||For Marketers, Christmas Started Last Month
Now that Halloween is done, Madison Avenue is embarking on the mad dash to Dec. 25.
The sluggish economy is raising the stakes for the Christmas shopping season. Some retailers and marketers, worried that uncertainty among shoppers might increase as the weeks go by, hope to pull demand forward by moving up the start of their pitches.
For example, Abercrombie & Fitch sent e-mails to customers on Oct. 24 that carried this subject line: "We're feeling naughty and sneaking Christmas in early!"
"Let's keep this on the down-low," the e-mail began. "You can get the hottest new styles to cozy up to the fire and get under the mistletoe now, before they hit stores or our Web site!"
And Best Buy, which last year started its Christmas campaign on Nov. 11, introduced its first holiday ads for 2010 on Monday.
"In our category, consumer electronics, people are getting out there earlier," said Drew Panayiotou, senior vice president for United States marketing at Best Buy. One reason is increased comparison shopping, he added, and another is a "robust pipeline of new products" like e-readers, tablets and 3-D TV sets.
To "emotionally engage consumers" who will be more deliberate about where they shop, Mr. Panayiotou said, Best Buy will run two holiday campaigns at once. One, created by Crispin Porter & Bogusky, part of MDC Partners, introduces an animated character, Kenneth the Blue Elf, styled after the retailer's blue-shirted employees.
The other campaign, created by the Best Buy internal agency, Yellow Tag Productions, features actual employees helping customers select, as one worker says in a commercial, "everything you need for a great Christmas morning."
Already, companies like Sears introduced "Black Friday" ads and deals last week.
Now, Kohl's Department Stores is starting its holiday campaign with radio commercials today. Although "the timing is consistent with previous years," said Julie Gardner, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, "there's going to be more ways to save and more offers" like early-bird sales.
"The consumer at large is still very cautious about spending and very purposeful about how to plan gift-giving," Ms. Gardner said. "The holiday is about celebration and family and giving, but saving is just as much a hallmark."
That is reflected in a theme of the 2010 campaign, "Give, save and be merry!" Ads are created by DeVito/Verdi; McCann Erickson Worldwide, part of the McCann Worldgroup unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies; and an internal Kohl's team.
There has long been a joke that Christmas shopping is a competitive sport, but it is also becoming true for Christmas retailing.
New commercials for J. C. Penney compare a promotion called "JCPca$h" that offers 20 percent "on the spot savings" with promotions at other stores, which require shoppers to spend their discounts another time -- a dig at the popular Kohl's Cash promotion that offers 20 percent off future purchases.
The Penney promotion is "a competitive advantage over other retailers that make customers return to get their discount," Michael J. Boylson, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Penney, wrote in an e-mail.
When asked if, like some political ads, Penney's ads have gone negative, Ms. Gardner laughed. "Honestly, we just focus on our own plan," she replied. "We have a strong strategy in place."
Some retailers are playing up the traditional rather than the promotional aspects of Christmas shopping. For instance, Barneys New York plans to bring to life its theme for 2010, "Have a foodie holiday," with windows at its flagship store on Madison Avenue that pay tribute to chefs like Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray.
"Our customers are more interested in the icons of the foodie culture than Lindsay Lohan or Kim Kardashian," said Simon Doonan, creative director at Barneys New York, owned by Istithmar World. The holiday campaign is co-sponsored by Illycaffè coffee and two Scripps Networks Interactive cable channels, Food Network and Cooking Channel.
The windows are to be unveiled on Nov. 16, Mr. Doonan said, in keeping with his preference to not introduce them until mid-November.
"My calendar for holiday has been the same for 25 years," he added. The profusion of Christmas campaigns runs the risk of wearing out shoppers who may at some point tire of all the Santas and candy canes.
But "we found anecdotally, and through some research, that the ability to catch consumers' attention is much higher if you have a thematic" tack, said Tom Steffanci, president at W. J. Deutsch & Sons, which imports Yellow Tail wine from Australia.
So for the holiday season, Yellow Tail will supplement its regular campaign with themed commercials and print ads that depict wine bottles arranged to form turkeys and snowflakes.
There will be seasonal puns, too, Mr. Steffanci said, like "Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow."
A "playful, fun" approach will help holiday ads stand out, he added. The campaign is created by the Burns Group.
Of course, when it comes to Christmas, one beverage truly stands out: Coca-Cola, which has been running campaigns with holiday themes since the 1930s.
The Coca-Cola Company will begin its 2010 campaign this month, varying the introductory date by market. In some of the more than 90 countries in which it will advertise, the campaign starts this week. In the United States, the first commercial, called "Snow Globe," which features a new song, "Shake Up Christmas," is to run on Nov. 21. The spot is created by the McCann Erickson Madrid office.
Never mind those concerned about ads that make it seem that the holiday arrives too soon. Coca-Cola worries about it ending too early.
"Our challenge is to keep Christmas going," said Shay Drohan, senior vice president for sparkling brands at Coca-Cola, so "it goes the whole way through the first week in January" and takes in New Year's Eve, school holidays and Twelfth Night.
(Source: The New York Times, 10/31/10)
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