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Why the 2014 Holiday Shopping Season Should Start in February

How Do 45 Black Fridays and 45 Cyber Mondays Sound to You?

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A NOTE FROM MEDIA GUY: This top-secret memo was recently leaked to me. At first I was shocked and dismayed, but the more I thought about it, the more I decided there might be considerable merit to the ideas outlined herewith.

MEMORANDUM

TO: The NAAIDR Executive Board

FROM: [name redacted], CEO, [name redacted] Consultants

SUBJECT: Extending the holiday shopping season

It was a privilege meeting with the board of the North American Association of Increasingly Desperate Retailers last week. As discussed at our kickoff, there is not much that can be done in the short term regarding the challenges that retailers are facing due to the short "official" holiday shopping season, given that Thanksgiving is so late this year (Nov. 28, as opposed to Nov. 22 last year). And the problem will recur next year, with only one day's relief, as Thanksgiving in 2014 falls on Nov. 27. (It will be 2018 before Thanksgiving falls as early as Nov. 22 again.)

Credit: Kelsey Dake for Ad Age

My view is that we can remain slaves to -- and victims of -- the calendar, or we can take aggressive action to totally redefine consumer perception of when the official holiday shopping season begins and ends. It's time to Think Outside of the (Gift) Box.

There is obviously already a trend toward a slow but steady shifting of the existing "informal" seasonal-start boundaries, which resulted in, for instance, Starbucks' introduction of its red holiday coffee cups on Nov. 1 this year. Likewise, the earlier-than-ever announcement of Black Friday sales many weeks ahead of the "official" Black Friday on Nov. 29 indicates that retailers and consumers are effectively receptive to a holiday shopping season stretched to nearly two entire months -- or one-sixth of the year.

Could the holiday season be stretched to three months -- or fully one-fourth of the year? The question is not if, but when. Furthermore, our internal research at [name redacted] Consultants suggests that there's no stopping this trend.

Which is why NAAIDR should get out ahead of it -- way ahead of it. My colleagues and I have been preparing a formal proposal outlining how the 2014 holiday shopping season could be made to start on Feb. 13 -- Valentine's Day Eve. That might seem a little early, but really, it's not.

The post-2013 Christmas week and the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day would continue to be celebrated as the "Returns and Exchange" season. But beyond that, we believe that all holidays from Valentine's Day on can be repositioned in the consumer's mind as dual-purpose, Christmas-themed celebrations.

The strategy is to create value-adds around non-Christmas holidays that keep Christmas-shopping opportunities top-of-mind throughout the year.

What will help is that there are obvious aesthetic synergies. For instance, consider how the simple addition of green to the color most associated with Valentine's Day (red) could extend Feb. 14 to being a celebration of not only romantic love, but a love of Christmas (and shopping for Christmas gifts).

Around St. Patrick's Day, with subtle alterations to their outfits, leprechauns could multitask, doubling as Santa's elves. The Easter Bunny could be invited to tap into the North Pole's PRISM program, teaming up with Santa to deliver candy only to those children who have been nice, while blacklisting those who have been naughty.

On Oct. 31, we could take advantage of the fact that large groups of children and their parents are going door to door seeking candy; let's introduce a new tradition of Halloween caroling. (You want a handful of tiny Snickers bars, kids? Let's hear you sing a verse of "Jingle Bells" first.)

Consumers would be encouraged to keep their Christmas trees up all year, swapping decorations in and out as appropriate. Picture, for instance, a tree hung entirely with heart-shaped ornaments around Valentine's Day, festooned with flags on Flag Day, or even draped with colorful beads for Mardi Gras.

Hanging green, red, white and blue Independence Day wreaths on doors around the Fourth of July could give wreath manufacturers a major boost. An eggnog toast could become a new tradition on both Mother's Day and Father's Day, while entirely new categories of festive d├ęcor could be marketed around woefully under-decorated holidays like Labor Day.

Will there be cultural resistance to all of this? At first, yes.

But with help from an integrated, 360-degree marketing campaign including targeted social-media outreach, we at [redacted] Consultants believe that consumers will quickly warm to a nearly year-round celebration of Christmas and a 45-week holiday shopping season, including 45 Black Fridays and 45 Cyber Mondays.

After all, if Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year -- the hap-happiest season of all -- who could object to extending the duration of that wonderfulness and hap-happiness? Our market research shows that most consumers enjoy much mistletoeing, appreciate when their hearts are glowing and take great pleasure in parties for hosting as well as marshmallows for toasting. Let's leverage that.

Pending the NAAIDR board's approval of our detailed proposal, the team at [name redacted] Consultants is ready to hit the ground running.

Frankly, we can't wait to encourage consumers to look forward to a Merry Valentine's Day, a Joyous St. Patrick's, and so on!

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. Follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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