Retail Reversal: Target Unwraps Holiday Ads Early

Spot Featuring Snow, Christmas Decorations Airs Three Weeks Before Halloween

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While most consumers are still thinking about what to be for Halloween and have yet to buy candy for trick-or-treaters, Target has aired its first Christmas holiday ad.

The holiday ad appears to be the first out by major retailers, and this is unusually early for the industry. Typically, some retailers begin promoting the holiday with direct mail or on their sites in November or even October. But holiday TV ads have typically not aired until the beginning of November. Target 's ad began airing last week, a full three weeks before Halloween and six weeks before Thanksgiving. Already, it's inspired a slew of negative comments on Facebook and Twitter.

Target 's big dog holiday commercial

The spot features 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. A voice-over at the the end says, "The holidays are coming and they're gonna be big." The commercial also promotes the retailer's new holiday price-match program beginning in stores Nov. 1. The agency that created the spot is 72andSunny.

Target declined to comment, noting that the company plans to discuss its holiday-marketing plans at a media event tomorrow.

But it's a major role reversal for the retailer, which just two years ago touted its strategy of holding off on holiday ads until the weekend after Thanksgiving. The retailer did air ads for its two-day sale featuring comedian Maria Bamford -- aka the Christmas Champ -- in the weeks before Thanksgiving, however. And the retailer has followed industry convention in setting up an area dedicated to holiday trim prior to Thanksgiving.

In 2010, then Chief Marketing Officer Michael Francis told Ad Age that holding off on holiday ads was a decision the retailer didn't reach lightly. Target looked at guest surveys, evaluated point-of -sale data and began tinkering with its holiday media plan. (In April, Jeff Jones, former president of indie ad shop McKinney, succeeded Mr. Francis.)

"It's not only in line with what the guest has stated repeatedly, but it has been borne out by the pattern of shopping," said Mr. Francis, now a consultant for Gap Inc. "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."

At the time, Ad Age called the move "unusual" and "maybe even brave," given that Target 's rivals often began advertising Christmas sales in late October and early November. After all, the 55-day sales period accounts for some $450 billion in sales, or about 20% of retailers' annual take.

"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," Mr. Francis said at the time. "They look at Thanksgiving as family time ... and aren't yet ready to get into the frenzy that defines the Christmas shopping season."

If social media is any indication, plenty of consumers today agree with that assessment.

"I'm absolutely appalled that you are airing Christmas commercials already," said Jessica Armstrong on Facebook. "It's not even Halloween!!! There is a time and a place for everything, and Christmas in October is not one of them!"

"I don't mind so much having the stuff in the store," said Linda Terrell Nunes, also on Facebook. "But the TV ad was just ridiculous."

"Dear @Target , it's too early for Christmas ads. Please let us enjoy one holiday at a time. Thank you," tweeted @CoffeeDMarcus.

Unhappy Facebook commenters have been getting this message: "We're sorry to hear about your disappointment. We've shared your feedback with our Broadcast Media executives for review."

There are a few consumers in Target 's corner, however. "I enjoy your Christmas commercials, they get me in the mood for winter," wrote Alysha Tucker on Facebook. "Don't let the other customers make you feel bad. It's ok."

"I just saw a @Target Christmas commercial and it was precious. #71DaysTillChristmas," tweeted @KimmyTCU.

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