Who won the battle of the holiday ads - Amazon vs Starbucks?


It's the holidays and that means time for ad campaigns full of snow, jingling bells, and good cheer. Seasonality is something every advertiser taps into and for good reason. It makes their brand relevant to what's happening now.

Even brands like Corona beer, whose entire positioning is wrapped up in a vision of warm Mexican beaches leverage holidays imagery.

So it's not terribly surprising that two multi-billion dollar companies like Starbucks and Amazon have released seasonal campaigns recently. Both seeking to tap into that seasonal sentiment and align themselves with holiday cheer. To look at the two side-by-side is to study how, and how not to approach seasonal advertising.

Amazon - Can you feel it?

Amazon's history in television advertising is not exactly long. Still, they are known for being relentless about their customer focus and their brand. When the spot above first came out, I was struck by how dark it was. Not just from a light perspective but colors and tone. In fact, if you listen with the sound turned off, you'll notice it doesn't exactly scream holidays. Now watch the version writer/director Omar Najam created by replacing the feel-good track with a score from Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Yikes! Why was it so easy to tip this commercial from holiday ad to dystopian movie trailer? Well, several reasons really. Obviously, there’s the lighting, muted colors, and settings. But more importantly, despite Amazon’s relentless focus on the customer, this ad makes the packages the stars. As a result, what we are reacting to is seeing people reacting to boxes singing, not to the joy that comes into peoples’ lives as a result of those boxes being delivered. Amazon’s theme could very well be summed up as, “We deliver boxes to people”


Now, let’s look at one of several commercials that Starbucks has launched this year. All of the commercials in the campaign take a similar approach.

Notice the light coming from outside, notice all the connections being made as the man weaves his way through the train station. Every scene is perfectly lit. And while it’s not super bright, all of the colors are warm and noticeable. Ultimately the man meets up with his significant other. Giving her the Caramel Brûlée Latte and a kiss making the last connection. Starbucks’ theme appears to be “Starbucks connects you to the ones you love.” A far different approach that led to a far different result.

The Takeaway

To strike a chord during the holidays, advertisers need to get the core idea down first. While Amazon knows that their package can bring joy, their efforts have fallen flat as they focused on themselves rather than what they provide to customers. Starbucks, on the other hand, knows that it can’t just be about the coffee, it has to be about connections. Knowing that makes all the difference so they can tap into the holiday feelings in an appropriate manner for their brand.

Side note: Amazon is facing a bit of a backlash with their HQ2 efforts, labor issues, and potential regulation from governments but I left that out as I just wanted to talk about the ad itself. That said, the situation they are in makes the tone of this ad even more odd.

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