Advertisers, Marketers Jump On Network Christmas Sleigh

Only days after Labor Day, retailer Kmart aired its “Not a Christmas” commercial filled with decorated trees and a white-bearded man in a red suit led by a reindeer. The store was letting possible customers know that its layaway program was the perfect solution for any late-December events that call for a number of gifts — but they definitely couldn’t have meant Christmas. It was too early for that.

Then again, perhaps not, according to trade group the National Retail Federation, which found that 40% of holiday shoppers start purchasing gifts before Halloween. And in an online post analyzing its year-on-year data, PayPal senior director of global media initiatives Anuj Nayar declared that the U.S. holiday shopping season kicked off this year on Sept. 30, with a big spike on payment transactions.

Programmers, well aware of consumer fondness for the ever-early holiday season, have taken full advantage. Hallmark started its “Countdown to Christmas” schedule on Halloween day.

Hallmark Channels CEO Bill Abbott is bullish about his networks’ fourth quarter, thanks to their wall-to-wall holiday programming. “Contrary to a bunch of places, we believe we are going to be up,” he said. “We’re showing increases in prices, and not only in revenue.”

Hallmark set up advertising deals for its “Countdown to Christmas” as early as last February with retailers that “were really focused on that mid-November through early- December, Black Friday period,” Abbott said.

The popularity of Christmas programming doesn’t only work for advertisers, it also helps cement other facets of a larger brand.

Hallmark’s “Christmas in July” slate premieres the same week Hallmark Gold Crown stores preview their annual Keepsake Ornaments for the upcoming holiday season. “We really work with retail to try to drive traffic not only to the stores but back to the channel,” Abbott said. “On social media, so many people will comment that they went and bought an ornament and then are enjoying holiday programming at the same time.”

And July’s Christmas-themed programming also leads into each season’s premiere of scripted series Cedar Cove.

ABC Family is following a similar strategy with the “Countdown to the 25 Days of Christmas.” Within the schedule, the network will air five hours worth of holiday specials from their scripted series such as Pretty Little Liars and Melissa and Joey. “What’s great is that it gives our fans an opportunity to catch up with their favorite characters during the holidays but also an opportunity to tell our audience about the new season’s premieres that come back in January,” said the network’s executive vice president of strategy and programming Salaam Coleman Smith.

Lifetime pushed back its Christmas clock this year, starting its holiday schedule on a similar timetable to ABC Family’s. “Last year, we were even earlier [on Nov. 9] and we felt like we were too early,” said the network’s senior vice president of original movies, Tanya Lopez. For 2014 the cable network instead “had a different strategy,” said Lopez. “Thanksgiving feels like the time that families are starting to move into that holiday space. Specials and event programming have a bit more of a home.”

Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever premiered Nov. 29 on Lifetime, two days before Cyber Monday.

“I think advertisers are asking, ‘How do we reach women?’ and this is the way they reach them — especially with the purchasing power of women entering into the holiday season,” Lopez said. “I know our sales department is very excited about our holiday movies.”