New Year’s Resolution: Start Planning for Holidays Now

As Christmas decorations get packed away, media buyers are already thinking about the upcoming holiday season. Inventory will open in January, and many savvy media buyers plan to place their buys early.

The new year is underway, and many media buyers, including Avenue A| Razorfish and retailers such as Overstock.com are already planning for 2006, including the holiday season.

“One of the most notable things about holiday planning [in 2005] is it wasn’t the frenzied land grab,” Jeff Lanctot, VP of media and client services for Avenue A | Razorfish, told ClickZ News. “Retailers started looking at inventory in January and refined their programs throughout the year.”

The long-term commitment reveals a maturing of the channel. “I think it reflects that there is a commitment to online advertising, there is a recognition that is part of a long-term retail strategy,” said Lanctot.

The media mix is spread across channels for Lanctot’s, with search playing a strong part of the strategy. “I think you have to put search at the heart of most retailers’ holiday campaigns. As you start to branch out of search you have to include rich media,” he said.

“This year, more than other years across the board in all aspects of search, we find that advertisers are becoming more sophisticated,” said Matt Kain, SVP of North American search at 24/7 Real Media. “They understand the need to have interplay between their promotional calendar and online activity.”

Kain said there’s been more thought and planning than in previous years. “This is very welcome in our area,” he said. “We know that traditionally there is a significant increase to buy around the holiday season, we’re able to help our advertisers make sure their budgets are capable of handling holiday.”

While many retailers outsource media buying, Overstock.com built its own system to implement and monitor its placements. The shopping site varied its media buy with a heavy emphasis on search.

Overstock ran extensive search campaigns over the 2005 holiday season. In addition, the online retailer leveraged tens of thousands of affiliates in its media plans, and placements on comparative shopping engines like Shopping.com and Bizrate.com. It also put holiday messaging in its ongoing email campaigns.

Planning for the holiday season began in January for Overstock.com, as Lanctot said about Avenue A | Razorfish clients.

“We started in January to secure some of the prime places,” said Kamie Twomey, senior VP of marketing for Overstock.com. “Planning for specific promotions is done closer to the second quarter; we don’t have a good gauge of specific products until later in the year.”

Ads began to appear early in November with a building presence through Thanksgiving. “At the beginning of November you can start hinting about the holidays, some people are ready; others aren’t,” said Twomey. “The standard is to start any time after October, but we want to be sensitive to our customers.”

Overstock.com boasts over 750 thousand products sold from its site, so keywords and other messaging are extensive. One of the underlying messages is the flat-rate shipping.

“By [mid-November] you’ll start to feel the inflection of the holidays, as long as you’ve planned well, it frees you up to start thinking about January and the first quarter,” said Twomey.

“I’m very optimistic about the success of the holiday season,” said Lanctot. “Retailers in early 2006 will realize they have to make the same brand commitment online as in stores.”

Online retailer Timberland said it holds holiday planning until closer to the season. “We can be a little bit more proactive with lead-times, we shoot from the hip and make decisions close to market,” said Timberland senior director of ecommerce, Troy Brown. “A lot of creative acquisitions [for the 2005 holiday season] didn’t happen until August.”

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