Opting for understated seems to be key when initiating Christmas shopping messaging before Thanksgiving week. Even the grumpiest Grinch can’t get too annoyed if you err on the side of subtle: Introduce the holiday colors, maybe throw in a seasonal icon or two, but steer clear of anything big, bold, overtly punning, or flashy.
No Christmas Cheer Just Yet?
When to start pushing out the Christmas messaging has become a fraught issue for American marketers. Gone are the days when you’d shut your store the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, spend the evening frantically festooning the shelves with tinsel, and open the doors Black Friday morning with a big decorated Christmas tree in the front windo, one similar to the tree that featured prominently in the advertising insert you’d placed in the Thanksgiving edition of the newspaper.
Now, of course, if you wait until Black Friday to begin your Christmas season selling, you’re already behind. Yet when Nordstrom announced that, in keeping with its own tradition, it would not decorate its stores for Christmas until Black Friday, it received a sleigh-full of media coverage and plenty of kudos from consumers.
Granted I don’t visit too many bricks-and-mortar stores. But having strolled in and out among a number of online stores, I don’t think marketers are going overboard on the holiday messaging yet.
Here’s the Walmart home page on Nov. 13:
Yes, there are some cute red-and-green illustrations, as well as a link to its Black Friday newspaper insert. But it’s a pretty subtle approach. And when you consider that Walmart is one of the few retailers offering Christmas layaway, it makes perfect sense for the retailer to begin promoting holiday shopping early, as anyone who will be using a layaway plan has to get a jump-start now.
A much smaller, online-only merchant, Shana Logic, had only a small banner declaring “Browse Our Holiday Gift Guide” on its home page:
Instead the main image was of a cartoon kitten with angel wings beside the headline “Every time you support independent artists & designers a kitten gets its wings*” and below that, referring to the asterisk: “*a pretend kitty gets pretend pegagus [sic] wings… but still—it’s cute, & you’re supporting artists, so win win right? :-)” If you don’t find that adorable, well, you’re clearly not Shana Logic’s target audience. (I loathe It’s a Wonderful Life with the intensity of a thousand suns, and even I was charmed.)
Children’s clothing brands Carter’s and OshKosh B’gosh did have home pages decked out for Christmas—red-and-green borders, ornament-shape icons promoting free shipping and buy-one-get-one-free—but because the overall effect was quiet and tasteful, it wasn’t aggressive in the least.
What's more, plenty of other retailers—Bon-Ton, Crate & Barrel, Williams-Sonoma, Restoration Hardware, White House/Black Market, J. Crew, to name some of the majors—had no Christmas messaging on their home pages. As of 10 days before Thanksgiving, it seemed that etailers promoting Christmas are the exception rather than the rule.
In fact, try as I did, I was unable to find a site with an egregious holiday hard sell. The closest I came was The Source for Everything Jewish, whose home page declared “Welcome to your Chanukkah Superstore”—and the most irksome thing about that was its spelling of Hanukkah/Chanukah. (Using the double k with the Ch isn’t a variant; it’s just wrong.)
Although I celebrate Hanukkah (or Chanukah, but never Chanukkah), I adore the Christmas season. So I was somewhat disappointed by my findings. Where’s the virtual tinsel, the flying reindeer, the gingerbread houses, the Santa with the belly shaking like a bowlful of jelly? I know, give it time.
In the meanwhile, I’m off to YouTube to play some Christmas videos. “Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You,” anyone?
The top photo is of the sad little artificial tabletop Christmas tree that was, aside from the Christmas cards we'd hang on the walls, the lone holiday decoration of the office where I worked in England. My daughter made the streamers that are strewn across its branches. I wonder if they still drag out the tree in December.