2014 Winter Holiday Insights: A Lackluster Lift-off as Retailers Deemphasize Black Friday

With a shrinking emphasis on Black Friday as the main shopping event of the season (and sales instead lasting all season long), 2014 winter holiday advertising activity to date has revealed some marked differences from 2013 ad trends, specifically in the department store and discount department store categories (historically the highest spenders in holiday advertising).

To start, holiday-themed department store ads did not pick up this year until Week 42 (October 27), while last year's ads aired as early as Week 36 (September 15). Many advertisers probably waited it out to avoid consumer complaints of starting too soon.

Department store retailers collectively spent less (38% less) this year earlier in the season, with $31 million in holiday spend as of November 9, compared to $50 million during the same period in 2013. TV was the initial 2014 media choice, with 99% of media spend going towards TV ads and minimal amounts in Internet, Newspaper, and Radio. In contrast, during the same time last year Magazines represented 22% of spend initially, followed by focused spend in TV, Internet, Radio and Newspaper.

We've also witnessed fewer advertisers in the game this year, with Target and Walmart collectively making up 84% of all winter holiday-themed ad expenditure (53% and 41% respectively). A look back on the ad scene at this stage of the game last year reveals a broader playing field: Target was responsible for only 20% share of spend, Walmart owned 27% share, and JC Penney led the pack with a 61% share—JC Penney wasn't even on the radar earlier on in the 2014 holiday season!

While Walmart focused its 2013 messaging primarily on "price matching", this year's messaging has extended to themes around the ease of shopping (with the help of credit card accounts and the Savings Catcher app) and breadth of products available at Walmart, with celebrity endorsements from Melissa Joan Hart and Anthony Anderson. Target has cashed in on the "get everything here" theme as well, offering consumers convenient shopping tools like free shipping on online orders and same day pickup for online purchases. With fewer consumers willing to battle crowds to accomplish their holiday shopping (and many turning to e-retailers to avoid stores all together), brick-and-mortar retailers are offering incentives to make the in-store experience more convenient and efficient for shoppers.

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