10 of the Best Ever Christmas PR Stunts
By Jane Ainsworth on 17th December 2019
‘Tis the season to be jolly – unless you work in PR when ‘tis the season to be creative, so great is the need to cut through the festive noise.
As a result, December traditionally sees not just tinsel and trees, but some of the best PR work of the calendar year. It’s yet another reason why we love the festive season so much here at WPR.
With that in mind, below are some of the most sublime seasonal stunts we’ve seen, or delivered ourselves, over the years.
Pull up a chair, pour yourself a hot toddy and mull them over while munching on a mince pie. After all, nothing beats a little Christmas creativity.
1. West Jet Christmas Miracle
There is no doubting that WestJet, a Canadian airline, won Christmas 2013 with its festive miracle stunt.
In case you missed it (if so, where were you?!), the team gave passengers on one lucky flight the chance to talk to Santa Claus (dressed, strangely, in blue). After scanning their boarding pass, people told Santa what they wanted for Christmas then moved on, probably thinking little more of it.
But the fantastic people at WestJet sent its employees out while the flight was in the air, bought the gifts and surprised the passengers at the baggage claims with the wrapped presents. We’re not talking Terry’s Chocolate Oranges here either; people received TVs and tablets. You had to feel sorry for the man who asked for underwear!
This was an emotive, viral sensation, amassing nearly 49 million views on YouTube.
2. Glitter Gravy
In 2017, we were tasked with delivering a consumer PR campaign which would deliver widespread media coverage for Hungry Horse’s Christmas menu.
Needing a media hook, we devised the UK’s first-ever ‘glitter gravy’, giving guests the chance to add a unique touch of sparkle to their Hungry Horse festive fayre.
Our glorious glitter gravy went truly viral, featuring on 20 national/viral news sites, with 506,000 people engaging with the earned social coverage, 207,000 people sharing the story on their own social feeds and a staggering 45 million people watching our video through the media coverage alone.
So big was the buzz around glitter gravy, it was also picked up by broadcast media around the world including NBC News and The Today Show in the US, SBS in Australia and Loose Women in the UK. It also happened to win us eight awards too.
3. It’s a Wrap
In the run-up to Christmas 2018, the Greggs PR team delivered an in-store gift-wrapping service, where shoppers could have their presents wrapped in (you guessed it) Greggs-themed festive paper – for free. A bespoke range of Greggs-branded stocking fillers was also available.
The team is cagey about actual figures but says it drove footfall, sales and brand love, which we can well believe.
4. Mirror, Mirror
Greggs outdid itself in 2018, not only launching a wrapping service and range of stocking fillers, but also flipping around one of its shop logos to capitalise on the popularity of Fenwick’s famous Christmas window display.
At first, the ordering seemed perplexing to passers-by, but the move ensured the reflection of Greggs’ orange, blue and white marque took pride of place in the department store’s glittering window scene. Genius.
5. A Castle on eBay
This is an old one, but an unforgettable one.
In 2009, we were tasked with coming up with a Christmas campaign that would reinforce Warwick Castle’s brand proposition of “Britain’s ultimate castle”.
So, we persuaded our client to let us host Britain’s ultimate Christmas, auctioning (on eBay) exclusive access to Warwick Castle on the one day it is closed to the public – 25 December. For £25,000, you could have everything from stuffing in the state room to a dungeon for the mother-in-law.
The reaction was beyond our wildest dreams, with coverage from all corners of the globe – America, Canada, India, Australia and New Zealand, to name but a few. According to Clare Balding, no less, everyone at the BBC was talking about it too.
Thousands of people watched the auction on eBay and 22% more people were following the castle on social media at the end of December than were at the start of the month. We also drove a 30% increase in traffic to Warwick Castle’s website, won a long list of awards and helped to deliver the castle’s most profitable Christmas ever.
6. Harrods Helicopter
Going back further still, in 2006 luxury department store Harrods unveiled its ‘Anything Is Possible’ campaign, which showed exactly how far it will go to please customers.
To launch the initiative, the department store’s PR team decided to make one customer’s December dreams come true. This came in the form of a lucky shopper who wrote to the store saying his Christmas wish was to take his partner on the trip of a lifetime.
So, Harrods gifted him a helicopter (as you do). But they didn’t stop there. No, they wrapped it in 600 metres of wrapping paper, giving them the perfect photo opportunity and the ideal opening to create cut-through during this crucial trading period.
7. Diamond-a-Day Advent Calendar
This year, longstanding WPR client Beaverbrooks celebrated its 100-year anniversary and challenged us to devise a seasonal PR stunt that would convey this all-important business message, drive widespread media coverage and deliver backlinks.
Therefore, we proposed launching the UK’s first diamond-a-day Advent calendar, retailing at £100,000.
The results have been staggering. Not only did This Morning open a show with our festive offering, but Holly Willoughby also fawned over the contents. More than 10,000 people commented on the show’s Facebook post too.
Days after starring on This Morning, the calendar was featured on Good Morning Britain, before being biked over to Channel 5 for Jeremy Vine’s show. Further coverage included OK!, Grazia, The Independent, Daily Star and Evening Standard. A sparkling result!
8. Gift of Home
Airlines know how to do Christmas PR stunts, they really do. As well as the WestJet Christmas Miracle, we love Air Canada’s Gift of Home campaign, which saw the airline offer gifts and flowers to families welcoming relatives and friends home for Christmas. It also handed out free tickets to some travellers to help them return home for the festive season – a real tear-jerker.
In 2018, Iceland arguably won the battle for PR headlines when it screened its “Rang-tan” advert online. According to Iceland, it had planned to air a version of Greenpeace’s animation, “Rang-tan”, but was forced to change course after Clearcast said it would be in breach of the BCAP Code on political advertising.
So, the retailer tweeted about its problems with airing the ad on TV – which focuses on the environmental impact of palm oil use in foods and its threat to orangutan habitats.
Rang-tan went on to record more than six million views on YouTube alone, with over 30 million aggregated views across social media, thanks to the support of celebrities such as James Corden, Julia Bradbury and Ralf Little.
As a result, a Change.org petition to encourage the ad to be shown on television topped more than 600,000 signatures.
Rang-tan wasn’t the only Iceland PR stunt that year. Following research that found four in five parents wished they had more time to enjoy the run-up to Christmas, the supermarket installed 250 square metres of synthetic ice into one London store, allowing customers to glide through the aisles as they picked up their shopping.
10. And Finally…
Last year we were lucky enough to help a visionary volunteer, Kristina Salceanu, launch a first-of-its-kind charitable Advent calendar, which donated to a different charity each day of the festive countdown.
Backed by celebrity endorsers including Sir Richard Branson and Virginia McKenna OBE, the Advent calendar was stocked in all John Lewis & Partners shops throughout the UK.
Coverage for this amazing Advent calendar included Mail Online, The Telegraph, London Evening Standard, Harper’s Bazaar, Grazia, Country Living, House Beautiful and Top Santé alongside a long list of regional radio stations such as BBC Radio Cornwall, Lincolnshire, Hereford and Worcester, Nottingham, Shropshire and Somerset, to name but a few.
National broadcast coverage included BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 5 Live. In fact, while Kristina was on air with Radio 2, 92 calendars sold in six minutes – and a further 500 that day, resulting in £14,000 raised for charity in 24 hours.
All told, Advent calendar sales raised £98,500 and Kristina received a call from Downing Street to say she would be receiving an award from the prime minister for voluntary service. We couldn’t be happier for her.
The author: Jane Ainsworth is managing director of WPR. She has over 20 years’ experience in developing and delivering communications strategies for consumer brands including Dunelm, Tesco, Mothercare, Greene King, John Lewis, Bullring, Beaverbrooks and Westfield.