The good news is that the election is behind us, so expect political ads to disappear from the airwaves more or less immediately. The bad news is that you can now spend the next six to seven weeks getting thoroughly sick of Christmas advertising.
The Ad Shift
Thanksgiving comes every year on the fourth Thursday of November, followed by Black Friday the next day.
This year, the first of November fell on a Thursday, which means that Thanksgiving 2012 falls on the 22nd -- the earliest possible date for the holiday. That means the earliest possible kickoff to the holiday shopping season, so retailers are understandably chomping at the bit to make their pitch for holiday dollars as soon as possible.
|You bet, I'll be there when doors open at 8pm.||1 (20.0%)|
|No, it's family time.||1 (20.0%)|
|I'm going to do my Black Friday shopping online.||1 (20.0%)|
|And miss football? You must be joking.||1 (20.0%)|
|After turkey, the only thing I'll head to is a pillow.||1 (20.0%)|
But the election threw a monkey wrench into those plans. Americans have been too preoccupied with the presidential race to give serious thought to the quickly approaching holiday shopping season.
"So many people are fixated on the election itself," points out James Brown, director of merchant accounts for price-comparison site PriceGrabber.
The other critical factor is advertising space, especially on the airwaves. With commercial breaks stuffed to the gills with political ads, retailers who wanted to get a word in edgewise would have had to pay a pretty penny.
"The advertising game is all about pricing right now, and retailers don't want to compete with campaigns bidding for air space," says Brad Wilson, founder of deal-hunting site BradsDeals. "Once that's out of the market, they'll step in and pay more reasonable prices."
That doesn't mean that retailers have been totally sitting on their hands. Target got an early jump with a TV spot that it introduced weeks before Halloween, and retailers have also taken advantage of other promotional channels like email.
"Each year [retailers] get more diversified and into social media, so advertising dollars are going to more than TV and print," says Renato Scaff, an executive in Accenture's retail practice. "If they're sending an email to their consumer base, they're still going to get the email."
But now that the political ads are gone, those new-media marketing techniques will take a back seat to the onslaught of tried-and-true TV and print ads. Macy's, for instance, announced Tuesday that its star-studded ad campaign for the season would debut Thursday, just two days after the election.
Fortunately, the debut of ad season also means the debut of early holiday deals and sneak peeks at Black Friday circulars.
"[Retailers] want to get the season started," says Wilson, who posts leaked Black Friday circulars on his site. Whereas retailers were hitting him with cease-and-desist letters last week, now that the election is over, he says, they'll be a lot more eager to get their circulars in front of a less distracted customer base.
And shoppers don't even have to wait for Black Friday. "The next phase really kicking off now is pre-Black Friday. Starting this weekend, you'll see retailers like Toys R Us and Walmart doing deals," Brown says. "Everybody's racing to get that wallet share early."
Indeed, a number of retailers have either announced their Black Friday deals or had them "leaked" this week. Walmart announced Thursday morning that it would be opening on Thanksgiving at 8 p.m. -- its earliest opening ever -- and would offer deals on the iPad 2, TVs and video game consoles. Best Buy, meanwhile, released a 20-page preview of its Black Friday deals, which will be available starting at midnight.
The deals we see this weekend and next won't necessarily be the best of the season, and it makes sense to scan the Black Friday circulars that will be released (and leaked) in the coming days to see which deals are worth waiting for. But make no mistake about it: Retailers know you've only got so much money to spend. Now that they have your attention, they're going to do everything they can to get their hands on your gift budget before the competition.
"Everybody is trying to outmaneuver each other," says Scaff. "If I can get it out of your wallet before everyone else, that's a good thing. "
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.