’s, to major auto manufacturers like Lexus and Mercedes.

In the end, their ads don’t necessarily sell a specific product. Rather, their positive messages endear viewers to the brand, leading to warm associations and loyalty that last from childhood until later in life.

A Few Pitfalls to Avoid

No matter what type of holiday message you’re crafting, from a full-on campaign to a greeting card, here are a few other tips to keep in mind:

First, try not to drown your audience in the Christmas spirit. From October on, there’s already a surplus going around. As a general rule, wait until after Thanksgiving to pull the holiday train out of the station (though you should be preparing before that, and a few early hints is never a problem).

Second, don’t be overly “salesy” in your approach. Notice how in the Sainsbury’s ad, the brand name is only mentioned at the end, and specific products are nearly absent. (Coca-Cola is sort of an exception–their Christmas brand is well-established, so it never seems awkward to see their logo on those red trucks.)

Finally, it’s always critical to know your audience. Don’t say “Merry Christmas” to a group that likely doesn’t celebrate it (go with “Happy Holidays” or a New Year’s message).

For a simple holiday card, it may be best to avoid business talk altogether–they’ll still notice who sent it, and will be more likely to think of you in the future because of the card. For B2B marketing, holiday messages are generally more subdued, but still worth considering, especially if a promotion or other actionable item is attached.

If nothing else, remember that the holidays are the best time of year to deliver schmaltzy, heartwarming messages about friendship and love–just keep it to the last six weeks of the year, for everyone’s sake.

Looking to hit that perfect sweet spot with your marketing campaigns? Contact MarketSmiths to get started today.

Max Huppert

Max Huppert

A wide-eyed explorer of language and words, quick with a joke but patient with clients, Max delights at the chance to express the previously unexpressed. He has a keen eye for crisp, sparkling sentences, but he’s not afraid to get his hands messy when called for. When our resident beatSmith isn’t crafting copy, you might find him hooping at the park or banging out cadences on his drum set.

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