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Print and the holiday experience

December 14, 2018  By Alyssa Dalton

Starbucks’ 2016 holiday cup designs.

“Humans build culture – and, by extension, brands – primarily through telling stories. That’s how we make sense of the world and of ourselves: Storytelling. It’s innate. And since the dawn of capitalism, we’ve been telling stories to sell ourselves and our brands too,” said Peter Grossman of Quora in an August 2018 interview with Forbes.

One of the most recognizable holiday symbols is the Starbucks holiday cup, first introduced in 1997. For many, the anticipated return of the ‘red cup’ signals the start of winter. The holiday designs, over the past two decades, have ranged from whimsical brushstrokes in bold colours to vintage flair. This year the company welcomed the festive season with four retro designs inspired by its own coffee roasts and logo.  

“The emotional connection that our store partners [employees] have when they open that first box of the red cups and start using them that first day, and the emotional connection they see from their customers, that’s what we strive for,” Terry Davenport, then-Senior Vice President, Global Brand and Creative Studios at Starbucks, said in a 2013 interview with Dieline.


In past years, Starbucks has gone for a more interactive cup design. Last year the traditional red cups were white with colour-it-yourself doodles, while the 2016 cups featured 13 crowd-sourced designs submitted by customers through a worldwide Instagram contest.   

As a physical form of communication, print helps to cultivate rich customer interactions that forge authentic, emotional relationships. Companies often take advantage of the festive season to experiment with their brand strategy.  

For the 2015 holiday season, Oreo gave consumers the chance to get creative with the cookie wrappers through customizable illustrations, printed using an HP Indigo WS6600 digital press. Customers could choose to colour the package online or order a white-and-black pack for at-home colouring. The packaging also allowed customers to add a personal message.  

“Because well-crafted design elicits emotional responses, great brands use packaging design to stand out in the crowd and make powerful first impressions. The best packaging designs are not only emotionally appealing to customers; they also convey the unique meaning and value of the brand. Packaging design alone can facilitate an emotional connection and bonds customers to brands,” writes brand leadership expert Denise Lee Yohn in the Forbes’ article, Let design do the talking for brands.

Texas-based Karbach Brewing Co. takes beer fans down a nostalgic road with its seasonal brew, Yule shoot your eye out, inspired by the 1983 classic film, A Christmas Story. The can is decorated with the infamous ‘leg lamp’ – a lamp consisting of a stockinged woman’s leg wearing a high-heeled shoe, topped with a black-fringed bell shade – one of the most distinguishable movie props of all time.

Heineken released its limited-edition 1.5-litre bottle last month, mirroring the festive look of a champagne bottle — an unusual size and shape for the Dutch pale lager beer well-known for its signature green bottle. “Beer is an essential purchase for holiday celebrations. More than any other season, consumers want the brands they serve during the holidays to reflect the spirit of the season,” says Bjorn Trowery, Director, External Communications at Heineken USA.

Lee Yohn continues, “Whether through product design, web design or retail design, great brands create extraordinary experiences – brand ‘worlds’ of sorts – that appeal to all the senses and use details and decor to help express their brand personalities.”

Breakfast sausage brand Jimmy Dean, from November 12 to December 23, is hosting a recipe gift exchange for free holiday swag. After sharing their favourite recipe that features a Jimmy Dean product, customers can choose from various gifts, such as sausage-scented gift wrap, a holiday apron or a glass sausage tree ornament, as a thank-you for their participation. The “smells like sausage, tastes like paper” gift wrap proved to be a hit and was out of stock several weeks into the promotion.

Last year Hemlock Printers released its own scented wrapping paper through Hemlock Holiday Wrap, a yearly staple in its project portfolio. With eight different compositions, the 2017 series was dedicated to the passing of founder Dick Kouwenhoven. One of the featured designs, the Hemlock Bake Sale sheet, recognizes the company’s annual fundraising bake sale and pictures a few of Kouwenhoven’s favourite baked delicacies. The sheet was printed with a UV CMYK ink sequence with a gingerbread spot-scented varnish.

“Every single encounter that people have with your brand will either enhance its value or diminish it. Creating a ‘brand world’ means carefully choosing and integrating every element,” Lee Yohn says.

This editorial was originally published in the December 2018 issue of PrintAction, now available online.

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