The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: Macy’s vs. Nordstrom

Choir! Choir! Choir!" - Source: Nordstrom
Nov 15, 2017
George Anderson

The various forecasts put out by the National Retail Federation and others for the Christmas selling season have the industry seeing year-over-year growth somewhere between 3.5 and 4.5 percent this year. A greater percentage of total holiday sales will shift online — much of it going to — while the promise of big savings will encourage more consumers to shop early rather than wait for retailers to offer panic promotions in the days right before Christmas.

Retailers, looking to gain an early advantage during this critical season, are already trying to break through the noise of the marketplace with the announcement of pre-Black Friday deals and Christmas commercials seen by millions on television and online.

With Thanksgiving eight days away, we begin the fifth annual RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge. Each week, we will present two commercials from retailers in the U.S. and ask you to cast your vote for the company that has done the most effective job of communicating its holiday message to its customers.

To begin the 2017 edition of the challenge, we present commercials from Macy’s and Nordstrom. The two chains face uncertain prospects for the season as department stores remain among the most challenged verticals in the retailing industry.

Macy’s needs a strong holiday season after seeing same-store sales fall 3.6 percent during the third quarter. The company has experienced net sales declines for 11 straight quarters. Macy’s longer-form “Lighthouse” spot is intended to tug at the heartstrings. The spot features a young boy named Max who basks in the warmth of his family’s love and a girl named Lily who sees little joy coming for the holidays after losing her mother. As you’ll see, Max reaches out to Lily in a surprising way with positive results.

Nordstrom, which is coming off a third quarter when it posted a 0.9 percent decline in same-store sales, is looking to rebound during the holidays. Its “Choir, Choir, Choir” commercial is intended as a way for the chain’s employees to offer thanks to all its customers. Warning: The spot, featuring a backing track by Ray Charles, will likely result in listeners developing an earworm.

DISCUSSION QUESTION:  What is your critique of Macy’s “Lighthouse” and Nordstrom’s “Choir”? Which do you think does a better job of connecting with each company’s core customers while reaching out to new shoppers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I definitely have more of an emotional response to the Macy’s commercial – but how many viewers will actually watch the whole thing? "
"We are in days of epic Christmas ads and overall I have to wonder about the ROI from either of them."
"Would Macy’s even be relevant to two little kids?"

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25 Comments on "The RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge: Macy’s vs. Nordstrom"

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Bob Phibbs

I think it’s the difference between bleak and joyful. Yes there’s a payoff with Macy’s but it took a long time and the bag comes out of nowhere. At least the Nordstrom commercial — though long as well — shows people smiling and joyful. I think shoppers are more attracted to joy than bleakness though I’m not sure with the momentary branding at the end of each commercial that a day later anyone would remember the advertiser.

Max Goldberg

I like both spots, but doubt they will do much to move the sales needle for either retailer. My vote goes to Nordstrom for using their employees to say thank you to their customers.

Seth Nagle

Nordstrom with a win and here’s why. The first half shows real people wearing their clothing (almost like watching a fashion show), the second half connects the viewer with the people behind the scenes in an authentic way which the shopper can identify with and say “hey that’s me.”

The Macy’s commercial felt like one of those Superbowl halftime commercials that you can really put any brand at the end of and it will suffice. It’s a good commercial that leaves the viewer warm inside but doesn’t do anything to separate the brand from its competitors which is what Macy’s really needs to do this holiday season.

Dick Seesel

Spot on re: Macy’s. It could have been an ad for anything … sharing a Coke, sharing songs via a music app, whatever. Would Macy’s even be relevant to two little kids?

Dick Seesel

I absolutely agree with Bob about the bleak mood of the Macy’s commercial. (Sign of the times, maybe, but depressing.) The heart-tugging message about sharing for the holidays could just as easily been a generic holiday commercial for fill-in-the-blank-brand-or-product. Macy’s appearance at the end seems tangential to whatever the ad is trying to say.

The Nordstrom ad, in contrast, accomplishes a couple of goals: First, it sends an upbeat, accessible message celebrating its own associates (which are a key part of the store’s brand “formula”). And not coincidentally, the spot shows most or all of the employees wearing apparel that they presumably bought at their own store.

Sky Rota
9 months 15 hours ago

I cried my tears out after watching Macy’s commercial. I don’t feel like shopping.
I didnt feel anything for Nordstrom until I saw their customer service and warehouse people singing and dancing in what looked like their real work place. The other singers didn’t mean anything to me. My generation likes seeing the behind-the-scenes stuff with real people.
I still don’t feel like shopping, neither of the commercials made me want to shop at their stores. I really wouldn’t know what they were advertising unless you told me.

Art Suriano
If I am forced to pick one that is better, I’d have to go with Nordstrom only because it’s lively and upbeat. But in my opinion, I doubt either will be very successful. For starters, neither ad does anything to connect me to the brand; there is no identity, nothing unique that stands out making me feel that I want to shop either retailer for Christmas. The Macy’s commercial is like a mini-Hallmark movie, but why shop Macy’s? What is that ad trying to tell me? Sure, we can say, “The Perfect Gift Brings People Together” which is a beautiful line, but I’m not feeling any connection to Macy’s. The pitchy vocal, slow-moving soundtrack doesn’t help either. As for Nordstrom, I’m sure those in the commercial, their families and friends will enjoy it but that’s about all who will connect with it. It too does nothing substantial to link me to the brand nor does it make me think of Nordstrom as the place to shop this year for Christmas. Television advertising today is difficult,… Read more »
Meaghan Brophy

I definitely have more of an emotional response to the Macy’s commercial – but how many viewers will actually watch the whole thing? Nordstrom’s “Choir” is instantly catchy and engaging, and involving their employees really helps to humanize the brand. To echo Bob’s point, many people associate the holidays with joy and happiness, and the Nordstrom commercial capitalizes on that. Whether or not people tune in for the whole commercial, they have a catchy tune that will likely get stuck in their head.

Shep Hyken

Both of these commercials will do what they are intended to do: create awareness. Everyone knows Macy’s and Nordstrom. With all of the competitive noise, these two retailers are trying to remind people that they are the option. Just getting their names in front of their customers is a good start to drawing attention away from other options (online and in-store).

Brandon Rael

From a sentimental and emotional perspective, Macy’s went for the feelings beyond the product or brand itself. Ultimately the company went the route that John Lewis or Budweiser is famous for … cultivating and curating feelings and emotions that extend beyond the transactions and selling products. This will certainly resonate with consumers, the same way that everyone is sentimental about the Thanksgiving parade and July 4th fireworks.

However, if we were to choose a winner between the two I would have to go with Nordstrom, as it is more reality-based and everyone could relate the folks in the commercial. Showing appreciation and thanks is a critical part of the retailer/consumer relationship — the ideal time to show this is the holidays.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Neither one is very effective. Macy’s’ ad seems to appeal to current, older consumers and not Millennials. Nordstrom’s ad seems to appeal to Millennials who are not current consumers. Macy’s ad takes a long time to get to the point. Nordstrom’s just goes on and on for a long time.

Dave Bruno

While I think that both commercials effectively connect with their audience (in albeit very different ways), I think Macy’s ad has a greater likelihood for sharing. If true, then their ad would presumably lead to greater awareness and, if others connect to it the way many here have indicated they have, it would likely reach a greater number of potential new shoppers.

Neil Saunders

The perfect gifts may well bring people together, but Macy’s is far from the perfect place to buy them. That’s the problem I have with its marketing: it’s completely disconnected from the in-store experience in all but one way: stores are depressing and so is the tone of the advertisement.

For my money, the Nordstrom advertisement is better. It feels more upbeat, authentic and in-tune with what the retailer has to offer.

Ed Rosenbaum

They are both a bit too long to keep my interest. They serve different purposes; joy and sorrow. I believe joy and family are best displayed during the holidays. Even so, the Macy’s ad still has me thinking. Nordstrom’s commercial, not so much — even though they used what I assume to be actual employees.

Molly Nichols

Nordstrom shows all aspects of their brand. It shows their customers, their workers and shows that the company is here to spread cheer to everyone. Nordstrom does a better job at getting new customers whereas Macy’s dramatic and emotional commercial does a better job of maintaining customers by building the emotional relationship and loyalty to the company.

Georganne Bender

Macy’s is taking a page from the Budweiser Super Bowl “Lost Puppy” positioning commercial, but theirs is too long and too dark. It could have been an ad for any retailer. I had a tough time sticking with it. It would be more relevant to the store if it had a “believe” theme throughout.

The Nordstrom commercial was definitely more uplifting, and I enjoyed seeing company associates, but it was also too long and not really interesting. The best part was the tag line “Love, Nordstrom.”

So in my book neither retailer wins. We need to embrace the fact that we now play in a Snapchat world. Shorter pieces a la Target with visuals that pop and great music will win every time.

Peter Luff

For me its Macy’s that’s the winner. We are in days of epic Christmas ads and overall I have to wonder about the ROI from either of them. The reason I have chosen Macy’s is I think it will be more of a discussion in the work place on the following day, at an involved emotional level, and for this reason the brand is more likely to stick. For Nordstrom, yes well produced, catchy tune, with a bunch of people who could be employees, though it doesn’t challenge me to think beyond the moment.

Tom Dougherty

They lack a protestant minister’s understanding of the sermon. “You don’t save any souls after 10 minutes.”

The Macy’s ad tries too hard to be emotional. It’s not truly moving enough for me to look for it. And that is the secret to success. Tell the story that I desire to see again and again.

The Nordstrom’s choir spot leaves me flat. Its main theme is too repetitive and there is almost no emotional payoff.

Retail needs a shot in the arm. But neither of these are it.

Rich Kizer

OK, I’m a sucker for an emotional story. But woven into a spot, that story must connect me sooner and stronger to the brand message. Frankly I was kind of bored with both. If I saw them on my television more than six times on any given day…. That being said, I almost feel like the Nordstrom spot was trying to “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” Remember my favorite all-time commercials? They were from Sears! The series was called “The Softer Side of Sears,” and it immediately and emotionally connected the viewer to the stores’ products. Yes, emotion sells, but are the feelings in these spots strong enough to swing the doors?

James Tenser

The Macy’s ad continues what by now has become a holiday retailer tradition of producing sentimental mini-movies to mark the season. I agree with others here that its tone is sober, almost bleak. It’s a sweet little gift to the audience, true, but I don’t find it very motivational.

The Nordstrom spot is about holiday cheer-i-ness. As a thank-you card from the associates, it succeeds somewhat, so I’d give it the edge.

Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
9 months 11 hours ago

I don’t think we need look further than the first ad to understand why Macy’s is struggling so badly. Do they really believe a laboriously long story is going to help drive holiday shopping (or shopping at any point in the future)? It doesn’t even remind us of the brand because the brand is buried. Even worse, with web based video, you have 6 seconds for people to decide there’s something worth watching. It fails badly.

The Nordstrom’s ad? Certainly it’s the better of the two. There’s clear connection to Nordstrom and they tell us up front who it’s from. Does that make it effective? While giving the Macy’s ad an “F”, I’ll give Nordstrom a “B-“.

Both face the problem that while it’s easy to get ads onto the internet, it’s extraordinarily difficult to get people to view them. Neither of these offers a draw that leads me to believe they’ll be seen enough to matter.

Craig Sundstrom

George’s writeup reminded me of a boxing match (“…and in the left corner, with sales of $12B…”) But now back to the question.

Going into this, I thought we would have the typical good story/bad ad situation, and that was certainly true after viewing the Macy’s spot, which could safely described as a heartwarming fantasy. (Morse code??? Wow!!!)

But after viewing the Nordstrom spot, I’d have to say I didn’t find either effective: neither seemed to tell me much about their store or why I’d want to shop there. All I learned is that Nordstrom employs a lot of guys with beards.

Karen McNeely

The Macy’s spot seemed like it was trying too hard. I didn’t get the story and frankly it wasn’t that heartwarming. At first, I honestly thought his mom had passed away. I loved the Nordstrom’s spot. As others have said it’s a lot more upbeat and it put a smile on my face. Seeing the office staff and store employees created a connection with Nordstrom’s instead of making it seem like just a big faceless corporation. Macy’s created no such connection and definitely just seemed like an ad man’s failed attempt to create something “that will read” heartfelt.

Naomi K. Shapiro

The Macy’s Lighthouse ad is dark — literally and figuratively. The Nordstrom ad is bright and cheery. No contest. Light and cheery connects with customers and prospects and provides warmth and initiative. (My only problem was that not all the Nordstromers seemed to know the words to the song — which I found distracting.)

W. Frank Dell II

Macy’s was a slow build and only in the last frame did you know who sponsored the commercial. Yes, a commercial can have institutional or seasonal image building, but in today’s sound bite world you must continually reinforce. I like the Nordstrom up tempo message. It has a from our house to your house theme. Look for people to be humming the music as they shop Nordstrom.

"I definitely have more of an emotional response to the Macy’s commercial – but how many viewers will actually watch the whole thing? "
"We are in days of epic Christmas ads and overall I have to wonder about the ROI from either of them."
"Would Macy’s even be relevant to two little kids?"

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