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Are Early Christmas Campaigns Hijacking Kids' Letters to Santa?

Trends and Insight 182 Add to collection

LBB's Laura Swinton on why online shopping, the cost of living squeeze and Santa letters mean the pro-longed festive advertising period ain't going anywhere...

Are Early Christmas Campaigns Hijacking Kids' Letters to Santa?

So that’s Halloween out of the way… roll on Christmas! Except… except… well looking around the holiday bandwagon has been trundling onwards for quite some time now. In the States, stores like Hobby Lobby have found themselves on the naughty list for selling giant candy canes and fairy lights and tree baubles as early as May this year. However, with 41% of shoppers apparently starting their Christmas shopping in September, one can hardly blame retailers, brands, ad agencies and the whole capitalist entourage pumping out the crimbo tunes and mince pie aroma as early as possible – but all that drawn out pomp means that when December 25th arrives we’re all suffering from festive fatigue.

Towards the end of last week we saw the start of the big Christmas campaigns -  Gap’s awkward family moments from Sofia Coppola and Wieden + Kennedy, UK department store Debenham’s munchkin heist from JWT London, WCRS’s Christmas Twee poem for online retailer Notonthehighstreet.com. The end of this week looks set to see the launch of season's most anticipated campaign too - John Lewis, duh. The beginning of November might not seem too excessive in terms of pre-emptive excitement – but that’s nearly two months before the big day itself. Seven and half weeks to develop some sort of perverse Pavlovian reactions to the sound of jingle bells, Bing Crosby and Noddy Flipping Holder.

Given our collectively shrinking attention spans and the ever-growing trend for reactive, fast turnaround content it seems rather perverse that the industry should also cling to the same turgid two months slog. In the UK Christmas has arguably become as hyped up as the Super Bowl when it comes to ads, but beleaguered US shoppers arguably have it worse. Remember the much-complained-about K-Mart ‘105 Days ‘til Christmas’ ad last year that drew such vitriol after launching in September? And in between early Autumn/Fall (delete as per your preference), they’ve got the horror of Halloween, Thanksgiving and (shudder) Black Friday to deal with, turning the Pre-Christmas marathon into something more akin to a Tabata workout. A really long Tabata workout.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the strategy around timing recently after I met up with Unruly Media and chatted to them about their latest study on movie trailers. Apparently 62% of movie trailers are shared in their first three days, but they’re often launched so long before the film is released in cinemas that they’re pretty ineffective. I started to wonder if something similar might be going on with Christmas. No matter how anticipated and adored a campaign is on the weekend it launches, by the time the big day rolls around we’re at best dulled to it and at worst irritated.

But while we might like to gripe and groan about the long pre-Christmas marketing marathon, it seems to be effective; season sales continue to rise. As Saatchi and Saatchi X’s Kelsey Alfredson points out the extended festive advertising window seems to working just fine for retailers and brands who are competing for ‘top of mind’ space, so it’s unlikely to be cut short any time soon. With the rising cost of living, it’s unsurprising that 38% of women told Ipsos Mori that they started Christmas shopping early in order to spread the financial strain. Plus with more of us turning online to do our Christmas shopping, that could in turn prompt us to start thinking about it earlier too.  After all, the ‘will it arrive in time’ fear is almost as bad as the ‘oh shit, 10 hours till Christmas and I haven’t bought any presents yet’ fear.

Most important – and in the spirit of Elf, Home Alone 2, Santa Claus: The Movie and Miracle on 34th Street and every other toy-store themed Christmas film – advertisers need to make sure they get in there in time for the crucial ‘sending letters to Santa’ window. Two fairly recent studies (2006 and 2007) shows that kids litter their letters with requests for specific brands (occasionally with helpful prompts like Crayola-scrawled logos) and that the frequency with which they watch commercial TV channels related to their requests for advertised products. Yes, I feel pretty icky about it too… not entirely in the Christmas spirit and I don’t recall that bit where the Baby Jesus sent back his Frankincense because it wasn’t the kind he saw on Nikelodeon. Still few brands are averse to harnessing pester power and the ultimate ‘word of mouth’ to make sure, err, Santa shells out on their products.

In the end perhaps our irritation is the price marketing strategists are willing to pay. And maybe the advertisers and retailers who jump on the festive bandwagon a tad pre-emptively are giving us the greatest gift of all: something to complain about.

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LBB Editorial, Wed, 05 Nov 2014 17:04:37 GMT