Holiday experiences were in short supply in 2020 as mandated pandemic lockdowns dampened spirits and prevented gathering. But this year, in-person experiential holiday programs roared back to life in the shape of festive pop-ups, takeovers, charitable activities, installations and hospitality initiatives. While the omicron variant dashed some organizations’ event plans at the eleventh hour, the brands that were fortunate enough to activate this season delivered creative work that just might spark inspiration for your 2022 events. Now, let’s grab a cup of cheer and dig into 14 of the 2021 experiential holiday campaigns that slayed all the way.
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Care for a plate of roast beast? Vacation rental platform Vacasa, in partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, has you covered. The brand is giving consumers a chance to live out their wildest “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” dreams by booking a stay at the Grinch’s infamous cave, located “three thousand feet up, up the side of Mt. Crumpit.” The 5,700-square-foot multi-level lair, actually located on the outskirts of Boulder, CO, is available to rent through Dec. 23 for $19.57 per night, a nod to the year the popular children’s book was released. Those who can’t make it to Mt. Crumpit can take a 3D virtual tour of the space.
The Grinch’s home sits within a hand-carved cave on the side of a massive stone mountain, and offers everything fans could hope for, including spot-on experience design elements. The kitchen, of course, is stocked with roastable beast, Who-pudding and a stash of Who-hash. A music room includes the Grinch’s organ along with Max the dog’s drum set. To boot, the house is outfitted with all of the Grinch’s gadgets, from his exorbitant coffee machine to quirky kitchen supplies. Other amenities, like a silky robe with a “G” embroidered onto it and matching slippers, are also part of the experience. Just don’t expect the Grinch himself to be there; he wouldn’t touch you with a 39-and-a-half-foot pole.
CHASE x SOUTHWEST AIRLINES
Southwest Airlines and Chase sought fresh ways to provide their customers and cardholders with extra perks this holiday season, whether they were traveling or staying put. That’s where the More Perks Café came in. The mobile restaurant, housed within an Airstream trailer, made its way to Nashville and Austin to perk up local communities for a weekend with free coffee and bites, including hot pretzels. Those who stopped by the café could also take part in an Instagrammable photo installation that placed them “up in the clouds,” and learn about the rewards that come with the Chase/Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards card in time for the holiday shopping season. Agency: MAS.
Amazon brightened a small corner of New York City’s SoHo district with what it claims was the world’s first smart holiday window, “Alexa in a Pear Tree.” While festive window displays are an age-old holiday tradition, this interactive window experience could be customized by smart technology and featured motion-gesture, sound and lighting effects. The entire installation was wired to give passersby the opportunity to turn on holiday smart lights, call Santa and play original Amazon Music holiday tunes with the help of Alexa. The scenarios were animated on a snow-covered tree that anchored the visual display, which was designed to showcase how Amazon devices, like Echo and FireTV, can be used by consumers to create their own custom holiday routines. Agency: New Moon.
🥁 Drumroll, please!
— Amazon (@amazon) December 4, 2021
Over the summer, KFC invited brand fans to “chick-in” to its House of Harland pop-up hotel. For the holiday season, the playful fast food chain was at it again, this time offering a mouthwatering getaway for eight to the Kentucky Fried Chicken Firelog Cabin located in—you guessed it—Kentucky. The experience is a nod to KFC’s popular fried chicken-scented 11 Herbs & Spices Firelog and includes a three-day, two-night stay in a 7,000-square-foot, three-story luxury log cabin surrounded by 200-acres of a protected nature reserve. For a shot at winning the getaway, consumers can enter the official sweepstakes through Dec. 31.
The experience will feature KFC’s finest chicken-themed décor across bedrooms, open living room spaces, a theater room with a built-in bar, a kitchen and dining area, an outdoor kitchen and a pool and hot tub. When guests arrive, they’ll follow a path of KFC Bucket lamp posts up the steps to cozy rocking chairs draped with a classic Colonel throw blanket. Once inside, they’ll be met with the smell of a crackling, chicken-scented fire log and have the opportunity to snuggle up to read by a KFC Bucket light or spread out by the indoor fireplace on the Colonel Bearskin rug. More spicy scents will await outdoors around the firepit. And on Saturday night, KFC’s head chef, Chris Scott, will prepare a private dinner that transforms the brand’s fried chicken and sides into a gourmet, five-course meal featuring dishes like The OG Original Recipe Chicken Roulade and Sweet, Southern & Sticky Toffee Pudding.
If we can have Christmas in July, why not summer in December? To get consumers in a Caribbean state of mind this holiday season, Bacardi took over Times Square in New York City with its Winter Summerland holiday activation featuring a billboard takeover, flash mob and merch truck.
It all began as Bacardi deployed a troop of street performers and roller skaters, brand ambassadors decked out in head-to-toe brand merchandise, and tricked-out pedicabs, which took to the streets to spread the brand’s summer vibe and drum up anticipation for the billboard reveal. Their efforts were backed by an exhilarating flash mob, blaring holiday music featuring a Caribbean twist and other eye-catching performances, while attendees received holiday-inspired giveaways and goodies, like string light necklaces, to help show that “when the rum comes out, the sun comes out.” When the billboard was finally unveiled, New Yorkers could bask in an idyllic Latin Caribbean paradise that emerged from a 27-panel stretch of billboard screens along Broadway, enveloping Times Square in a captivating tropical moment.
Bacardi also fired up a Stop-and-Shop Merch Truck that was stationed near Times Square during the Summerland event, then traveled to holiday hot spots around the city to keep the party going. The cozy, showroom-style truck offered limited-edition merchandise for purchase to give last-minute shoppers an opportunity to by unique gifts, like co-branded leisurewear from a capsule collection with Aviator Nation.
Photo credit: Yuxi Liu
From Dec. 4-12 at one of its Frisco, TX-based locations, Walmart invited the local community to experience the magic of its “Joy Globes,” whimsical, larger-than-life snow globe installations offering themed experiences that brought to life the simple joys of the holidays, like family photos, gifts and hot chocolate, through contactless engagements. Festive video and photo booths, a gift dispenser controlled by a tablet and a “Cocoa Factory” were among touchpoints. The socially distanced experiences were free to the public and could be reserved ahead of time. Agency: Momentum Worldwide.
Nearly 2,800 diverse small businesses were shuttered as a result of COVID in New York City alone, while the city’s up-and-coming creatives were dealt a similar blow. So over the holidays, Bombay set out to literally turn the lights back on and celebrate those communities with a Holiday Storefront Series. The brand reimagined typical window displays with a more diverse, youthful aesthetic that showcased underrepresented voices, and enlisted the help of fashion designer Romeo Hunte and emerging artist Shavanté Royster to transform otherwise empty storefronts in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood into works of art. All three window displays were located within an easily walkable 10-minute loop and those passing by were treated to live dance performances, live models clad in Hunte’s trending fall/winter apparel and Royster’s contemporary take on a snowy backdrop. To spread the love and connect New Yorkers, Bombay placed QR codes at the storefronts that consumers could scan, then head to some of the coolest neighboring bars for free cocktails, while supplies lasted.
After five seasons, the final chapter of NBC’s hit drama “This is Us” will premiere in January, so to give superfans one last chance to show the series some love, the network created a “phygital” holiday card experience that allowed them to voice their passion for the Pearson family. For two weeks in December, fans could submit video and text-based messages sharing their favorite “This is Us” memories. Those who participated snagged a shot at appearing in the season six marketing campaign and special access to a cast member video message featuring memories of their favorite scenes.
Then, the weekend before Christmas, NBC installed a 10-foot-tall, 14-foot-wide “This is Us” holiday card at The Grove in Los Angeles that stood adjacent to the shopping center’s famous 100-foot Christmas tree. The card exterior was wrapped with a series-themed holiday message, while the interior was comprised entirely of LED screens displaying the fan-submitted content, which rotated throughout the weekend. In addition to the card installation, NBC offered a themed photo op featuring a printed takeaway, free branded tissues and a chance for shoppers to record their messages in real time, which were quickly vetted and uploaded to the card installation. Agency: Cartwheel and Co. Marketing.
All-digital wireless brand Visible strayed from the typical warm and fuzzy holiday marketing approach and instead focused on a major seasonal pain point for consumers: spending copious amounts of time with the family. So the brand kicked off its Holiday Drama Relief campaign with a “Shatter the Family Drama” activation in Manhattan that invited frustrated New Yorkers to literally smash everything in sight within a “home for the holidays”-themed living room environment. The tongue-in-cheek program was designed to amplify awareness of how Visible provides “family plan savings without the need for a traditional family plan.” Participants could tear filled stockings from the mantle that read “Why aren’t you married yet,” shatter ornaments that said “Your generation has it so easy” and “Why can’t you be more like your brother,” pound pillows that with the message “Scream into me halfway through dinner” and catch various celebrity appearances. To boot, Visible held a holiday hotline live Twitter event where partners including “Bachelorette” alum Mike Johnson, comedian Matt Bellasai and TV personality Gizelle Bryant took over the brand’s handle and helped the audience solve all of their holiday family drama in real time.
Photo credit: Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Visible
Every year, the Hallmark Channel launches its Countdown to Christmas, a robust lineup of those cheesy holiday romances that you definitely don’t secretly watch when your family isn’t around. To bring the countdown to life this year, the network hosted themed events at Christmas tree farms across the country. While on the hunt for the perfect tree, visitors could grab some holiday treats and pose for a festive photo op to commemorate the countdown. In addition, randomly selected visitors were gifted a free Christmas tree, courtesy of the brand. The efforts benefitted national nonprofit One Warm Coat, which collects and distributes coats to children and adults in need in all 50 states. Agency: GDX Studios.
It was all shimmer and shine at YSL Beauty’s glitzy holiday pop-up in Manhattan. The space was divided into designated engagement zones. Like the Y Studio, where visitors could live out their modeling fantasies by strutting down a catwalk and posing along the golden stage for full effect, ultimate leaving with a studio-quality video takeaway. Over at the Libre Lounge, consumers could snap photos in front of a flame-themed display, sample perfume and relax on luxe couches. They could also hit the YSL Café stand for a coffee beverage, complete with brand-themed latte art, and sit down for a scheduled makeover with artists who curated personalized looks.
Johnnie Walker’s gifting destination returned to New York City with Scotch whisky lovers top of mind. The three-day Johnnie Walker Whisky Workshop pop-up served as a last-minute gift shop built to take the stress out of shopping and shipping delays by offering a selection of personalized gift boxes containing limited-edition, custom-engraved whisky collectibles created in collaboration with Emmy Award-winning artist Mike Perry. Among the accessories: whisky stones, rocks glasses, cocktail shakers and a complimentary postcard. Visitors could also bring in a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label to receive a complimentary bottle engraving with a message of their choice and, if of age, enjoy a complimentary sampling of the Johnnie Walker portfolio (with a dose of whisky education) and custom cocktails from the Workshop bar.
An intimate in-person pop-up concert served as the anchor of iHeartMedia’s iHeartRadio Holiday Pop Up Party With Ed Sheeran. The Dec. 8 event, which included a five-song performance by the pop singer and was hosted by iHeartRadio on-air personalities Elvis Duran and Maxwell & Crystal, took place at the iconic Empire State Building, the New York City broadcasting home of iHeartMedia. As Sheeran performed his new song featuring Elton John, “Merry Christmas,” a music-to-light show featuring thousands of LEDs and choreographed by renowned lighting designer Marc Brickman, was simultaneously displayed on top of the building. The spectacle will be available for viewing again at 7 p.m. ET Dec. 20-25. Fans can tune in to a variety of digital channels during those dates to listen to the song and watch the accompanying light show from afar.
Visitors of Puma’s Fifth Ave. flagship store in New York City can check out an interactive light installation called “The Spark” through Jan. 2 that takes them on a visual journey through the footprint. As shoppers enter the store, a hero display greets them with the opportunity to play with a responsive light display that shifts colors to match and amplify select Puma products. Then the Puma Cat logo itself becomes part of a network of expressive pathways of light, designed in collaboration with artist Jason Krugman, that guide customers through the store. Agency: Faculty.