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The Magic of Holiday Magic

“You’ve noticed what’s going on with Macy’s story?” Sara asked me. You remember Sara. We work together. She does jujitsu. “How they forgot to put the magic of Holiday Magic in their magic this holiday?”

“Hmmmm,” I said, trying to sound like I knew what she was talking about.

“I mean, you’ve seen their new Christmas commercials. They’re funny and engaging, but…where’s the Macy’s magic?” Then she showed me a commercial with a husband feeling nervous about his wife opening her Christmas gift, and another one with a kid worrying about the gift he’s gotten for his uncle.

“They left out the magic,” I agreed.

“Exactly!” she said. “I mean, look at this one from 2010 about all the behind the scenes magic involved in fetching a pair of shoes. They’ve been putting magic at the center of their taglines and their identity for at least fifteen years now, even when it’s not Christmas.”

“That’s a lot of magic,” I nodded.

“It’s just weird for them to leave it out,” she said, “because generally speaking, tons of brands start telling stories about Holiday Magic right around now, even though they have absolutely nothing to do with magic normally.”

“Like how lots of brands kind of put their own stories on hold to tell the generic let’s-all-pull-together story during COVID?” I asked.

“Yes. So many brands feel like they interrupt their own story to tell the Holiday-Magic story. They don’t even frame the holidays in the context of their own brand story. They just sort of substitute Holiday Magic in place of whatever their brand is normally about. But Macy’s has always had Christmas kind of in the bag because they were all about magic, so the Holiday-Magic story was part of their story.”

“In the bag,” I said. “Nice. But yeah, I guess if you haven’t articulated what your brand means—the thing it’s about above and beyond just making money—then it’s pretty easy to wander off your unique brand story and jump on the band wagon of a big, attractive theme.”

“Like Holiday Magic,” Sara offered.

“Like Holiday Magic,” I agreed. “Which muddies the audience’s perception of your brand’s actual story.”

“Or makes them think your brand doesn’t have an actual story,” Sara said. “And that the brand is just saying whatever the latest research suggests people want to hear at the moment.”

“So,” I asked, “do you think Macy’s uncovered some consumer insight that people worry that their loved ones won’t like the gifts they give?”

“Probably,” she sighed. “It’s a great insight. Everybody worries about that. The weird thing is that Macy’s could have easily framed that insight in terms of the ‘magic’ story they’ve been telling. I mean, it is magical when someone really enjoys what you give them, and that emotional note is right there in the diamond necklace commercial. They just didn’t tie it together—didn’t put the ‘magic’ bow on it so it would feel like another episode of the Macy’s show instead of a different show.”

“No bow,” I said. “Nice.”

“It’s like they just forgot to put the magic of Holiday Magic in their magic this holiday,” she said, shaking her head. “Oh well. Good thing Coke remembered.”

“Character gets to the heart of what good storytelling is all about. They’ve helped Wendy’s focus on what makes us unique, different and special and that’s helped us to get people’s attention, keep their interest and keep the business growing. We compete with much larger brands, but by being overt about how we want to attack those differences, we’ve been able to have a lot of tension and conflict in the story that we are telling. That allows us to keep the story fresh and to fuel it. The more we do that the more positive attention we get as a brand and the more the brand continues to grow, which, in turn, builds our confidence in our storytelling and keeps the courage level high.”

—Kurt  Kane, President U.S. & Chief Commercial Officer, Wendy’s Corporation

“I’ve been through Character’s story framework process four times in my career, and it has always added extraordinary value. It was a central piece of Walmart’s rebranding effort in 2006, as we sought a new articulation of our brand narrative and our purpose. It’s an equally powerful tool for us now, as Walmart defines its place in a rapidly transforming retail environment. And we are currently using it to do the same for Sam’s Club.”

—Tony Rogers, Chief Marketing Officer, Walmart

“Character’s approach to brand building is unlike any other in the business. Jim and his team use the timeless truths of human storytelling to unlock story potential and connect deeply with brand audiences. I’ve worked with Character throughout my career, and my experience with Tabasco was as fascinating, inspiring, and productive as ever. 

Character worked with our team not only to help us re-examine and re-articulate the elemental truths of our iconic global brand but also to develop and apply practical tools that make the brand story framework user-friendly for our entire organization. 

I whole-heartedly recommend Character to any brand marketer who is looking to make intuitive and durable connections with their consumer.”

Lee Susen, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Tabasco / McIlhenny Company