Ebay solves the nightmare before Christmas

Campaign: ‘Know What They Like, Find What They Love’

Client: Ebay Australia

Agency: Havas Worldwide Sydney



Online retailers have a number of perception related disadvantages versus the high street when it comes to shopping at Christmas. Delivery times mean that you need to be well-prepared and organised if you want everything wrapped and under the tree in time for the big morning. Also Christmas shoppers prefer the random browsing experience of physical stores to the category-specific, need-driven world of online retail. As a result of this, where offline retailers find spending in store doubles over December, online retail as a whole stays steady.

Although eBay lists millions of new products from a large range of merchants, the perception remains that the site is a great place for second-hand items sold in the auction format. This reality gap meant that the public had no reason to consider eBay as a solution to their Yuletide needs. And, of course, from a media perspective, Christmas is the ultimate battlefield for retail marketing. Across November and December, eBay had less than a tenth of the media spend of Myer and David Jones (AQX Monthly). With its small share of voice, eBay had to work smart to compete with its competitors and punch above its weight.

So the challenge we faced was threefold:

  • We needed to give the public a reason to use eBay for their Christmas shopping,
  • we needed to bring this reason to life in a way that would cut through with a small marketing spend, and
  • we needed to motivate people to act before 15 December, the cut-off date for safe delivery in time for Christmas.


Our objectives were simple: to increase traffic and transactions over the Christmas shopping period.



Consumer insight

Not many people like Christmas shopping, given how frustrating and stressful the gifting process can be. One of the biggest sources of stress is the inability to think of suitable gift ideas. 55% of parents fear their children will be disappointed with their Christmas gifts. The prevailing behaviour to resolve this stress is to wander the aisles of department stores looking for inspiration, and this behaviour is a major pain point for many people’s Christmas experience.

Consumer insight: Christmas is an incredibly stressful period for everyone. And one of the most stressful aspects is knowing what gifts to buy your family and friends.

Category insight

So what of other stores, online and offline? Unfortunately for our Christmas shopper, many of their favourite retail outlets from the rest of the year are defined by the category of product they sell. Bunnings, Dymocks or Footlocker are all great… if you already know you want hardware, books or trainers. But they’re not designed for people who need inspiration and could require a product from any category. This specialism of online retailers particularly, can explain how over the Christmas period online spend stays steady while offline roughly doubles.

Category insight: stores offline and online are created and designed for shopping not gifting.

Brand insight

So where does this leave eBay? eBay’s unique benefit is the sheer range of products available on the site. At any time, eBay carries roughly 42 million listings.

By playing around and looking for gifts of our own, we discovered one of the hidden benefits of having so much range: it means that you can search on the site by very narrow interest areas, and still generate a number of useful results. It’s like being able to conjure up a store dedicated to anything you’re into: Game of Thrones, basketball, elephants, Cold Chisel – you name it.

This is a key benefit of use when it comes to gifting at Christmas, and looking for inspiration. You may not know what a friend or relative wants for Christmas, but you probably do know one or two things that they like.

Brand insight: eBay’s range allows you to search by interest and curate a list of meaningful items that will be well-received.

We realised this new behaviour – searching for gift inspiration by using keywords based on the things the recipient likes – was the key for cracking the Christmas shopping nightmare. The gift ideas that come out of this approach are brilliant: surprising, personal and unique. Things get really interesting when you combine two interest areas. Searching for ‘gadgets’ and ‘gardening’ gets you a robot lawnmower, searching for ‘tea’ and ‘kittens’ gets you a cute, Japanese-designed, kitten teapot, or searching Breaking Bad and ‘trainers’ gets you a set of Breaking Bad Converse shoes, designed and customised by an artist in Venice Beach.

It was clear we had invented a behaviour that would form the heart of our big idea: with eBay you can search for the things people like, and discover gifts that they will love.


ExecutionEbay Australia marketing case study Christmas poster

Our communications strategy was built around four pillars, developed hand-in-hand with our clients and media agency partners.

1. Optimise the search algorithm on the Christmas gifting site, to make the most of the opportunity

In a first for eBay, we worked with eBay’s internal technical team, which developed and launched a tweaked version of the search algorithm on a Christmas- themed area of the site that specifically worked by taking one or more interest areas from the user and combining them to deliver a selection of perfect, personalised gifts.

2. Communicate the behaviour as simply and clearly as possible

With a product benefit as simple and unique as this, we didn’t want to distract the audience by trying too hard or using unnecessary creative layers, so we developed an executional approach that simply showed the behaviour at work, with the iconic eBay search bar, containing two interest areas, next to a surprising gift idea that the search produced, along with our campaign line: ‘Know what they like, Find what they love.’

This approach was utilised in locations where festive shopping was most front-of- mind, on Adshels across major shopping areas.

Interactive versions, where the user could search for interests directly in the ad unit, were used across digital display, and clicked through to a custom landing page within the eBay site that continued to show the ingenious gifts our new behaviour produced.

3. Remarkable demonstrations of the behaviour at work

We wanted to show that this behaviour could help even the most hard-to-buy-for stressed-out Christmas shoppers, so we found two people who surely have the biggest Yuletide challenges: Jenny Bolt, the matriarch of a humble Jamaican family who had to choose a gift for her world-record- breaking sprinter son, a man who has it all; and Jenny Bonnell, mother of Australia’s largest family, with 15 children (now 16 since the campaign aired!).

By bringing these ambassadors on board, we were able to create some remarkable film content of the behaviour at work, running on TV and online video, and generate some significant PR value, with appearances on Sunrise and in a number of major press titles.

We also explored how we can use technology to bring the idea to life in a remarkable way, and built a Facebook app that could automatically search your friend’s Facebook likes and generate a selection of gift ideas (some funny, some more plausible) automatically. Users could then share ideas with their friends, or click through to eBay to buy.

Ebay Australia marketing case study Christmas Jeni Bonnell


4. Activate our audience when the opportunity to convert is greatest

By studying eBay’s traffic volumes across the week, we noticed that Sunday evenings were a peak moment. Offline retailers are of course closed, but it’s Sunday evening when most customers can find the headspace to indulge in a little retail therapy.

We also considered the rise of dual-screening behaviour and how we could use this opportunity to optimise our TV impressions to drive traffic to the site for a bit of Christmas shopping at this most suitable moment. To do this we developed a Christmas-themed Sunday Sale mechanic that focused eBay’s usual ongoing deals and offer activity into a three-hour sale each night, the ‘Sunday Holideals’. We used our brand ambassadors in dual-screen shopping scenarios, along with the biggest deals of the week in short 15-second TVCs that ran in high rotation each Sunday evening coordinated with digital display – making a virtual trip to ebay.com.au an offer too good to refuse.


ResultsEbay Australia marketing case study Christmas display advertising

eBay had a very merry Christmas.

The number of buyers grew by about 10% year on year and, over the peak of the campaign, eBay had its biggest three weeks on record, including the highest number of buyers in a single week.

The PR component alone generated an estimated $6.25 million in equivalent media value, and campaign recall was up by a third against the previous year’s Christmas campaign.

But the best result of all was that the Australian public discovered a new, easier way to find gift inspiration. One that will, hopefully, solve the nightmare before Christmas for years to come.