Mark your calendars, the holiday season is officially under way.
In an unprecedented move, Kmart has aired its first holiday ad. The commercial, which promotes the retailer's layaway program, features a gingerbread man sneaking up on a woman working in an office cubicle. A voiceover says: "Don't let the holidays sneak up on you. Shop early with Kmart free layaway. … Kmart. Get in, get more Christmas."
The ad aired multiple times throughout the day Monday. The ad was even spotted on the East Coast, where Sept. 9 marked the first day of school for many children. Almost immediately consumers took to Kmart's Facebook page to complain about the early arrival of a Christmas ad. The brand has been thanking people for their feedback and noting, "We're just really excited for the holidays and layaway!" Last year, Kmart's first holiday ad aired on Oct. 28, according to Ace Metrix.
Kmart's popular layway program is offering no service fees for new layaway purchases online or in store between Sept. 8 and Nov. 23.
A Kmart spokeswoman noted that the ad is being "tweaked," though she declined to comment further, adding that Kmart is not ready to start talking about its holiday plan and strategy just yet.
Jonathan Symonds, exec VP-marketing at Ace Metrix, pointed out that it's necessary for layaway ads to come early in the process, though it's still "eye opening" that Kmart is out of the gate six to eight weeks earlier than is typical.
"There might not be creative to respond with in the pipeline," Mr. Symonds said. "It will, by definition, create a slightly earlier cycle. As opposed to right before Halloween, it will have the impact of pulling the season up by a few weeks. But it won't start the race today."
In years past, it's not been unusual for retailers to begin digital promotions or social media efforts well in advance of the holidays. But TV ads have typically been kept under wraps until late October. One notable exception: A year ago Target aired its first holiday ad on Oct. 7, more than three weeks before Halloween. That spot featured an upbeat tune with the cheery chorus "Are You Ready?" and an oversized version of Target mascot Bullseye trotting through snow-covered streets with a shopping bag in his mouth.
"This might give new meaning to the phrase Christmas Creep," said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, of Kmart's ad. "It's anybody's game right now, wheels are definitely in motion for a very promotional holiday season."
Ms. Grannis said that when it comes to holiday messaging, a TV spot about layaway will certainly resonate with budget-conscious consumers. Already many retailers have expressed caution about the second half of the year.
"We're in an either-or economy. Many households are spending on big ticket items, investing in houses, home furnishings or cars," explained Ms. Grannis. "At the same time, discretionary spending in June and into July was much softer than anyone expected."
According to the NRF, 12% of consumers begin their holiday shopping before September, 6% get started in September and 20% start in October. The winter holidays account for nearly $580 billion in sales.
"There are limited budgets today, and retailers are aware of that," Ms. Grannis said. "Consumers are spending wisely, so reminding them about layaway is smart. It's not just about saying we've got great specials. It's about helping them with their holiday budgets."