2006 Online Holiday Campaigns: End of Season Perspective, Part 2

In the first part of this analysis, which took place in early December, I reviewed the mid-term advertising and marketing of the 2006 online holiday shopping season. At that time, results were lackluster according to outside analysts and pollsters, not so much because of campaign execution but due to consumer procrastination and disappointment in the online retailers’ sites. Now that the holiday shopping crush is over, how did retailers really fare from their online ad campaigns? For direct marketers and agencies not completely done in, here’s what I heard:

Plan Early

Since many of the successful campaigns began with audience research, landing page tests or e-mail database development conducted months in advance for the sole purpose of maximizing holiday sales, campaign strategy and planning should get started six to nine months in advance. Advertisers should conduct post-mortems following this current season to see what worked and didn’t work to help build next year’s campaigns, but still allow room for flexibility given the mutable nature of the Web.

More Holistic Approach

This season’s winning campaigns moved far beyond mere placement of a banner that clicks through to a home page or a gift-giving section. Armed with pre-season psychographic studies and the ability to layer ad buy targeting through demographic, behavioral, and content targeting, agencies produced campaigns more holistically, creating unique mini-sites aligned with the motivations of their target audiences. For Philips, Tribal DDB created three separate ad campaigns, one reaching out to the angst-ridde,n gift-giving female. To alleviate “gift giving perfectionism,” at the Philips Gift Profile Center, visitors could enter the last three gifts they gave their man to receive an analysis of what these gifts reveal about them.

“The gifts we give send hidden messages. Our site decoded those messages in a fun way and aimed to make [the visitor] a better gift giver,” said Steve Nesle, the creative lead on the project. The site directed traffic to Amazon for purchasing.

Quality creative also plays a factor. “We saw an increased interest by advertisers to provide us with high quality images during the holiday season, whereas in other times of year, we are often driving those discussions,” claimed Vikki Neil, VP of interactive sales at HGTV.com.

Dabbling in Social Marketing and Video Ads

New for the 2006 holiday season, advertisers have tested social marketing channels like running videos on YouTube or promoting their own blogs. Trust in the medium played a big role, but so did the desire to experiment and see how response fared.

Advertising.com saw a huge surge in video ad buys. “We have had more campaigns running on our video network in Q4 than in any other quarter,” said Mollie Spilman, chief sales and marketing officer.

Paid Search a Mixed Bag

While many advertisers loaded up on paid search ad campaigns during the holidays (Bluefly up over 100 percent from 2005), some, like Ice.com, curtailed search spends during the holidays. “Smaller players getting involved push up our bids and make search less profitable for us,” explained CEO Pinny Gniwisch. Gniwisch does advise advertisers study how search converts differently, even by individual keyword and search engine, to deliver on audience expectations with landing pages that help close sales.

E-mail Still Plays an Important Role

For most online retailers, e-mail is still a tool of choice, particularly during the holidays. Some, like Bluefly and Ice.com, sacrificed a bit of quality in order to build quantity by running sweepstakes. Q Interactive, the company behind Cool Savings, saw intense demand for lead generation in October and November in advance of the final selling season push, by far the highest volumes they’ve seen. In late November into December, Q Interactive advertiser attention moved to CPM-based e-mail display advertising even for traditional CPA advertisers who wanted guaranteed visibility. “This CPM e-mail was surprisingly successful, which was likely the result of Q Interactive already knowing the CPA goals of our [advertisers] and tailoring the campaigns to meet those conversion targets,” revealed Q Interactive CEO Matt Wise.

Extended Deadlines Helped

While everyone saw a longer online holiday buying season from start to finish, early promotions were not as fruitful as extended deadlines for last minute shoppers made a big difference. Ice.com themselves decided at the last minute to extend their shipping cut off date from December 20th to December 22nd and the difference was substantial.

Measuring Success

Success metrics varied. Of course, many online retailers primarily focused on sales, measuring success by conversion metrics, ad cost to sales ratios and ROI, but there were advertisers who were also “interested in creating brand favorability and driving site traffic,” according to Advertising.com’s Spilman. With more advertising dollars online than ever before, this bodes well for 2007.

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