The Q4 holiday season has traditionally been a peak period for the allocation of brand marketing budgets. Last November, TV ad spend grew to $241.3 million in the US during the holiday season, according to eMarketer’s 2016 & 2017 report. Sales during this critical period can often make – or break – a brand’s year.
With audiences harder than ever to reach through traditional advertising, marketers are turning to brand integration as a way to break through the clutter during the all-important holiday season.
Brand integration in film, television and, increasingly, influencer channels present robust opportunities for marketers to reach audiences by leveraging a behavior consumer often indulge in over the holidays: bingeing content. What many brands don’t realize is that these opportunities must be planned and secured well in advance—in many cases 6 months ahead of the holiday season and in the case of feature films as long as 1-2 years beforehand. In the way that network TV advertising continues to be sold primarily through an Upfront buying process many months in advance, marketers need to look at brand integration opportunities for Q4 through a similar lens across all channels and platforms.
Take holiday movies as an example. The gestation period for this type of scripted content on cable and streaming—think Lifetime, Hallmark and Netflix—can take anywhere from 4-12 months. These projects are filming now until the end of summer. In the theatrical feature film world, studios start selling integration opportunities years in advance as films are often shot more than twelve months before the release date. Right now, pre-production for many 2019 Q4 films are in full swing so marketers need to move fast if they want to be featured in next year’s big Dreamworks or Disney theatrical movie release.
For unscripted opportunities across daytime and late-night TV, shows are also already selling integration packages for their holiday specials. Big tentpole events like “Ellen’s 12 Days of Christmas”—a brand integration bonanza—are already doing deals. According to various reports, approximately 90% of people are currently skipping pre-roll ads appearing ahead of online video content and TV shows. Brand integration is increasingly gaining traction in marketing departments as a result. Integrations have proven to drive 89% higher purchase intent and 74% higher brand awareness over traditional 30-second spots.
As for influencer programming, the meteoric demand by marketers to partner with the stars of YouTube, Instagram, and other social media is at an all-time high this year. While it may be possible for well-known brands who are willing to pay a premium to step in at the last minute, most brands, especially smaller and more niche-oriented ones, need to start the relationship-building efforts with influencers over the summer. While influencer marketing has gained a reputation for quick-turnaround deals, when it comes to the holidays, influencers are in high demand and inundated with offers well in advance. Pricing and deals need to be locked in during Q2 and Q3 for Q4 activation. Many influencers book their brand deals for November and December in the summer as they look to leave time for their own holiday vacations and family time.
The virtues of brand integration have been widely established. If done organically and strategically in full partnership with the content creator or distributor, the relative authenticity of a seamless brand integration can generate results that are much more impactful than your typical :30 TV spot or online video pre-roll. For example, Cost Plus World Market’s holiday 2017 campaign, which supported the retailer’s ‘Empowering Small Spaces’ event and seasonal push, accumulated over 1.4 million YouTube views and over 2 million Instagram story opens. While inspired creative execution is table stakes, brand integration should not be done in a vacuum. They should be planned, negotiated and executed as part of a broader campaign. Creating these opportunities as part of an integrated approach versus one-offs will result in better results including higher clickthrough rates.
As with any successful marketing campaign, strategy and planning for holiday brand integrations are the key to success. While most of us might not want to think too much about Christmas during the summer, locking in deals for film, TV and influencer content early can help make the (register) bells ring in December.