Courtesy of Glenn Waters

It’s November, which means for retail, the countdown to the holidays is now in full swing. Soon enough, we can expect to see red and green decorations down every aisle of the stores we frequent, Christmas carols playing in the background, and an influx of holiday promotions nudged, often shoved, our way.

Most brands ramp up their marketing efforts in one way or another when we start approaching this time of year, but then there are certain brands that take this to the next level. Every Christmas, we can expect these businesses to deliver when it comes to their seasonal marketing tactics. You could say these brands have mastered Pavlov’s classical conditioning technique—like dogs salivating at the sound of a bell, many of us sit waiting (with our theoretical tails wagging) for their holiday unveil as autumn comes to a close.

Let’s look at some of the most successful brand marketing tactics around the Christmas season, and what we can expect this year:

The Starbucks Red Holiday Cup

Early last week, I made my regular stop into Starbucks—and saw stacks of red, rather than the standard white, cups behind the counter. Indeed, on November 1, Starbucks kicked off their annual holiday red cup campaign. For many (including myself, I’ll admit unashamedly), the unveiling of the Starbucks red cup marks the unofficial beginning of the holiday season.

Courtesy of Starbucks

The Starbucks red cup has amassed somewhat of a cult following, with dedicated countdowns to its release each year. (Try Googling “Starbucks holiday cups” and the first result is Along with the red cup comes Starbucks’ seasonal drink release, including the Peppermint Mocha and Caramel Brulée Latte. The tradition dates back to 1997, when the Starbucks creative team decided to try to stir up excitement around the holiday season. And that they have done.

The John Lewis Christmas Ad

Most Americans may not be as familiar with this one, but hop across the pond and it’ll be a different story. Last week, John Lewis, a British department store, released its annual Christmas commercial—but to our British friends, this is oh-so-much more than just a commercial. Each John Lewis Christmas ad is touching and heartwarming—more emotionally evoking than almost any ad you’ll come across. It tells a story that will leave you both teary-eyed and smiling. But that’s just the start.

Every year, its launch marks a national event; the store holds an in-house screening of the ad for its employees followed by a red carpet premiere at its flagship store in London. Big bucks are dedicated to this campaign, with £1 million spent on this year’s production and an additional £6 million set aside for media. Following the launch of the ad, John Lewis unveils merchandise across their stores related to the story behind the ad. For this year’s commercial, which centers on a little boy and his penguin friend “Monty”, stores will be lined with penguin merchandise and displays. And as with Starbucks holiday cup, each fall also prompts a countdown to the release of the John Lewis Christmas commercial.

Sound over the top? Watch the ad and you might find your heart softening a little.

The Coca-Cola Holiday Commercial

Similar to John Lewis, Coca-Cola is renowned for releasing its holiday commercial. The beverage brand is famous for its ads featuring Coca-Cola trucks, polar bears, and Santa Claus. In fact, Coca-Cola is credited with developing the big, jolly, red-suited Santa as we know him. Before Coke began featuring Santa Claus in its ads, his appearance ranged from a tall gaunt man to a spooky-looking elf, wearing anything from a bishop’s robe to a Norse huntsman’s animal skin.

According to a UK survey, for 20% of the British population, the launch of the Coca-Cola holiday commercial symbolizes the beginning of Christmas. Surprisingly, this outranks all other items, including buying a Christmas tree, lights being put up in a city downtown, and even Christmas Eve. (And before you think it, the survey was not sponsored by Coca-Cola.)

Courtesy of Coca-Cola

I’ve only mentioned the tactics of three brands, but this list could go on. Many brands have very successfully marketed themselves around the Christmas season, to the point that we all, whether consciously or not, associate the Christmas season with their annual releases. These brands have effectively tapped into the psychology of and emotionally connected with their audiences, indeed so effectively that many consumers do not perceive their efforts as brand promotion. Rather, consumers actively seek out their annual releases come Christmas time—a coveted position for any businessIn turn, these brands have become what I like to think of as the modern-day brand ambassadors of Christmas. Look out Santa—you’ve got a whole new set of elves spreading festive cheer.