The Best Brand Holiday Campaigns of 2016 on Instagram

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Rolling out special holiday activations on social is not mandatory, but doing so is a smart way for brands to reel in their audience and convert their members into customers during a period where people are already primed to purchase.

Coming up with a smart seasonal strategy is difficult, and the good ones make it look so easy. We noticed a few standouts this year and identified 5 brands that were making great holiday-themed marketing moves on Instagram.

Bonus points if you’re reading this by a fire somewhere. ☃️

Standing out on Instagram in the vast sea of brand marketers vying for the attention of a few 600 million users is tough, especially around the holidays when customers are indisputably going to be buying a lot of stuff. And since folks are now more than ever using the app to discover new products, all that shopping is highly likely going to stem from something they’ve seen on social.

Given that Instagram is a visual platform at its core, it makes for one heck of a brand vehicle — especially over the period leading up to holidays. Enticing users with lifestyle images of your products all year round is one thing, but doing so within a seasonal thematic context can give your company a serious advantage during the December shopping madness.

There are a few ways to go about this depending on your brand and content strategy, and whether or not you’ve retained influencers to help spread your seasonal message. If you hadn’t planned special Insta content for the month of December, then you’re seriously missing out on important marketing opportunities and should absolutely remedy to that next year.

That said, over the course of the last few weeks, we kept an eye out on Instagram to see what some of the world’s most successful companies were manufacturing to furnish their galleries with apropos posts. So much joy! So much glee! 🎄 With Christmas now right around the corner, it’s time to grab a hot cocoa (extra marshmallows, please!), kick back, and feast on this social media marketing buffet.

In no particular order, here were 5 of the best Holiday marketing campaigns on Instagram this month.

LL Bean

We figured out long ago that canines crush on the ‘Gram. You just can’t go wrong with cuddly pups and it appears that outdoorsy cult brand @llbean did their homework on the subject, too. Their Instagram holiday campaign revolved around man’s best friend with the hashtag #12daysofpuppies, a clear nod to 12 days of Christmas.

Real talk: puppies are straight up irresistible — what could possibly be more effective in spreading yuletide spirit than engaging people with PUPPIES?!? It even encouraged their followers to tag their dogs in LL Bean garb, thus spreading their brand message by way of organic impressions. In fact, this campaign crushed it so hard that their top 5 most engaged-around posts of all time all belong to the #12daysofpuppies campaign. HT to LL Bean. 🎩

Their average engagement rate is already high as it is at 3.36% (most brands hover around 1%), and the stats below represent their top posts of the week. Notice all the puppies slaying it hard, garnering engagement over 5%.

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The images below are LL Bean’s top 4 most engaged-around posts of all time. Their 5th one is also of a puppy. Puppies! Puppies everywhere!

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Starubucks is no stranger to propagating festive joy, no matter the holiday. But once those special red cups are released, it marks the official countdown to Christmas, no matter the controversy that plagues them year after year. While some people may not have been very happy about any recent changes made to the vessels, they still made for some great Instagram fodder, as they’re part of Starbucks’ brand strategy.

They even used social crossover to generate more buzz and excitement around the release of their holiday cups by redirecting their followers to their Insta Story:

Once the cups were unwrapped, it was time to capitalize on their cachet. Starbucks used the #RedCupContest hashtag to run multiple challenges throughout the season, which enabled them to generate heaps of earned content and millions of organic impressions. Users enthusiastically posted with their red cups to enter either Cozy Up to Red Cups, Red Cup Adventures, or Light Up Red Cups.

Smart, smart move on Starbucks’ part: not only did this accurately executed game plan allow them to create buzz around their seasonal proposition, but they also simultaneously got people excited about their brand all while engaging their community. Dare we say genius? We dare. ⚡️


New York City turns into a magical kingdom of festive bright lights at christmastime. Fifth Avenue is famous for it, but so is Macy’s, boasting a giant illuminated “believe” across the facade of its legendary Herald Square flagship. This word perfectly captures the spirit of the season, and the brand has leveraged it into a social holiday campaign to benefit the Make-A-Wish foundation.

They’ve been asking their audience to post about believing in Santa using the hashtag #SantaProject. A slew of celebrities have been commissioned to participate to amplify the promotion, from Ryan Seacrest, to Laurie Hernandez, to Miss Piggy, all helping to spread that Macy’s special holiday fairy dust it’s famous for. ✨


The @jcrew social team is a pro at content curation, there is no denying that. Their feed is always impeccably on-brand, composed of visuals all clearly derived from the J.Crew aesthetic — instantly recognizable. For the holiday season, they instated the more broad #jcrewholiday hashtag to attach all their seasonal content to, but they also played around with it by hatching a special segment titled “the 12 days of pairs,” a twist on introducing the perfect holiday pairings. “Because the best things come in twos,” obvi.

It was a really clever way for the brand to push products in a less direct, more lifestyle manner, all while being seasonally relevant. This is the time of year where people are already guaranteed to be making a lot of purchases, and it’s up to brands to lure audiences with interesting social stories to ensure conversions. J.Crew has done that perfectly, not only by having devised a very targeted strategy and encapsulating the holiday essence, but also by having leveraged their link in bio with clear CTAs to facilitate the customer journey.

The most popular post of their holiday pairs content was this cute plaid and topknots duo: totally, completely, unequivocally on point for J.Crew. It surpassed their average engagement rate almost 100%. NBD.


Giant e-com retailer Shopbop is known for its über trendy merch and fun editorials to showcase it. Positioned as a style authority, they rolled out an apropos holiday campaign designated to shed light on how to survive the holidays, starlet style. Using the hashtag #HolidayHowTo, their strategy was trifold: first, they tapped various It girls to star in a series of posts revealing their #HolidayHowTo. It was quite the roster with Lucy Hale, Kate Bosworth, budding singer Patricia Manfield and model Nina Agdad.

Second, they ran a #HolidayHowTo contest in tandem, asking people to post a photo of their festive moments for a chance to win a pretty big prize — aka a great incentive to get users to produce a ton of UGC while scattering their message and spreading their brand name across a wider audience. Third and ever so not least, they partnered with style influencers to help spread the word in the hopes of converting those audiences as well. Fashion babes like @ireneisgood, @ashleysky, and @camillecharriere posted for the retailer over the course of the last month.

This was an extremely well thought through, nicely engineered strategy on the brand’s part, hitting all the right notes. Bonus points for execution at such a high difficulty level… A lot can go wrong when maneuvering so many moving parts! 🏹

This type of holiday content obviously resonated with Shopbop’s audience, as the #HolidayHowTo campaign yielded their most-engaged around post of all time:

The big takeaway after observing these five successful holiday Instagram campaigns is that for a social marketing strategy to be well-received and effective, companies need to take both their audience and their brand image into account when conceiving one. Without a concise game plan, the best brands can do is play catch up. Getting in front of the opportunities is the only way to guarantee success.

The one thing left to do once the holidays have come and gone is to measure the performance of all that very merry content and start planning for the next big season accordingly. Because concrete numbers are intuition’s best friend, ya heard?

Have you observed any particularly successful brand campaigns? Let us know below!

Do you want to learn more about Instagram marketing strategies? You’re in the right place, hit us up STAT!

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