Marketers Show Some Restraint; Holiday Ad Volume Down 8.2%

Commercials Also a Little More Subtle Than in Previous Years

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Marketers may have started holiday advertising as early as September this year, but so far they've actually run fewer holiday ads and have shown at least a little restraint with their creative.

Holiday ad volume is down 8.2% from this time last year, according to ad-tracking firm AceMetrix. That's largely because of the later Thanksgiving, which falls on Nov. 27 (as opposed to Nov. 22 last year). The retail and technology sectors in particular are holding back, but Jonathan Symonds, exec VP-marketing at AceMetrix, said he expects that cadence to change fairly dramatically once Black Friday hits.

"People are marking off Black Friday with their media plans," Mr. Symonds said.

Overall, the ads so far are "holiday subtle," said Mr. Symonds. "We're seeing a lot of use of decoration in ads. Santa is proportionally higher than last year," he said. "The ads are a little lighter on the music, a little heavier on the background decorations. It's a more subtle way of saying the holidays are here than to hit them with big Christmas trees."

It's noteworthy that Walmart, which has run the most pieces of holiday creative (10 spots), didn't make AceMetrix's list of Top 10 Pre-Thanksgiving ads. The retailer ran 45 ads last year, and is on track for a similar amount this year.

In fact, the top three spots on the AceMetrix list -- which tracks ad effectiveness based on consumer responses and scores them based on metrics like "likability," "attention" and "relevance" -- aren't held by retailers at all, but rather Pillsbury, IHOP and the United States Postal Service.

Among retailers, Kohl's "Christmas Surprise" ad, in which a young couple sneaks into an elderly neighbor's apartment and decorates her place, is one of the top commercials resonating with consumers and ranks No. 4 on the AceMetrix list.

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Target's "Jingle Bells" ad comes in at No. 9. The retailer purposely held back holiday advertising this year after consumers objected to it jumping the gun in 2012.

In contrast to last year when Dad took center stage, Santa has made many of the ads score well among consumers, according to Mr. Symonds. "Santa helps when you do use him. He's considered to be a positive selling influence," said Mr. Symonds. "Part of it is that he does have the iconography that helps people associate that 'I have to get in that Christmas mode.'"

However, Mr. Symonds noted that in the short holiday cycle and down economy, it's important for marketers to be assertive. He pointed to Kmart's early September start with its first layaway ad and its now viral "Show Your Joe" commercial, which had nearly 10.2 million hits on YouTube as of Thursday evening. DraftFCB handles creative for Kmart.

"What we've seen clearly over the last several months is that [Kmart is] willing to take the brand into places it has not been before," Mr. Symonds said. "It's a 'This is not your mother's Kmart' that they're trying to achieve."

  • 1. Pillsbury: "Make the Holidays Pop"
  • 2. IHOP: "Holiday Meal"
  • 3. USPS: "Holiday Delivering"
  • 4. Kohl's: "Christmas Surprise"
  • 5. Lowe's: "It's Easy"
  • 6. Boston Market: "Quality Time"
  • 7. FedEx: "One Rate"
  • 8. Folgers: "First Christmas"
  • 9. Target: "Jingle Bells"
  • 10. Sports Authority: "Love For The Game"
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