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Truly remarkable campaigns aim to inspire. The beauty of content marketing lies in capturing the quintessential nature of humankind. There is no one-size-fits all solution to empathetic marketing. It is dynamic, it is universal and it is powerful. We’re talking about the power of empathy, of togetherness, of unity and the marketing campaigns that beautifully encompass this during the holiday season. Empathy invites connection, incites a movement and inspires change. These brands are reminding us to believe, to take action, to accept and to cherish what it is that makes us human.

Brands that make us laugh, cry and feel something – that connect with and give to others – these are the brands that truly understand empathy and strengthen our digital tribes. Generating nearly $700 billion in 2016, the winter holidays are by far the number one consumer holiday season. These are the brands that stood out, strayed from transactional language, and reminded us what the holiday season is really about. To the brands who inspired us to treasure what truly matters during this time of year – our hats off to you. Here are the companies that lead by example:


Three years ago, REI launched the “#Optoutside” initiative. In a letter penned to REI’s customers, the CEO wrote that he was putting people ahead of profits by closing the doors on the biggest global retail calendar day of the year. With a goal of reconnecting people over the holidays, the hashtag sparked a national movement and discussion about the great outdoors. In turn, national and state parks joined the movement and experienced record visits. In an effort to bring together families and friends, REI closed the doors to all of their retail locations, headquarters and distribution centers on Black Friday. Though seemingly risky, the campaign paid off in a major way – the #optoutside campaign generated a 23% uptick in digital revenue. 

The hashtag encouraged everyone (employees and customers alike) to spend time with loved ones, and share their experiences while on their outdoor adventures. This strengthened their brand identity and audience connection, and reinforced their core values. Last year, the hashtag was shared by 1.4 million people. REI’s Chief Creative Officer said, ““The idea is that we’re best when we’re together, and we can be together better when we’re outside.” For REI, it is all about practicing what they preach. They partnered with a geo-mapping service for a mobile experience to help everyone find spots nearby to enjoy the great outdoors. Standing tall as a nine-time award-winning campaign, REI started a movement with a simple hashtag that spread like wildfire.


Last winter, Airbnb created a marketing campaign with a resounding impact. Making home all around the globe, the #weaccept campaign had a simple message, “The world is more beautiful the more you accept.” The movement arose out of a need for a safe place to call home, all over the world.

The founders of Airbnb announced that they would be contributing $4 million during the next four years to the International Rescue Committee, supporting the critical needs of displaced populations around the world. Beginning by providing housing for displaced victims of 54 different global disasters around the world. The long-term goal is for free short-term housing over the next five years to 100,000 people including refugees, disaster survivors and relief workers with the big picture on aiding displaced people. Airbnb has partnered with organizations to aid in refugee help, and is working with, “our community of hosts to find not just a place to stay, but also a place to feel connected, respected and a part of a community again.” Alongside the campaign, CEO Brian Chesky wrote this, “No matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, you deserve to belong.” The campaign tells us that acceptance starts with all of us.

Every Letter Counts

One decade ago, Macy’s began their Believe campaign. Donating one dollar for every letter or email sent to Santa, the campaign has raised over $100 million for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Believe campaign was inspired by the story of eight year old Virginia O’Hanlon in 1897. Virginia wrote a letter to the New York Sun, “Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” The editor replied, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist.” December 8th is National Believe Day, and with SantaMail mailboxes throughout Macy’s stores, and a blank letter stamped for the North Pole on the believe website, there is no limit to the pure magic this campaign can bring.


Six years ago, a global giving movement was started by the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations in response to holiday consumerism. Giving Tuesday is the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, and utilizes hashtag activism to celebrate and support philanthropies and events throughout the year. By harnessing the power of social media and the generosity of the holiday spirit, people from around the world are encouraged to give back to their communities and incite change.

The involvement of nonprofits, organizations, businesses and corporations has earned Giving Tuesday an International presence – encouraging and amplifying small acts of kindness. With a tremendous amount of nonprofits and organizations for groups or individuals to donate their time or money to, there are endless resources for giving back to your community. Nonprofit organizations that Bowen partners with are sure to participate in Giving Tuesday, such as our client FREE. Giving Tuesday is a national day of highlighting worthy causes and the countless ways of giving back.

Power of Words

The human-inspired Words With Friends advertisement excludes no audience. Depicting the power of words and taking viewers on a journey of emotions, the ad is unspeakably moving. Just in time for the holiday season, this tear-jerking, ear-to-ear smiling campaign reminds us that a single word can mark a milestone or change your life forever. Words convey life’s meaning, and for all of life’s greatest moments, words are there. “Words are powerful,” begins the commercial. “Some can hurt. Others bring sheer joy.” This advertisement reminds us that words can bring us together, or tear us apart – how we choose to use them is entirely up to us.

With 250 million downloads since its launch and the capabilities to connect old friends and meet new ones along the way, one thing is for sure, Words With Friends has proven to be so much more than a modern-day Scrabble.

The Creative Director behind the Heat agency said, “Elevating such a well-known game to stand for something greater was a rare opportunity.” She continued, “And it was all inspired by the people who play the game. We heard countless stories. Some used the game to make friends, start years-long rivalries, keep in touch with family, several even proposed marriage. From the epic power one word can have in changing someone’s life to the story of two people connecting over a funny word, we’re highlight something we’ve known all along – words, whether they’re spoken, written or played in little yellow tiles, are central to creating lasting connections with others.”

“In the end, words bring us together”, says the voiceover. “So when the time comes…use your words.”


Extra gum was experiencing a steady decline in sales over a two year period, until an ah-hah moment occurred that launched their brand to new heights. Extra took a simple concept and ran with it. Their advertisement featured a two-minute video depicting what began as a chance high-school encounter, to a wedding proposal between the two. With “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” playing throughout, the commercial shows us how something as small as a the offer of a stick of gum can lead to something so life changing. This ad became a viral hit and was viewed more than 40 million times within its first 48 hours.

The reception was so tremendous, that Extra implored consumers to submit their photos on social media using the hashtag #GiveExtraGetExtra, to have them transformed into drawings similar to those in the video. With this, chosen drawings were displayed on a dedicated website, and even printed on individual Extra gum wrappers. In a follow-up video that made its debut on Valentine’s day, a real couple’s love story was documented. Extra received a Gold Pro Award for Best Brand Awareness Campaign in 2016, who published that, “Households that had been exposed to the campaign were 30% more likely to buy Extra gum than those that hadn’t.”

The Marketing Society shared content published by Extra on building powerful brands and brand revitalization. “To uncover big universal truths that would resonate with the masses, we dug into a new research study that shed light on consumers’ need states relating to gum. We identified a motivation area of “connections,” that suggested one of the major benefits of gum was for the social aspect of sharing it with others. While this was true of all users in the category to an extent, some consumers found this benefit more motivating than others. These people could be young or old, introverted or extroverted, but they are especially caring and thoughtful. To them, nothing is better than the joy that comes from meaningful human connections and real shared experiences.”

Despite its seasonal message, impactful empathetic content is evergreen. When reaching audiences, it is vital to understand who comprises them. The world is filled with individuals who want to make the world a greater place. Sometimes, all we need is an empathy-driven reminder that we are not alone, and that we are part of something greater to ignite meaningful change.

Because in the end, love trumps hate.

Adobo Magazine. “‘#OptOutside’ by Venebles, Bell & Partners San Francisco for REI. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 23 June 2016. Web. 5 December 2017.
Airbnb. “We Accept.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 9 February 2017. Web. 4 December 2017.
Extragum. “Extra Gum: The Story of Sarah and Juan” Online video Clip. YouTube. YouTube, 7 October 2015. 4 December 2017.
ZyngaNetwork. “Words With Friends 2: The Power of Words! Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube, 8 November 2017. Web. 4 December 2017.

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