Since Thanksgiving came late this year, that leaves less than four weeks between Turkey Day and Christmas Day. Cue the shopping frenzy! — and the TV ad blitz, with brands ramping up spend to make sure they get a piece of the $727.9-plus billion pie that the National Retail Federation is estimating consumers will spend this season. And even with a tight shopping season, IBM’s Holiday Retail Forecast predicts consumer spending between Black Friday and Christmas will be up 4.07% compared to 2018.
“The shortened holiday shopping period puts the squeeze on consumers wanting to get more done in less time,” writes Connor Folley, CEO of Downstream, an Amazon product-marketing SaaS platform, in a recent MediaPost piece titled “Is Your Brand Prepared for the Holidays?” He adds that “the same can be said for retailers and brands, trying to maximize the end of the year to hit sales benchmarks. The compressed timeline and constantly changing advertising landscape provides an advantage for brands willing and able to invest more in a short period to capitalize.”
For a bird’s-eye view of holiday TV ad spending, we’ll start with a look at one of the go-to retail categories for time-crunched shoppers: department stores. According to iSpot.tv, the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company, department stores have been slowly but steadily upping estimated TV ad spend since October.
Top-spending retailers so far this season include Walmart (est. $118.7 million), Target (est. $106.4 million) and virtual department store Amazon (est. $74.8 million). Looking at year-over-year trends for these brands (Oct. 1 through Dec. 2), each has increased spend, but to varying degrees: Walmart inched up 3.16%, Target has spent 10.63% more, but Amazon has really upped outlay — by a whopping 42.25%.
Walmart shelled out way more for ads that ran on TV on Thanksgiving Day both this year and last year than the other top-spending brands, and most of that went to NFL football. Speaking of football, Thanksgiving Day games this year captured an estimated $274.5 million overall, a 15.28% increase from the 2018 spend during Thanksgiving games.
Getting a bit more granular, here’s a look at some of the top-spending retailers for TV ads that aired on Black Friday, per iSpot. College football appeared in the top five programs by spend for Home Depot, Target and Amazon, while Kohl’s and JCPenney prioritized The National Dog Show.
- Kohl’s – est. $1.61 million
- JCPenney – est. $1.49 million
- The Home Depot – est. $1.47 million
- Target – est. $1.39 million
- Amazon – est. $1.28 million
We also took a look at TV ad spend for Cyber Monday, and the list shifts a bit, although it’s worth noting that the No. 1 program for spend on Monday for each of these brands was — surprise, surprise — NFL football.
- Walmart – est. $3.39 million
- Amazon – est. $2.73 million
- Rakuten – est. $2.38 million
- Kohl’s – est. $2.06 million
- Target – est. $2.04 million
Sports — Important, But Not the Whole Story
Live sports remain one of the best ways to reach a wide, engaged audience, but it’s worth noting a somewhat subtle difference in strategy between department stores and online retailers. Since Oct. 1, online retailers have prioritized spend to:
- NFL football
- College football
- The 2019 World Series
- NBA Basketball
While department stores have prioritized shelling out to air ads during:
- NFL football
- The Voice
- Jimmy Kimmel Live
- The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
- College football
Narrowing the timeframe to Nov. 15 through Dec. 2, we see an interesting shift: although NFL remains No. 1 for both categories, The Voice moves into second place when it comes to where department stores have spent, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Ridiculousness also move into the top five for both.
One thing to keep in mind is that spend doesn’t always equal TV ad impressions. For example, Hallmark, known for its seemingly endless parade of holiday movies this time of year, appears in the top five networks for impressions generated for both department stores and online retailers. And for online retailers, HGTV also makes the top five list (Wayfair, anyone?).