Case Study: Macy??s ?? Yes Virginia

hollerlab —  August 28, 2012 — Leave a comment

Macy’s has emerged as one of the few retail businesses managing to successfully weather the difficult trading conditions in the US. They have primarily done this by creating unique in store experiences, developing deeper relationships with their customers, harnessing omni-retail solutions and creating campaigns and touch points that bring consumers closer to the Macy’s brand across a multitude of channels.  After making a loss in 2008, the company is back in the black and continues to go from strength to strength.


The interesting thing about this turn around is that it coincides with when the business started truly innovating in the digital space. They have been generating some truly exciting advertising and marketing which also coincides with this sea change (both traditional and digital). This was especially the case around their holiday/Christmas activations. One of their most successful marketing machines to date is being driven by an 8-Year-old Girl called Virginia who inspired their Believe campaign.

The Believe campaign tells a fantastic story about the effectiveness of creativity in boosting a brand and an entire business. It also demonstrates the importance of storytelling and innovation to create value for consumers throughout your communications.  In short, ‘Yes Virginia’ has become a branded Macy’s franchise. Virginia O’Hanlon was an 8-year-old girl, who in 1897 wrote to the Sun in New York. Asking the editor if there was a Santa Claus. The editor replied via a response piece in the paper stating unequivocally that there was indeed, a Santa Claus. The story has become somewhat folklore around Christmas in the US.


You can read the original editorial here:

In 2008, Macy’s teamed up with the Make a Wish Foundation to create the Believe campaign which was inspired by Virginia’s Story of hope and belief in Christmas Spirit. They started to install red mailboxes in all Macy’s stores throughout the US. They ran a cross media campaign promoting ‘Believe’ and the story of Virginia. In its purest form it was a campaign asking kids to write letters to Santa and come in store to post them. For every letter posted Macy’s committed to donating $1 USD to the make a wish foundation (up to $1mil). Kids were also able to go onto a dedicated website to learn more about Virginia and via a digital platform create a letter, which they could either send digitally or go in store to post. Macy’s received 1.1mil letters during the 2008 campaign marking it a phenomenal success.

They then in 2009 approached CBS and pitched a short animated film documenting the story of Virginia.  Endeavoring to create a franchise that the Macy’s business could not only own but also drive interest in their Believe campaign and get footfall around a critical time for the store.

The 30-minute film aired primetime on CBS and had 3.7 mil viewers. They generated 1.8bil media impressions and continued to ask people to believe and express that belief through sending letters via red post boxes in store.

Here is the case study:

In 2010 they truly digitized the campaign. With a website acting as a hub to engage and for people to truly get involved with the Believe campaign. Being able to share their belief and associationwith Macy’s through a multitude of media and truly personalize their connection with the franchise. People could also go in store and by using a Macy’s app and augmented reality have their picture taken with the animated characters from the film. With the film airing again on CBS on the same date as last year. They even published a book and continued to build on the strengths of previous activations.


Macy’s Augmented Reality Activation:

Some media coverage:

Believe Website and Letter Creator:  

This continued through the holiday season in 2011 and now in 2012 they have geared up to create a push behind the latest incarnation of the campaign. They have done this by writing a Musical based on the Animated short story. The truly inspirational part of this activation is they are encouraging school drama departments throughout the US to stage the production as their holiday show. Appropriating the ‘Yes Virginia’ story to spread holiday cheer. They are providing users support in the form of scripts, scores, recorded songs, costume design templates and set design instructions. They are also giving away $100, 000 worth of grants to assist Schools to be able to stage the show. There are video tips from the likes of Martha Stewart and other stage professionals. They have even enacted and filmed the production in full to give teachers and students alike a demonstration of what a successful production would look like.


Macy’s Believe o Magic, the Musical:

The reason that we like this campaign so much is not only have Macy’s created intellectual property that will form an incredibly emotional connection for kids and parents alike. But they have transformed it year in year out. They are not just running the same idea over and over again. It has developed and changed from its original inception. Adapting the idea of Believe into a variety of touch points and culturally relevant connections. More importantly, at the heart of it they are creating a sense of hope and theatre around the franchise to drive people in store. It demonstrates how a big idea can live on and on, in many incarnations and can be strengthened through digital to drive effectiveness, connections, peronalisation and reach.

On top of all of this, they are also driving traffic not only in store during the holiday season but also leveraging the explosive growth the business is experiencing in Mobile and Digital by engaging and interacting with consumers across these paltforms.

A truly amazing campaign and a franchise I am sure will continue to pay dividends now and into the future as the kids enamored with Virginia as a child will continue the tradition with their families.


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