In many countries, a visit to Santa during the run-up to Christmas is a must for families with young children. A “live Santa” visit can be a regular event over the season that acts as a “pull” factor, helping parents choose to visitor one shopping center over another, and whilst they’re there, they often take advantage of shopping and leisure options, too.
This means that making Santa part of your campaign can yield measurable results. “But Santa isn’t part of our Christmas culture,” we hear you cry. Not to worry: we’ve come up with a few ideas to help you use Santa-related ideas in other ways, too. Just scroll down for more.
Why Santa (and other real-life experiences) matter
We all know that online retailers are stiff competition for bricks-and-mortar shopping centers. We all know that many shopping centers are giving as good as they get by transforming their spaces into multi-purpose areas that offer a wealth of leisure options, interactive experiences, and digital delights. Unfortunately, we humans are infinitely adaptable: we now expect shopping centers to offer cinemas and restaurants and activities. We get used to “interactive stuff” and consider it normal.
Interestingly, though, real-life experiences that have no digital components seem to be all the rage. Why? We think that it’s partly because of our brains and our desire for “real” tactile experiences that trigger our imaginations, something that tickles our senses, and a visit to Santa certainly does that!
Aside from the association of Santa, Christmas, and presents for many children, meeting Santa in person is a big deal. He’s physical, a real person with whom children can talk. They can shake his hand, hear him telling a story, share their gift wish-list, and leave feeling like miniature super-stars. All the while, their imaginations are going crazy, neurons are firing and memories are being made, memories that associate a positive, exciting experience that took place in a shopping center.
And that’s just the child. For parents looking on, the experience is just as important: they’re excited and delighted to be able to give their child an opportunity to “meet” Santa, to experience the joy of the season that so many of us talk about. They, too, associate a fantastic experience for themselves and their child with… a shopping center.
And these associations are great for the retail business.
How to harness the power of a real-life Santa as part of your Christmas campaign
Create the right atmosphere
Creating the right festive atmosphere for Santa is important. Don’t underestimate the power of light, decoration, and staging when it comes to creating a magical space for shoppers to meet Santa.
Give Santa sparkling props
Make Santa even more real in the minds of children by surrounding him with appropriate props. These might be made from light, fiberglass, or other decorative materials: what’s important is that they help to make the fantasy a bit more real.
Make sure that Santa has somewhere comfortable to sit
Speaking to little people about Christmas presents all day can be tiring, so a grand chair is something that he’ll thank you for. And when Santa’s away, it can double as a great place for family photos and selfies.
Give him a grotto
Grottoes are popular in many English-speaking countries, where Santa is a highlight in the Christmas calendar. To take a visit to Santa to the next level, give him a wondrous grotto where he can meet his fans.
Get him to interact with multiple children at a time
In Canada’s Cadillac Fairview centers, Santa arrived promptly throughout the season to read a story written just for them! Children of all ages love storytime. It allows them to use their imaginations, and it means that instead of a stressful wait to meet Santa alone, they can enjoy his company for longer in the company of friends and family.
If a real Santa isn’t possible, bring in an engaging alternative
Santa light sculptures and light art don’t replace a real person, but they do put a smile on people’s faces whilst doubling as the perfect spot for a family photo or a selfie, too.
What happens if Santa isn’t part of your Christmas celebrations?
Santa tends to be a hit in English-speaking countries. In many other countries, Santa appears as St. Nicolas day on 6th December, and then disappears from the festive season. And in other countries still, there is no Christian tradition of Christmas, and Santa is a character that appears in American movies.
So how can you incorporate Santa or Santa-inspired ideas into your shopping center if Santa isn’t culturally relevant?
Here are some ideas.
Create an “American Christmas” corner in your shopping center
The USA is always a popular theme thanks to the speedy transmission of pop culture through the internet, movies, songs, magazines, YouTube and more. Even if Santa isn’t a big deal in your country, many children will be familiar with him as a character, so why not build on his reputation and create a unique “American Christmas” corner in your center, complete with live Santa and Santa-themed props and use it as a temporary attraction to drive footfall?
Substitute Santa with a character from local folklore or fairytales
In Iceland, the Yule Cat appeared in Reykjavik to spread festive cheer (and a fair dose of terror), so perhaps a Yule Cat appearance in a shopping center in Iceland would draw crowds. Little Red Riding Hood, the Gingerbread Man, and Hansel and Gretel might be fairytale characters that could appear in person to bring fantasies to life.
Skip the characters and arrange for a daily storytime in a festive space
If characters simply don’t fit into your center’s brand, invite a well-known celebrity to read a story aloud each day. Or hire a puppet master and treat children to a Christmas puppet experience. Or tap into some of your own cultural traditions to create something special – phad in Rajasthan, kathpuli plays, shadow theater, kabuki in Japan and so on.
Whatever you choose to do, create an experience
Offering Christmas and festive experiences is one relatively simple way to set yourself apart from other retail spaces in the area and attract visitors. Be sure to use light and decoration to create the right atmosphere for visitors, and don’t forget to market your idea like crazy to get the local press and online media channels on board.
Need help getting started?
Get in touch with your local MK Illumination office to brainstorm ideas and explore the possibilities. Anything is possible: the only limit is your imagination.