Black Friday advertising is a staple of local TV advertising, but this year might be a little different.
Bloomberg explains retailers have already blamed the preoccupation with this year’s wild and woolly election for slow sales. The same is true for Black Friday ads, though local broadcasters are hardly complaining. The National Retail Federation has said political ads have taken up so much ad time that retailers are waiting until after the election to start advertising, Salon reported.
But while the recent election has ostensibly thrown a spanner in the works this year, history shows that the real Black Friday advertising doesn’t occur until the two weeks before Thanksgiving, anyhow. While most retailers heavy up on messaging in the final week, there’s also evidence that running such messaging two weeks before can help them gain an edge for this all-important sales day.
Early Bird Gets the Worm?
In non-election years, retailers’ Black Friday game plans follow a more standard pattern. For instance, in 2013, Kantar Associates calculated that the country’s top 11 retailers spent about a quarter of a billion dollars on Black Friday advertising from Nov. 3 to Nov. 27, according to the Wall Street Journal. (Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 28 that year.)
Retailers typically drop circulars early in the month and then dive into TV later on, meaning ad sellers should prepare their inventories accordingly. Last year, as Twice shows, The Home Depot began advertising a home appliance deal in a circular on Nov. 3. And as Fortune noted in 2015, “some of the world’s largest retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy and Wal-Mart are all offering Black Friday-like deals much sooner this year to capitalize on what they believe is heavy consumer demand.”
For some, “sooner” means October. A 2014 analysis by MarketTrack found that a fair amount of retailers were advertising Black Friday deals in October, though the report lumped TV with other forms of media, including radio and online. A Kantar Media analysis of 2014 Black Friday spending showed that although almost no major retailers ran TV advertising three weeks before Thanksgiving, they all ran TV ads in the two weeks before the holiday.
Kantar dubbed Walmart the most efficient spender; the retailer funneled $70.7 million into TV ads and got a 38-percent share of store traffic. Kantar also found that Walmart’s Black Friday messaging was split roughly 50/50 between those two weeks. But not all retailers believe hyping Black Friday two weeks before is an effective strategy: Black Friday messaging accounted for just 6 percent of Toys “R” Us’s TV ads two weeks before, compared to 99 percent a week before.
How Should Broadcasters Plan for Change?
Yoram Wurmser, a retail analyst at eMarketer, told Fortune that the ever-earlier rush for sales was in effect killing Black Friday. Wurmser said that in 2014, brick-and-mortar stores saw fewer shoppers on Black Friday because those shoppers had already tapped deals they saw online during Thanksgiving week and especially on Thanksgiving day.
And retailers may have internalized this message. JC Penney plans to start its Black Friday TV ads “on Nov. 9, after the election,” according to AdAge. The retailer will also offer Black Friday deals well ahead of Black Friday itself.
For broadcasters, there’s a cogent argument to be made that stretching out the Black Friday advertising period beyond just the final week—or even the two weeks before—is a solid strategy. Fortunately, programmatic tools can help them ensure they’re selling this inventory effectively.