The holiday season is upon us, but consumers are celebrating differently than they have in years past as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve. The availability of vaccines marks a major difference this year from the 2020 holiday season. Yet, uncertainty over celebrations lingers under the shadow of the Delta variant.
Early signals indicate consumers are going big and planning early for the 2021 holiday season. Over the summer, year-over-year (YoY) Google searches for "how many days till halloween" grew globally by over 80%, while YoY searches for “costume ideas” and “how many days until Christmas” each grew by 60%.1 As of August 2021, 61% of US holiday shoppers say they plan to shop early to avoid items being out of stock.2
Now more than ever, consumers are looking to brands for creative ways to celebrate as their usual holiday traditions are put on hold. With the safety of holiday travel, large events and even small indoor gatherings in question, marketers have an important role to play in how people shop and celebrate this season.
Consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands are particularly influential this time of year. In the U.S., food and drink is the most commonly purchased category across seasonal moments, driven by celebratory occasions like Thanksgiving (82%), New Year’s Eve (79%) and Halloween (61%).3
The most innovative marketers have recognized the importance of a data-driven approach to cope with shifts in consumer behavior, and many are leveraging Google Search data and audience signals to understand how consumers will celebrate the holidays in the U.S.
Here are a couple of key examples of how CPG brands are using Google Search data to deliver personalization at scale this holiday season:
Halloween reimagined by Hershey’s
No one knew what to expect for Halloween 2020, but Hershey’s wanted to ensure that KitKat would play its part in the celebrations, whether consumers were trick-or-treating or staying at home. Using a custom data model developed in partnership with Google, Hershey’s assessed people’s plans for the holiday by DMA to build a customized strategy. The result was Hershey’s best Halloween sales ever.
“Google's consumer signals are a powerful tool to help us have a real-time pulse on the consumer, and we partnered with them to create a dashboard that helps us understand consumer demand for our top product categories and shopping behavior,” explains Charlie Chappel, VP of media at The Hershey Company. “Using this data, we were able to understand which markets would celebrate traditionally or would celebrate Halloween in a modified approach at home. This allowed us to not only understand consumers but also design creative that resonated with them emotionally."
Hershey's reshaped its creative messaging leveraging Google insights and subsequently reached custom audiences on broad-reach platforms like YouTube. The 2020 Halloween creative outperformed past seasonal creative on brand lift, driving record numbers for both ad recall and consideration, and delivered positive marketing mix model results.
The results from 2020 have provided momentum for a strong 2021 sell-in of product to Hershey’s retailers, consistent with the industry’s expectation of a major rebound for trick-or-treating in 2021.
Hershey’s is continuing to leverage Google Search data as it executes its media plan for Halloween 2021. While the industry is looking forward to a rebound in trick-or-treating, insights show that continued uncertainty will lead many to celebrate the holiday in other ways, including seasonal movie watching, baking, and decorating.
"Harnessing the power of both first-party and third-party data, we can use insights to understand what matters most to our consumers right now and build the organizational muscles to be ready even in uncertain times," Chappel says.
Bringing beautiful holiday moments back with L’Oréal
The pandemic also disrupted the CPG beauty industry in 2020. While categories like skin care and hair color flourished as consumers traded the salon for at-home treatments, other categories like makeup changed significantly as people adopted masks and stayed in more.
During the start of 2021, L’Oréal started to see a shift in consumer demand for makeup. The company used Google Search data to monitor category shifts to understand when and where there would be demand for key makeup products as people began to emerge from lockdown and resume normal activities.
The data revealed that restrictions and safety guidelines were correlated to makeup product searches, and this insight allowed L’Oréal to strategically plan their marketing efforts across a variety of media platforms in the first half of the year.
“Data is key in ensuring we are responding to consumer’s needs and creating personalized experiences for them to feel engaged and invested in our products,” says Shenan Reed, senior VP and head of media at L’Oréal USA.
As L’Oréal plans for the holiday season, it will focus not only on which products to promote, but also on where to promote them. With YouTube viewership shifting to connected TV (CTV) devices, L’Oréal acted to increase its visibility on the TV screen. By doing so, it was able to drive stronger brand lift on CTV with the same efficiency it generated with cross-device marketing.
L’Oréal is also turning to the power of automation within search to segment and personalize communication with consumers for the holidays. While a customer who’s ready to purchase might receive a message guiding them to a specific retailer, a customer in an exploratory stage may be given an opportunity to discover and engage through virtual try-ons or other digital experiences to help them find their perfect shades.
"Throughout the holiday shopping season, we’ll be closely monitoring our campaigns across platforms to adapt to any changes or capture unexpected opportunities. Automation helps us make informed, real-time decisions to do so,” says Reed.
Driving marketing strategy with data
With people ready to celebrate this holiday season, marketers will need to take a data-driven approach to create messaging that resonates and is personally relevant to customers. Explore what the world is searching on Google Trends and view the Think With Google article for more information.
This article originally appeared on Think With Google.
1Google Data, Global English, Jun 22, 2021 - Aug 20, 2021 vs Jun 22, 2020 - Aug 20, 2020).
2Google commissioned Ipsos COVID-19 Tracker, US ~n=719 US consumers 18+ that plan to shop for the holidays. Aug 12-15, 2021.
3Google/Ipsos, “Moments 2021,” June 2021, Online survey, US, n=2,006 American general population 18+..