Marketing Lessons from the Greats

With the rush of the holidays and another year behind us, I think it’s good to stop and take a look for lessons that we can learn from the great marketing campaigns from the previous year.

At the top of the list for 2014 is a campaign by shipping giant, UPS. This marketing team absolutely nailed their holiday Cause Marketing campaign, “Wishes Delivered.” If you happened to miss the “Driver for a Day” video – which now has more than 3 million views – you’ve simply got to see it – but have the Kleenex handy.


As of this writing, the #WishesDelivered hashtag has:

  • Caused more than 40,000 social media mentions.
  • More than 80 public relations and media stories published.
  • Generated more than 200 million views from the combined videos of the campaign.

As professional marketers, I think that there are several lessons that we can learn from this campaign. Some may seem basic – but it’s this basic approach that makes this particular campaign work so well.

Lesson 1: Tell a story that people can relate to.

Let’s face it. Around the holiday season, we’re all suckers for sappy holiday movies. Somewhere in our minds, every time we hear a bell ring, we picture “Clarence” getting his wings.

UPS knew that the holidays were a perfect time to do a heartwarming story, but they used just the right amount of the good stuff to make it work. The UPS team must have received all kinds of stories – with some being about truly heartbreaking situations.

The team chose a story that could really resonate with just about everyone. Who can’t relate to the idea of our biggest wish coming true and getting to spend a day doing something that we love with someone who we admire? Additionally, using a youngster like Carson reminds all of us of the wonder and expectation that the Christmas holiday holds. We know just how he feels when his eyes fall on that little UPS truck that’s just his size.

Lesson 2:
Your marketing should almost never be about you.

This wasn’t some half-baked, “look at me,” advertisement. This was a real story, with an incredibly cute character stealing our hearts from the very start.

Obviously, it’s a story about UPS – but the piece is so well done it leaves you with the distinct impression that UPS genuinely cares about their customers – even if they’re 4 years old.

That impression is further reinforced with the notable absence of any kind of “call to action.” This piece was clearly designed to make people think about the human side of shipping. The C-Suite didn’t get involved and mandate that the advertising had to raise sales, increase profits or improve the number of packages shipped. Because of this, the team was able to focus on telling the story – not shoehorning the story into a cheaper narrative about increasing sales. At the end of the day, I’m guessing that UPS did see a rise in sales and in packages shipped. But the primary motivator for this campaign was to let the audience get to know the brand a bit more.

Lesson 3: Get your audience engaged.

The idea for each one of the stories in the #WishesDelivered campaign started out as an idea from their audience. UPS went to their audience and asked them to Tweet their idea for a holiday wish and to use the hashtag, #WishesDelivered. For each wish tweeted, UPS made a $1 donation to one of their charity partners.

The key here was to get their audience engaged. Effectively, UPS jumped on a box and said, “We’ve got a great idea, and we want your help to make this happen.”

It was exactly the right tone for the brand, and an excellent case study in open, authentic and engaging ways to gather an audience around you and get them involved.

Lesson 4: Use the right channel.

You can probably imagine how this would have worked if they used print. Or blogged about it. The same story, just a different channel. It would not have been nearly as effective as a video.

The team chose exactly the right medium to tell this story. It may sound a little basic, but choosing the right channel to tell your story is a critical strategic choice. Not only did UPS hit the right channel, they put just the right amount of production value on this piece to capture our attention and keep us engaged all the way through.

Lesson 5: Don’t just “set it and forget it.”

UPS engaged their existing audience early by soliciting ideas for wishes they should fulfill. UPS first aired the ad on television, and made sure that it was immediately “findable” on YouTube.

The team knew that users would look for the video and want to share it – and they were ready to support that sharing. Throughout the campaign, the team at UPS did a great job of engaging users and continuing the conversation across all of their social media channels.

Lesson 6: Do something good, just because.
But leverage it, if you can.

Earlier, I mentioned how UPS promised to donate $1 for every wish idea that came in. In my opinion, this is hands-down a brilliant move on the part of the shipping giant.

UPS partnered with some well known charitable partners: Boys and Girls Club, The Salvation Army, and Toys for Tots.

I believe this was a strategic move, as each of these charities has a large audience that clearly cares about each of the charities. So, when the call went out to send ideas for wishes, each of these charity’s audiences jumped in – and right into the conversation with UPS. By choosing these partners, UPS created the advantage of leveraging massive audiences to get them immediately talking about what UPS was doing. And about wishes that just might come true. In doing so, UPS created their own massive audience that cared about the outcome of this campaign.

The Recap.

According to GoGulf, 84% of those who actively share on social media say they do so because they see it as a way to support causes or issues they care about.

This surge we’re seeing in “feel good” marketing isn’t new. We live in a world where sometimes, bad people do bad things. The 24-hour news cycle magnifies these bad things. As a society, I think that we’re all just looking for a little good news, and when we find it – even if it includes a subtle brand message – we grab it (and perhaps a box of Kleenex) and share it as far and wide as we can.

UPS deserves big kudos for this campaign. For getting it so right and generating awareness for an otherwise bland and boring product. Their team deserves a pat on the back for pulling together an integrated, cause marketing campaign that put smiles on faces all over the globe.

The big question is – what are you going to do to change your marketing ways in 2015?

Christian Costa

About the author: Christian Costa is an Account Executive with Grid and a member of the FLCC Business Department Adjunct Faculty. Christian also hosts small business marketing podcast, Sales & Marketing Nation.

Christian helps businesses of all sizes use the marketing resources they have to build their brand, grow an audience and deliver helpful, useful content to that audience, while focusing on growing sales.


This article originally appeared on Christian’s personal blog, and has been adapted by the author and used with permission here.