Image by Nicolas Raymond via Flickr.

Image by Nicolas Raymond via Flickr.

‘Tis the season to be jolly in the Western world, where holiday campaigns are centered around good deeds, wholesome messages, warm winter imagery and gift giving.

It would be a mistake to display this ad in Japan. Image by Chandal Nolasco da Silva.

It would be a mistake to display this ad in Japan. Image by Chandal Nolasco da Silva.

The marketing campaigns constructed in Canada, for example, use content suitable for a Canadian Christmas. But what is big in the frosty North is not necessarily big in Japan.

It would be a mistake to take a scene of a beaver in a Santa hat skating over frozen maple syrup and use it in a Japanese ad.

Complications around centralized messaging versus culturally respectful global dissemination of these messages can make a marketing campaign of this scale difficult to execute.

Let’s address the challenges marketers face running international holiday marketing campaigns by taking a look at some brands worth imitating.

General Electric goes 3-D social

General Electric (GE) is known for its innovative engineering and product designs worldwide, with scientists and engineers based out of New York, California, Bangalore, Shanghai, Munich and Rio de Janeiro. For the marketing crowd, GE is also famous for its innovation in content marketing.

One of the primary reasons GE is so successful is because of its heavy presence on social media channels.

GE actively creates content daily on almost every major social network, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest and Tumblr.

Last year GE created a knock-it-out-of-the-park holiday campaign, On D3 GE goes 3D, proclaiming December 3rd, 2013 National 3-D Printing Day.

As part of the multifaceted campaign, the brand partnered with GrabCAD, a product development software startup, and invited GrabCAD’s community of engineers to submit a redesigned prototype of Santa’s sleigh.

In another part of the campaign, GE asked its fans to submit a gift they wanted to be 3-D printed.

The brand partnered with other major industry players in their space, like software giant AutoDesk, to help with manufacturing, while celebrity brand ambassadors promoted the campaign on Twitter and Tumblr.

While the 57 GrabCAD Santa-sleigh entries helped GE establish ties with the engineering community, the 3D Print my Gift portion of the campaign attracted international and mainstream participation.

Tweets came in from Turkey, India and Thailand, for example:

While the campaigns were clearly holiday-specific, brand marketers making notes for their next campaigns should study GE’s ability to use mainstream and emerging social and mobile channels to put user-generated content at the forefront.

Rosetta Stone goes multilingual

Rosetta Stone is a leader in language learning software, having taught 30 different languages for more than two decades to customers worldwide.

The nature of Rosetta Stone’s product makes the brand ideally suited for content marketing campaigns targeted at international audiences.

Take, for example, this commercial, which hones in on an unexpected language barrier at Christmas:

Rosetta Stone has even gone as far as sending a real multilingual Santa to the Time Warner Center in Manhattan to greet children in six languages.

Recently, Bully! Entertainment, an animation and game design studio, created an international holiday campaign for Rosetta Stone to bring new life to the brand’s holiday offerings.


Above is one of two videos the agency created for the campaign, which also featured web and print components.

The studio used toys from different cultures, including Russian nesting dolls, a German nutcracker and Godzilla from Japan. The text in the ads could be translated easily into different languages, and more importantly, the multilingual nature of the video makes it easy to air in any part of the world.

Marketers working for small or medium-sized businesses may relate more to Bully’s Rosetta Stone campaign in terms of scale and management. Small campaigns can still take on international appeal with creative use of language, even if they don’t have GE’s scale and budget.

UNICEF gets imaginative with user-generated content

A branch of the United Nations, UNICEF is a thoroughly multicultural organization that celebrates the rights of children internationally and runs global fundraisers each year to support the fight against the preventable death of children.

UNICEF's Imagine app for iPhone.

UNICEF’s Imagine app for iPhone.

The organization also works with agencies worldwide to market its long list of initiatives and is recognized internationally for its ongoing heartfelt campaigns.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Convention for the Rights of the Child, and UNICEF’s goal this holiday season is to raise $100 million for children internationally with its holiday campaign, #IMAGINE.

The campaign brings together international celebrities to sing Imagine, John Lennon’s famous ballad for peace, and it invites the public to add their voices to the sing-along.

Supporters can download the TouchCast app for iOS and use the video feature to create and upload a video of their rendition to the Imagine campaign site.

On New Year’s Eve, UNICEF and French DJ David Guetta will release a video compilation of all the fan uploads in an effort to create the largest sing-along in world history.

Those who aren’t musically gifted can relax knowing the campaign app comes equipped with auto-tune.

It’s already an international holiday success, with hundreds of videos uploaded to date. Below are tweets from campaign participants in Moldova, Rwanda and Jamaica:

Rob Holzer, the founder and CEO of Matter Unlimited, the digital agency that developed the initiative, says they haven’t spent a cent promoting the campaign on Facebook or Twitter, relying on organic sharing and word-of-mouth instead, beginning with the influence of the celebrities who participated.

David Ohana, UNICEF’s chief of brand building, pinpointed the main reason the campaign has global appeal. “Music is the universal language. It allows messages and ideas to be shared across borders,” he says.

Inspired by the holidays

Rand Fishkin and Larry Kim recently co-hosted a webinar in which they discuss imitation as a strategy: Marketers can emulate what worked with a particular audience in the past and know a particular type of content or message is more likely to succeed.

There is no better time of year than the holiday season to draw inspiration from brands we love and get a sense of how they pull off worldwide marketing campaigns.

What make the brands featured above so successful is how they combine simple messaging with a heavy emphasis on social media to spread the word.

Last but not least, campaigns like UNICEF’s #Imagine or even the popular WestJet 2013 Christmas Miracle campaign (repeated this year, this time in the Dominican Republic), remind us that, especially during the holidays, there’s no better marketing message than compassion.