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Media Planning for the Holidays–Think Syndication This Christmas Season

Sep 9, 2010  •  Post A Comment

Here’s a guest column by Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association, with his pitch of why syndicated programming may be a smarter place for your money come December, when a number of networks show reruns.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Christmas?
By Mitch Burg, President, Syndicated Network Television Association

As strange as it may seem with the last official weekend of summer upon us and the kids just heading back to school, retailers and marketers who depend upon winter holiday sales have been hard at work, with their agency partners, focusing on building their communications plans for this critical sales period.

The magnitude of Christmas shopping is unparalleled. With total sales of $450 billion, the holiday sales period is greater than Back to School, Valentine’s Day, Mothers Day, Easter, Father’s Day, Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day combined. As many companies’ annual performance is based upon successful sales during the holiday period, it is a time when the financial stakes are high and anticipation is even greater.

Retail sales, excluding autos and gasoline, were marginally up in June according to the Commerce Department; that’s better than last year where a low single digit declines were considered “the new up!” The Financial Forecast Center projects that the monthly level of retail increase will decline slightly through November and that December sales will increase by just over 4% in 2010.

Since Christmas is on a Saturday this year, one advantage for retailers is an extra shopping day between post Thanksgiving’s Black Friday and Christmas (29 days vs. 28 in 2009). The impact of an additional sales day could create an additional 3% in holiday sales. MasterCard’s Shopper Pulse report attributed an additional 2.5% in sales due to the extra sales day in 2009 vs. 2008, while MarketWatch projected that the value of that extra day may have been even more significant at 5%.

The sobering news is that, from an economic perspective, Americans are basically in the same position as they were last Christmas. The Dow Jones is virtually flat since December 2009 and the unemployment rate has declined only a half a point to 9.5%; a level that is projected to remain relatively constant through the holiday shopping period.

Emotionally, consumer confidence is at the same level as it was in December 2009 and economists believe that it will not go up unless there is a significant increase in employment. The Conference Board’s August reports states that “Americans remain pessimistic.”

Consumer shopping behavior has changed as a result of this recession. Shoppers are making tradeoffs to extract the best value for their dollar and they are willing to invest the time in shopping multiple retailers (in store and online).

Marketing communication success will lie in delivering messages at the right time to ensure that your concept or the concept that carries your product is incorporated into the consideration set of the new recession-savvy shopper.

Reaching your consumers in December will increase your presence when people are making the preponderance of their holiday purchases. The majority of holiday shopping happens later in the season. US Census Data shows that December sales in key retail categories linked to the holiday period are more than 60% higher than the rest of the year and 35% higher than November.

Executing December specific television plans will increase the effectiveness of your communications program. There are at least five recent research studies that show that television continues to be the dominant medium in generating results; in fact, a June CRE analysis that incorporates Nielsen data shows that television is the medium that provides the last message exposed prior to a shopping trip. While HUT levels do not significantly decline in December, television viewership does shift as the networks increase the level of “repeats” (nearly 40% of the network’s primetime December schedule) following the November sweeps. Syndicated television is a more attractive national alternative in December as it provides the top rated weekday shows in all of television.

Targeting Friday, December 17 might make the difference in your year. The following day, December 18, is the last Saturday before Christmas this year and the biggest shopping day of the year for many categories. Recency research shows that the last message received is the most valuable in driving sales and owning that Friday could make the difference this season. Syndication dominates Friday television in December with eight of the top 10 rated shows against Adults 18-49.

To reach young males who traditionally delay their shopping until right before Christmas, syndicated sitcoms deliver all of the top 10 rated programs on Fridays for Men 18-34. For those relying on sports to reach this group, consider that the median age of College Bowl Games is 52 and the NFL’s median age is 46.

Selecting programs that deliver to multiple concept shoppers will increase your chances of success. Concept loyalty should be down among the new recession-savvy shopper and you will need to ensure that your store and products get into the consideration set. Syndicated research can guide you to the specific programs that your target is viewing and remember, viewers watch programs, not networks.

Delivering messages when you need them is important to successful promotional support. DVR penetration is approaching or exceeding 50% for many key target segments. DVR viewers are as likely to record a program as they are to watch it live and skipping primetime network commercials during playback has become a way of life in DVR homes. You can deliver your messages by running in programs with high live viewership.

Positioning commercials at the beginning of the pod may provide higher commercial audience while increasing message recall by 25%. In DVR homes, Nielsen research shows that commercials that run in the first minute of the pod are more likely to be played back than units that run later in the pod.

This holiday shopping period has the promise to be a good season for retailers and the manufacturers who rely upon it. While we will all have the advantage of “one additional sales day” this year, the challenge of reaching and satisfying the needs of the new recession impacted shopper will be the key to attaining success.

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