7 Holiday Activations That Sleighed


The holidays throughout December mean many different things to a wide variety of people. However, one thing that they tend to mean to all people is buying things.

Many retailers and outlets see the end of the year as their make or break sales opportunities. However, the generally fierce competition becomes even more intense as the end of the year approaches. This is why so many brands sleighed it with their holiday experiential activations this year.

Santa’s Flight Academy

In December, malls across the country provided an opportunity for children to sit in Santa’s lap, ask for a treasured gift, and have their picture taken. However, 12 shopping centers throughout the United States went a step further by providing Santa’s Flight Academy.

Santa’s Flight Academy was an immersive activation where children not only had the opportunity to meet Santa, but also help prepare his sleigh for the big day. Children began by entering a giant representation of the North Pole, where helpers presented them with their official flight crew badge. This electronically tagged device ensured the children were recognized by name as they made their way through the activation.

Santa’s helpers then assisted the children through the activation fitting them for a virtual flight suit, inspecting and powering Santa’s sleigh before takeoff, and helping the elves get some presents ready for delivery.

Once Santa’s ride was ready, the children stepped inside a 22-foot-tall representation of the sleigh to par-tay at a snowfall dance party before meeting the big man himself, Santa Claus, who thanked them for all their help. In fact, Santa was so pleased that he gave each child a special gift, so they will always remember how they helped Santa take off.

For children with sensory sensitivities, a toned-down version of the activation was available before mall hours. There were also opportunities for four-legged members of the family to get their picture taken with Santa.

Pier 1 Imports’ Pop-Up Experience

Photo Credit: Pier 1

Photo Credit: Pier 1

This year, Pier 1 Imports did something different with their holiday catalog by making a significant portion of it into a pop-up book. The retailer took that idea a step further by transferring their pop-up catalog into an immersive experience.

The Pier 1 Pop-Up Storybook in Manhattan allowed attendees to walk through several life-sized recreations of its catalog. The themed areas included Frosted Noel (candles, ornaments, etc.), Champagne Shimmer (sparkly decorations), Plaid Tidings (obvious), and Home Sweet Holiday (table settings, centerpieces, etc.).

The brand also teamed with Mariah Carey to feature her Christmas music throughout the activation. The singer also made an appearance at the opening of the event. There was even a nod to her hit single, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” within the activation.

Jaguar’s Light Parades

Jaguar celebrated the holidays with a series of festive Light Parades in Los Angeles and New York. Eighteen I‑PACE cars lined up to travel the two city’s streets throughout December. I‑PACE is the brand’s all-electric vehicles manufactured using recycled aluminum and non-leather interior materials.

The autos were festively decorated in wrapping paper designs and featured cheerful LED lights. Only sustainable materials were used to wrap the vehicles, an idea that came from one half of HGTV’s “Property Brothers,” Jonathan Scott. The idea was to emphasize the I-PACE’s sustainable features and encourage consumers to be more environmentally conscious.

Scott was in L.A. for the first Light Parade that took place at the ROW DTLA plaza. At the event, he shared some sustainable holiday hacks, such as shopping locally for gifts and supplies, framing leftover wrapping paper, and making a Christmas tree out of stacked books. Attendees could all see Scott’s efforts showcased at a Santa’s Workshop-themed pop-up.

Target’s Wonderland

Photo Credit: Target

Photo Credit: Target

Target opened its Wonderland pop-up in Manhattan’s Meatpacking neighborhood. The activation featured 10 areas, all created using merchandise that’s immediately available at the brand’s locations.

There was a jumbo Etch-a-Sketch that put the attendees’ artistic abilities to the test. Another room featured a Christmas tree made from 320 green foam Incredible Hulk hands. Attendees could also step inside a larger-than-life snow globe where snowflakes whirled around their heads. Another area had Target’s mascot, Bullseye the dog, made entirely out of LEGOs. There was also a hallway of lightsabers where every footstep made those iconic humming and whooshing Star Wars sound effects.

As they entered the activation, visitors were given a custom RFID lanyard. Whenever an item would catch an attendee’s eye, they could wave the lanyard over one of the many bullseye tags located on all of the products. This action would add the product to the visitor’s digital shopping list. As they exited the event, guests could purchase everything on their list.  

PopSugar’s Sugar Chalet

The monthly subscription service PopSugar provided visitors to New York City’s Bryant Park Winter Village an extremely limited opportunity to visit its ski chalet-themed pop-up, the Sugar Chalet. Open for only one day, visitors could partake in a variety of wellness-inspired experiences.

Some of the opportunities included yoga sessions (including a “Mom & Me” class), meditation opportunities, cooking classes, hand massages, and palm readings. There were also plenty of opportunities for holiday shopping at the Gifting Den that featured many of PopSugar’s key partners, such as Cosmetics, Athleta, e.l.f., and Nature’s Way. Many available products were featured the gifting wall, which was a series of tiny closed doors, each containing an item.

Netflix’s World Kindness Day

Photo Credit: Netflix

Photo Credit: Netflix

On Nov. 13, 2019, World Kindness Day, giant Netflix-branded presents appeared in Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago (promoting the brand’s first animated feature film, “Klaus”). When the wrapping was removed from the side of the present, it revealed a table stacked with presents designed to benefit each local community that the brand handed out to passersby. The activation also included areas where visitors could write a letter to Klaus, get a gift wrapped, or make a donation to a local Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter.

The activation worked in conjunction with the brand’s “Letters to Klaus” initiative. Teaming with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Netflix fulfilled thousands of holiday wish lists written by children in the organization’s mentoring program.

Legacy West’s Ugly Christmas Sweaters

Legacy West is a relatively new shopping center located in the Dallas suburb of Plano. As a treat for holiday shoppers, the center opened the inaugural Ugly Christmas Sweater Hall of Fame. Working with the Ugly Christmas Sweater Shop of Dallas, the hall of fame featured 34 of the tackiest holiday sweaters. Every sweater was framed and displayed on an 80-foot wall.

Visitors were able to step into the life of a hall of famer by taking a picture surrounded by an oversized ugly sweater frame. Attendees who purchased some gifts could take advantage of the gift-wrapping services provided by Anita Ivancevic of Freeform’s “Wrap Battle.” Visitors could also bring their four-legged friends on special Santa Paws days for a photo with Santa on the Hall of Fame lawn. There was an additional one-day opportunity for visitors to decorate ugly holiday sweater cookies while enjoying some free hot cocoa.

The brands and outlets that provided shoppers with a fun, festive, and unforgettable experiential activation got ahead of their competition by building brand loyalty during the lucrative holiday season.

Disclaimer: We’re fans of all the innovative and interesting venues, events and activations that occur across the world, and we like to keep our readers informed as well. This post features a project that was not ours. We applaud their work, and do not wish to appear to take credit.