All the interactive retail campaigns from tech to social media this holiday season

Hearst and Blippar's augmented reality retail district in Covent Garden - holiday campaigns

Hearst and Blippar’s augmented reality retail district in Covent Garden

What better time of year for something a bit fun and interactive than at Christmas. With an increasing movement towards more in the way of technology that actually resonates with consumers, we’ve seen all sorts of campaigns deployed this season to enhance the festive experience in both physical and digital spaces.

From chatbots to virtual reality devices, not to mention increasingly clever applications on social media, all things digital are proving key for successful holiday seasons to come.

Here we’ve rounded up all of the best of this year’s initiatives across the fashion and retail space. Don’t forget to also check out our best picks of the festive films for 2016.


Technology aids in merging physical with digital

The evolving presence of tech in the holiday season was first spotted when John Lewis launched its Christmas campaign in the UK a few weeks ago. Included was an in-store activity where visitors could experience its Buster the Boxer commercial through virtual reality headsets.

Shortly after, eBay opened a two-day pop up in London that aimed to be the first store run on ‘emotions’. Visitors could browse gift items and select the ones they responded to the best, according to bio-analytic and facial technology.

Next we saw Hearst Magazines teamed up with Blippar to create the world’s first ‘augmented reality retail district’ in Covent Garden. Magazine editors worked with 35 participating retailers to bring to life beauty and fashion gift guides that are only available to view through the Blippar app. Further gamification included using the app over the district’s Christmas tree, located in the famous Piazza, to unlock retailer and restaurant discounts.

Google's Window Wonderland virtual reality experience - holiday campaigns

Google’s Window Wonderland virtual reality experience

Meanwhile in New York, department store window displays are being celebrated through a campaign from Google called Window Wonderland, which allows users to experience 18 displays, from the iconic Bergdorf Goodman to Macy’s and Tiffany & Co, also through the magic of VR. Each can be zoomed in and even come with audio guides from some of the store creatives talking about this year’s work.

The experience was produced by Google’s Art, Copy & Code team by taking hundreds of high-resolution images of each store and then stitching them together so they can be viewed via a web browser, on a smartphone or tablet, or through a VR headset.

In a nod to the lesser trend of wearable technology this season, Samsung is celebrating the launch of its new G3 smartwatch in Piccadilly Circus from Dec 1 until Christmas Eve, with one choir performance a day, showcasing holiday spirit from around the world. Aiming to bring Londoners and visitors together, each choir comes from a different culture or country, ranging from France to Bangladesh.

The key part however is that selected choir members will wear the new smartwatch, which will measure their heartbeats, movements and calories burnt. The biometric results have then been transformed into visuals, displayed on eight screens around the stage.

The Samsung choir wearing the G3 smartwatch - holiday campaigns

The Samsung choir wearing the G3 smartwatch

Social media spans chatbots to live video

Beyond creatively deploying technology in physical environments, brands are taking to social media to explore new and different ways they can engage and encourage followers to get excited for the season.

There’s been a big focus on using chatbots via Facebook Messenger for instance, by brands including Nordstrom, Burberry, American Eagle and others. The idea is to enable gift discovery and interaction via the scaleable artificial intelligent bots, rather than relying on customer service teams. It’s fun and playful at this point, but also says a lot for the future of a trend referred to as “conversational commerce”.

Agent Provocateur's Whatsapp campaign - holiday campaigns

Agent Provocateur’s Whatsapp campaign

Conversation was also the name of the game for Agent Provocateur this season, albeit in a human capacity. The lingerie brand took to Whatsapp for a campaign led by its agency Cult LDN. Referred to as a Ménage à Trois, it helped couples choose ideal gifts by chatting within a group.

In a simpler way, we’ve also seen retailers like Macy’s pushing its “The Santa Project” campaign over social media with ads on Facebook Canvas and Instagram Marquee, while also encouraging followers to record their own videos explaining why they #Believe in Santa.

Also deploying video is Barneys New York, which has promoted a stylish Secret Santa featuring a group of influencers, from Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine to DJ Mia Moretti. #BarneysUnwrapped lives on the retailer’s Instagram page, where each participant stars in an individual video unwrapping their gift, subtly encouraging viewers to buy said items at Barneys, of course.

Needless to say, there’s also been a big focus on Snapchat this season with retailers such as Kohl’s taking the tried-and-test route of Sponsored Geofilters and John Lewis a Sponsored Lens themed to Buster the Boxer.

Sweet's pop-up gift shop on Snapchat sponsored by Maybelline - holiday campaigns

Sweet’s pop-up gift shop on Snapchat sponsored by Maybelline

Sweet, Hearst’s Snapchat-only media channel, meanwhile ran a two-day pop-up ‘shop’ sponsored by Maybelline. It released a gift guide with over 100 snaps, ranging from affordable to expensive, with Maybelline ads running in between. While Sweet’s editorial team worked on the extensive gift selection, it also developed fun and shareable content such as GIFs and catchy phrases, hoping viewers would screengrab their wish list items and send to friends.

Despite the success of a Snapchat giveaway campaign during this year’s Black Friday, US beauty subscription box Birchbox experimented with Instagram Stories in a “12 Days of Christmas” initiative for the holidays instead. It revealed prizes and discounts from partners such as Hilton and Athleta, in a campaign hosted by actress Sophia Bush.

This sort of staggered giveaway as a strategy, has been deployed by a number of other American retailers this year, including Target for Black Friday, and JetBlue with another 12-day campaign in a bid to get customers to come back and interact day after day.

Birchbox's 12 Days of Christmas campaign on Instagram Stories - holiday campaigns

Birchbox’s 12 Days of Christmas campaign on Instagram Stories

Meanwhile with live video on a steep incline, Facebook Live has been the focus for a lot of brands ahead of the holidays. UK retailer Primark, an active user of the feature, has recently promoted a series of giveaways under the “Go, Get and Gift” headline, where viewers who answered questions correctly the quickest would be rewarded discounts and gifts.

ASOS ran a similar campaign that grabbed viewer’s attentions by asking them to guess what was packed inside mysterious bags as tips and hints slowly unfolded, with all the right answers entering a prize draw.


Comment

Each of these themes – from virtual reality to chatbots, Snapchat campaigns and live video – point to the direction we’re seeing fashion brands and retailers moving for 2017. They join a raft of other key trends to know about in the tech space including frictionless payments, designing for the voice interface and thinking about blockchain.

What this also proves is that with digital media so embedded in customers’ lives, brands are particularly embracing chances to grab audience attention while they’re willing to join in; during a positive and festive time of the year. The holiday season, unlike its divisive younger sister Black Friday, is the perfect opportunity for them to convey a message of unity and fun, while experimenting with all that the newest tech has to offer. Look out for much more of this ahead too however.