Target Takes a Holiday From Early Ad Barrage

You May See Tinsel in Stores, but Retailer Won't Run Christmas Ads Before Thanksgiving

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NEW YORK ( -- This holiday, Target wants to give back Thanksgiving.

While virtually all major retailers launch Christmas campaigns over the next few weeks, one will be notably absent: Target , which, to spare its customers holiday burnout, is waiting until after the leftovers are in the fridge to begin its barrage.

Target is standing out by -- gasp! -- waiting to launch its full holiday campaign until after Thanksgiving.
Target is standing out by -- gasp! -- waiting to launch its full holiday campaign until after Thanksgiving.
"Guests really tire of these messages when they're started too early in the season, and it doesn't align with where they are in their lives," said Chief Marketing Officer Michael Francis. "They look at Thanksgiving as family time ... and aren't yet ready to get into the frenzy that defines the Christmas shopping season."

It's an unusual -- maybe even brave -- move in an environment where its rivals begin hawking "Black Friday" deals in October and flog "Mega Christmas Sale" events in mid-November. After all, the holidays are far from a time of comfort and joy for retailers; the 55-day sales period accounts for some $450 billion in sales, or about 20% of their annual take.

"We certainly didn't make these decisions casually," said Mr. Francis.

Starting several years ago, the retailer wanted to really "probe" the issue of "Christmas creep" with its consumers, Mr. Francis said, to find out if they really did care. It looked at guest surveys, evaluated point-of-sale data and began tinkering with its holiday media plan.

That led to Target three years ago shifting a few direct-mail dates and slightly pushing back a few broadcast TV spots. Last year, it went a step further, moving almost all of its broadcast commercials to Thanksgiving. Now, the retailer is making a clean break.

Well, almost clean. Though its main product push from Wieden & Kennedy begins the weekend after Thanksgiving, there will be a bit of teaser. A two-day sale campaign featuring comedian Maria Bamford as an passionate holiday shopper preparing for the season will debut close to Thanksgiving and run through Black Friday.

"It's not only in line with what the guest has stated repeatedly, but it has been borne out by the pattern of shopping," Mr. Francis said. "The last several years we've seen shoppers shopping much closer to need. The Christmas season, which had been spread over six weeks, is becoming more of a sprint."

Of course, the retailer isn't completely turning its back on those shoppers who do like to get a jumpstart on things -- and there are folks out there who do. According to the National Retail Federation and Big Research, 13% of consumers plan to begin their holiday shopping before September this year. A quarter expected to begin in September or October, while 41% said they will start in November. (Despite that, less than half of shoppers typically complete their holiday shopping before the second week in December.)

So customers will still find holiday trim, lawn d├ęcor and wrapping supplies in Target stores this month. There are also some holiday references on its website. And Mr. Francis says the retailer will be targeting consumers who have proved in years past that they shop early with direct mail and email. "One group of guests will receive a communication in mid-November."

This season, Target is producing more than 20 spots for its two-day sale effort, the continuing "Life's a Moving Target " campaign and Christmas campaign. The main Christmas campaign is built around original Christmas carols from artists such as Guster, Blackalicious and Little Jackie. The full-length songs will be available free on Target 's website beginning after Thanksgiving, while 30-second versions will be used in the TV spots. There will also be an extensive social-media campaign along with magazine and newspaper buys, direct mail and circulars. Target is planning a mobile effort and an app for iPad. Overall, its budget for this holiday season will be up slightly, though the company would not discuss specific numbers.

"We canvassed a wide range of artists and asked them to consider how they might create a contemporary Christmas carol. There was no request to embed products or mention Target ," he said.

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