By: Anthony Losanno, VP, Advertising Sales, Freestar

COVID has Upended Traditional “Holiday Advertising” but this Season Looks Like it Will be Merry and Bright

The holidays have always meant family time, the quest for the perfect gift, and a deluge of marketing efforts to grab consumers’ attention and boost the bottom line for shareholders. This year is a bit different. 2020 brought a global pandemic, civil unrest, mass unemployment, and an election that has some still questioning the results.

Shoppers are Starting Early and Online. Marketers Need to Meet Them There

Despite uncertainty around the pandemic and economy in 2020, “81.3% of shoppers said they plan to spend the same or more on holiday gifts,” performance marketing agency, Tinuiti, found. Retailers sought to drive business early and even created a new holiday shopping event, 10.10, in the hopes of getting a handle on demand. The goal of 10.10 was to shift holiday shopping into October from the weeks leading up to Christmas so that retailers could ensure shipping deadlines and that merchandise would be in stock. 

Amazon also moved its Prime Day from July to October 13th and 14th,  and it paid off with sales increasing “by 49 percent, hitting $10.6 billion” according to RCBJ. Prime Day pushed growth across ecommerce sites. NetElixir, a digital marketing agency, noted that other ecommerce sites saw “website sessions increase by 19%, site orders jump 39%, revenue rise by 42%, and website conversion rates increase by 17%.”

Brick-and-mortar Black Friday sales are largely gone this year, with retailers like Target and Walmart closing on Thanksgiving and others starting holiday sales much earlier and running them longer (Best Buy and Home Depot began sales in early November, for example). Martech Series says “60% of consumers plan to shop less in-store this season due to fear of COVID-19 exposure,” and eMarketer predicts “there will be a 14% drop in brick-and-mortar sales due to social distancing measures that stores are taking.” 2020 will be the year we say goodbye to doorbusters and lining up overnight for hot-ticket items like TVs and gaming consoles.

What Categories are Driving Ad Spend?

With COVID still running rampant throughout much of the US and the world, experiential gifts…show tickets, concerts, trips, and dining experiences…are mostly out of the question and advertising in these categories is down as expected. Per Numerator, ad occurrences are up in “toys & games (+33%), apparel (+33%), home goods (+22%) and beauty (+11%) compared to a year ago.” Many discovered activities that they can do at home and these newfound interests are driving gifting. According to Criteo, “52% are cooking at home, 36% are exercising at home, and 25% are gardening.”

With marketers all using bidding against each other this holiday season, the key differentiator will be ad creative. The Association of National Advertisers found that the message in these ads is important in driving sales and different demographics want distinctive pitches. “Gen Zers are notably more interested in funny, sentiment, optimistic, empathetic, comforting ads” while Baby Boomers want “entertaining and serious or somber ads.”

Brian Bowman, founder and CEO of Customer Acquisition, also notes that since “Apple has delayed the depreciation of the iOS Users’ Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) until 2021, we’re expecting no material change in advertising technologies through this December. It should be business as usual for advertisers using key platforms like Facebook Ads and Google Ads to reach consumers this holiday season.”

Mobile and Apps Emerge as the New Shopping Malls

Digital Media Solutions says that “in 2020, mobile ecommerce sales are predicted to be $339.03 billion, up from $268 billion in 2019.” Mobile shopping has become easier and consumers are more comfortable than ever with it. This is good news for marketers as Bidtellect found “mobile had a 106% higher CTR than Desktop in 1H 2020” and “mobile engagement increased 35% from February to June 2020.”

Every retailer now has an app and they’re influencing every stage of the funnel. AppsFlyer reports, “consumer spend in shopping apps has increased 50% since the start of lockdown [in March] and a further 8% in the past month as demand for online shopping is rising.” Criteo further found that “51% downloaded at least one shopping app during the coronavirus outbreak and “33% said they use one or more of their newly downloaded shopping apps multiple times per week.” Additionally, “37% of US adults [in a Salesforce survey] said they were more interested in mobile app shopping than they were last year.”

While family gatherings will be limited and there will be no Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or crowds stampeding on Black Friday, holiday 2020 looks like there is solid opportunity for marketers that pivot to the channels and categories where consumers are spending.