father christmas with present and laptop

7 key marketing lessons from Santa Claus

It’s that time of year when many children (and let’s be honest, adults too) look forward to Santa’s arrival. But what can the big man himself teach us about marketing? Let us count the ways.


#1: Plan ahead

Santa takes a whole year to plan his strategy which reminds marketers of perhaps the most important lesson of all: plan ahead. A good campaign takes time to plan, especially if you’re taking time to evaluate performance along the way.


#2: Understand how your audience varies by culture

Christmas traditions vary around the world. For example, lots of children leave incentives for Santa but in different ways across cultures:

  • In the US, children leave out cookies and milk
  • In Chile, it’s pan de pascua (a fruit cake with a cinnamon twist)
  • In Ireland, it’s a pint of Guinness (which is probably Santa’s favourite)

In other cultures, it’s more about incentivising Santa’s support system to make sure he arrives safely:

  • In Argentina, they leave out hay for the reindeer after the long journey from Europe
  • In the Netherlands, they leave out carrots and water for his horse
  • In the UK, children hedge their bets with dual targeting – carrots for Rudolph AND a mince pie for Santa

In the Nordics, instead of Santa, the focus shifts to Nisser and Tomte, the two magic elves who accompany him. Children leave out risengrod, a type of rice pudding with fruit, to stop the naughty elves from sabotaging Christmas.

Santa knows that his audience has different preferences and behaviours around the world – after all, he has to cross 24 time zones in one night – and it’s important that international marketers understand this too. Using a Local In-Market Expert will help you understand cultural, linguistic, and digital nuances in each target market.


#3: Personalisation is important

Santa is known by different names around the world – such as Pere Noel in France, Viejo Pascuero in Chile, Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, or Christkind in Germany.

Personalised communications have more impact – but it’s important to get your customers’ names right. Not everyone around the world has a first name, middle name, and last name – and some cultures are more formal than others. It’s important to understand how naming conventions vary by country when designing personalisation or data capture forms for international markets.


#4: Target your location accurately

About 2 billion people celebrate Christmas – that’s a lot of people, but only a quarter of the world’s population.

If only one quarter of people celebrate Christmas, three quarters don’t. Therefore, it’s important that Santa doesn’t expend time and energy on the 18 countries that don’t celebrate Christmas at all. These include Algeria, Bahrain, Israel, Morocco, North Korea, and Pakistan.

In many markets, Christmas is a commercial or relatively new public holiday aimed at increasing shopping or tourism, rather than being a religious or family experience. Santa needs to be aware of that, so his Christmas messaging makes sense.

For example, only around 1% of people in China are Christian, so most people are not focused on Christmas. It is often only celebrated in the big cities where they have trees, lights, and grottos. This is despite China producing most of the world’s Christmas decorations.

The key lesson for marketers? Focus your time and energy on the markets most receptive to your product or service.


#5: Make sure your timing is relevant

The Philippines like to get started early with the countdown to Christmas kicking off on 1st September. This countdown, known as Ber Months, is one of the key traditions that make this the world’s earliest and longest Christmas season, stretching to the third Sunday in January in parts of the country.

Santa visits on Christmas Eve in many countries around the world. Gift swapping and a celebratory family meal happen on 24th December in countries including Lithuania and Poland. On the other hand, in countries such as Russia, Ethiopia and Greece, the 6th and 7th January are the key dates for Christmas celebrations, so Santa needs to reserve enough energy to keep his campaign going a little longer.

Some lucky children receive presents twice, once at Christmas and once at Epiphany (although some unfortunates receive gifts on Christmas Day and must wait until Epiphany to open them!) In some countries it is customary to give small gifts throughout the 12 days of Christmas – a little and often frequency strategy wining out over the one-off spectacular coverage.

The key point is to understand, like Santa, the dates and times that matter most to your target audience. Oban’s international marketing calendar can help you plan ahead.


#6: Use innovation to gain a competitive advantage

As Santa criss-crosses the world, he sees Christmas-themed innovation in different countries. For example, in Japan, Christmas Day is not such a big deal, so in the 1970s KFC launched a Christmas menu to encourage people to eat chicken at Christmas, before the turkeys got a look in. This has now grown to KFC’s largest sales day of the year with a Christmas countdown, a special Christmas menu, people reserving their takeaway two hours in advance and queues of well over an hour in the major cities. Senior managers hit the shop floor for the day to make the most of the short-lived sales opportunity.

The lesson? Don’t be afraid to put your own twist on a key date or festival or tradition, to make it work for your brand.


#7: The world is your oyster

Santa’s journey is truly international – visiting tens of millions of homes across 24 time zones each Christmas. Crossing borders and expanding into new markets is no big deal to Santa – and the same is true for brands which, with the right agency support and access to local in-market expertise, can accelerate their growth by going global.

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Planning an international digital marketing campaign in 2023? Oban can help. To find out how, please get in touch.

Oban International is the digital marketing agency specialising in international expansion. Our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) Network provides up to date cultural input and insights from over 80 markets around the world, helping clients realise the best marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.

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