Casey Merle
Nov 9, 2015

Do you really 'need a little Christmas'?

Don't let the mulled wine overcome your common sense. Here's a checklist all marketers should look at before jumping on another Christmas campaign.

Casey Merle
Casey Merle

Two weeks ago, the city of Singapore installed the first wave of holiday decorations. Soon, store shelves will be lined with decorations, shopping malls will install their gargantuan trees, and every public space will be filled with the familiar sounds of Christmas carols and holiday cheer.

But the great Christmas takeover doesn’t stop there. Soon, very soon, every brand, store, product, service, venue and event, tom, dick and harry will launch their ‘Christmas campaign’ in an attempt to eke out one more market-share point, improve brand health by a fraction of a percent or close the gap on their annual sales targets.

Advertising during the holidays can be incredibly effective for some, provided that it is managed and executed the right way. For some brands, holiday advertising is a no brainer. Coke basically invented the jolly man with a white beard, rosy cheeks, and red suit that we have known and loved as Santa Claus since the 1920s. In the Middle East, Vimto is synonymous with Ramadan, generating more than 50 percent of its annual sales during the holy month. Similarly, financial institutions like HSBC cash in on the red envelope traditional during Chinese New Year.

In some cases, holiday campaigns make sense. But not all. When it comes to semiconductors or insurance, you would need to show some very convincing data to prove that the money invested in a Christmas campaign was well spent. 

Right or wrong, this year like clockwork, thousands of advertisers will invest time, money, and resources in their holiday campaigns. In Egypt, during Ramadan, the cost per rating point on television increases by nearly 60 percent (source: IPSOS – Statex EGYPT, Jan 2013-December 2014; using factored spend = actual investment). We see a similar trend in the UK during Christmas with advertisers spending an average of 35 percent of total annual media budget during November to January, according to Nielsen AdDynamix.

Starbucks, Toys 'R' Us and Disney are natural fits for Christmas and get fantastic ROI during the holiday season. But for others, you have to wonder why? It’s as though everyone drank too much mulled wine and decided that if everyone else is doing a holiday campaign it must work! Are marketers and brands sure that their holiday spend is delivering the best ROI? Could shifting budgets away from the holidays to quieter months deliver more bang for your buck? Is there enough data to prove that the Christmas campaign budget is delivering?

So before we all start making the rounds to all of the office holiday parties this year, it’s worth taking the time to:

  • Think critically about what role the holidays play in their annual plans
  • Look at how success is being defined and measured; and most importantly,
  • Be sure to take the time to calculate the opportunity cost of investing in the holidays over other potentially more effective marketing initiatives.

My Christmas wish is that more brands put a plan in place to measure the success of their holiday spend. So that when next Christmas comes, we will know for sure if it is time to take a page from Disney’s Frozen and 'Let it go'.


Casey Merle is the VP regional head of strategy and intelligence at General Motors International Operations.

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