Lessons learnt in rebranding Santa (hypothetically)

Early in 2017, Santa was in trouble. His gift-delivery business was being disrupted by Amazon and online shopping. Core ‘believer’ markets were steadily shrinking and key brand metrics of wry smiles and childlike wonder were also trending down. He needed help.

So representatives from NPHQ (holding company for Santa Inc and Santa Delivery) asked indie-agency Hunch for their take on the business to help Santa out. Here’s their story.

STEP 1: Uncovering Why.

As a global corporation with over three-hundred years in the business of Christmas, the biggest challenge for NPHQ was peeling back the brand onion to reveal their core reason for being. Over the years they had expanded into licensing, entertainment and foil covered chocolate treats that look appealing and taste terrible. They’d split their focus. Compound that with an over-focus in conversion of non-believers and a frenzy over the threat of ‘fake news’ and everyone was working around the clock in a hundred different directions.

It’s easy to dig out problems, but solutions are harder. So we went straight to the top and facilitated the world’s biggest Elf-away day on Richard Branson’s Necker Island. Santa led the team in a programme of disruptive workshops that were live-streamed on TED by Simon Sinek. Together we were able to whittle down the true purpose of NPHQ: Magic.

STEP 2: Re-thinking What.

Through an intensive research and re-think programme of co-creation in agile scrums, we re-visioned all workstreams through the lens of Magic. It was ruthless. Can we change the minds of our most fervent non-believers? No. Let’s not try. Can we out-spend Disney in the commercialisation of a fairy tales? No. Let’s not try. Can we stem the churn of 9-year-old boys cascading from the bottom of the funnel? Yes we we can. That’s a workstream.

With a focus on Magic and our key metrics of wry smiles and childlike wonder we developed a clear vision for our future. It was a massive change in mindset. We realised that we didn’t need everyone to ‘believe in Santa’. We just needed them to believe in the transformative power of perceived magic to deliver wry smiles and childlike wonder. This was captured in the simple mantra: Magic for Kids makes Magic for Grown-ups and Magic in the world.

STEP 3: Exploring Who.

Identifying our target market was the most productive and effective mind-shift of all. Having clearly identified our vision, we were able to refine our target market from ‘everyone in the world between the ages of 1 and 110’ to a more manageable ‘Grown-ups’. There was a contentious debate around shifting our focus from kids. But our insight team proved that parental influence was more powerful than Santa could ever be. This was hard for the guy in the red suit, but, to his credit, he got it. And that meant a shift from a production and distribution brand to an agile Christmas-influencing platform. And we shifted our focus from understanding and inspiring children to creating the tools, tips and inspiration that grown-ups need to share magic.

How? Where? and When?

After seven rounds of strategic input from the business, the board and the Easter Bunny, we began implementing our new strategy on 1 August. What followed was the biggest influencer marketing campaign in history. We engaged Cambridge-Analytica (in partnership with the Russian government) to run a global Facebook Switch campaign. Having landed our target as grown-ups, we used Cambridge voodoo to identify ‘non-believers’, ‘sometimes believers’ and ‘people too busy to believe anything right now’. We then served these targets an automated barrage of branded and unbranded content to highlight the value of Magic. We also partnered with studios in Hollywood to create movies like Wonder, we leveraged our deep relationship with Lego and we partnered globally with commercial brands like John Lewis and Farmers here in New Zealand.

With the marketing underway, we focused on our contractual obligation to distribute 2 billion gifts on 24 December 24. Always logistically tricky, this task was made increasingly tough by a growing customer base and a shrinking reindeer population. So rather than compete with the likes of Amazon and the Global Parent Delivery Network, we partnered with them instead. Problem solved.

Summing it all up. What did we learn?

Rebranding Santa is a huge job. And we’re not nearly finished yet. But early feedback already shows a significant spike in wry smiles and childlike wonder. So in the spirit of ‘how to’, what did we learn?

Don’t fight what you can’t win: accepting the supply-chain disruption and partnering with Amazon and the global parent delivery network, saved billions from our delivery budget.

Spend time refining the who: Shifting our focus from converting non-believing Tweens to empowering grown-up influencers increased our media efficiency ten-fold.

Always begin with why: The true goal of NPHQ has always been sharing the spirit of Christmas. By removing the noise of how and focusing on why, we found efficient new ways to spread that magic.

Because magic for kids makes magic for grown-ups and magic in the world – and that makes Christmas awesome.

Hunch is an indie ideas agency with a love of strategy, great creative and Christmas. 

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Michael Goldthorpe is Managing Partner at Hunch.

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