In Holiday Retail Sales, the Best Ad Doesn't Always Win

New Survey Says Favorite TV Campaigns Have Limited Influence on Consumer Spending

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NEW YORK ( -- Retailers shell out big bucks on holiday ads. And while consumers like them, that doesn't mean they're influenced by them. A new survey has found that half of consumers say they're not inspired to shop at the retailer whose holiday TV commercial or online promotion they liked best.

Coupons 45%
Word-of-mouth 27%
Advertising inserts 27%
Broadcast TV 23%
Newspaper 22%
Direct mail 21%
In-store promotion 18%
E-mail advertising 16%
Cable TV 12%
Magazines 11%
Internet advertising 11%
Radio 10%
Source: Retail Advertising and Marketing Association
"It goes along with the old adage that I know half my marketing dollars are wasted, I just don't know what half," said Mike Gatti, executive director at the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association survey, which was conducted by Big Research. "[Consumers] probably still get a kick out of the commercials, but there are a lot of brand loyalties out there. ... [But it] does position [retailers] in the minds of people whether they shop there or not."

When asked to choose their favorite holiday TV commercial, 26% of consumers chose one from Walmart, upsetting Target's holiday-ad dominance. Target had taken the top slot on the survey for the past three years, but this year it only garnered 16% of the vote. Perhaps that's not surprising, considering that consumers took to Facebook to complain about one commercial that seemed to cast doubt on the existence of Santa Claus and another that put a damper on Christmas morning with talk of finances.

The Martin Agency is Walmart's creative shop, while Wieden & Kennedy handled Target's holiday ads. Crispin Porter & Bogusky had the best showing of any agency, as it works with three of the retailers found on the Top 10 list: Best Buy, Gap and Old Navy.

Still, only 17% of consumers said their favorite ad motivated them to shop at a particular retailer, while 50% said it did not. One-third of consumers said their favorite ad didn't have an impact, because they already shop at that retailer.

Walmart again took top billing online, with 20% of consumers saying it had the best online holiday promotion. Amazon came in a close second, with 18% of the vote.

Again, half of consumers said the promotions didn't influence their shopping, while 22% said the promotion they deemed best caused them to shop at that retailer. About 28% of consumers said they weren't affected, because they regularly shop at a particular retailer.

When it came to what does influence holiday shoppers, coupons emerged as the most influential, with 45% of consumers citing them. Word of mouth and advertising inserts influence 27% of consumers, while broadcast TV and newspapers influence 23% and 22% of shoppers, respectively.

"Shoppers aren't only relying on traditional advertising to find the best deals," said Phil Rist, exec VP-strategic initiatives at Big Research. "Whether they were saving on shipping or using an in-store coupon, shoppers dug through every avenue of potential savings before choosing to commit."

Top ten holiday commercials

Walmart Martin Agency
Target Wieden & Kennedy
Best Buy Crispin Porter & Bogusky
Gap Crispin Porter & Bogusky
Macy's JWT
Old Navy Crispin Porter & Bogusky
Kmart DraftFCB
Sears Y&R
Hallmark Leo Burnett
Kohl's McCann Erickson
Source: Retail Advertising and Marketing Association
Direct mail, radio and outdoor billboards were all deemed more influential this holiday season, while newspapers, advertising inserts, broadcast TV, word of mouth and in-store promotions were less influential with shoppers.

"There's so much more out there to decide from," said Mr. Gatti, explaining why more areas fell in influence than gained. "This could also be due to the shift over the last year away from some traditional media into a lot of the new media."

In terms of the rise in direct mail's influence, Mr. Gatti suggested that retailers could be doing a better job of targeting consumers or they could be offering attractive pricing incentives and promotions through direct mail.

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