The Deconstructed Brief

Perfect Gift

Perfect Gift

Brand: Macy's
Agency: BBDO New York


Department stores face increasing difficulties in reaching American consumers due to competition from discount and online retailers. Discount stores offer the on-sale products that over half of all shoppers seek, and as a result, they see net earnings increases as high as 15 percent, while Macy’s contends with repeated sales declines. Online retailers present additional advantages to frenzied shoppers during the holiday season, and researchers expect online shopping to exceed in-store for the first time in history, as consumers plan to spend 55 percent of their budget online, compared with 42 percent in-store. Struggling retailers like Macy’s need to prove their worth to consumers in order to secure a portion of their annual holiday spend.

One Thought:

Give deeper.


Macy’s needs to reinvent its relationship with the modern consumer, as only 28 percent of Americans plan to purchase Christmas presents at a department store this year (down 3 percent from last year). In order to address this issue, BBDO New York created one two-minute piece, “Lighthouse,” and three separate 30-second spots featuring family members who found the perfect holiday gift at a Macy’s department store. In the spots, each of the family members finds an innovative use for what would otherwise be a mundane gift. The series positions Macy’s as the location to find extraordinary gifts for family and friends, which reflects the company’s new marketing model. 

What they told AdAge:

“We needed to elevate some of the work we were running to win the emotional high ground and become part of the Christmas season,” says Rich Lennox, chief marketing officer at Macy’s. “We are part of people’s lives, and we wanted to make sure that Christmas advertising reflected that role we play.”

Lessons to be learned:


  • Understand your challenge — Macy’s core challenge comes from reestablishing its role as an essential part of consumers’ holiday shopping. Each spot positions the company as integral to critical life moments, such as a first date or marriage proposal. The store plays a less-prominent role in this series than in previous years’ advertisements, which emphasized the company’s celebrity brands and promotional deals. By investing in the brand through high-quality work, BBDO highlights Macy’s traditional place as a premium destination.
  • Don’t fear difficult subjects — Four separate spots comprise the ‘Perfect Gift’ campaign. While two are lighthearted, two contend with difficult topics of deployment and removed parents. The longest of the four — “Lighthouse” — utilizes muted tones and music to accompany a melancholy holiday celebration plagued by an absent mother. This helps it to stand out from the barrage of cheerful messaging on network television. 
  • Create the unexpected — Consumers think they know Macy’s and the holiday tropes that abound in seasonal advertising. Each spot ends with an unexpected twist, thanks to a Christmas present purchased at Macy’s. This proves that we do not know Macy’s as well as we think we do, and it encourages us to reconsider our preconceived notions about the department store.
  • Explore the nontraditional — Big brands often pull from tradition and storied pasts to develop their holiday advertising. This work relies on classical themes and imagery to elicit a positive reaction and encourage consumer spending. In addition to their thematic break from holiday cheer and goodwill, Macy’s places the spotlight on nontraditional families who are underrepresented in advertising. Instead of engaging casually with a broad group, Macy’s creates a stronger connection with a more limited demographic.