Summer vs Christmas: Which seasonal campaigns are more important?

From Topshop’s Splash waterslide installation, to M&S's “Spend it Well” campaign, or Diesel’s “Make Love Not Walls” offering, summer campaigns are becoming bigger and better than ever in retail.

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Seasonal Campaigns

Despite what it might look like out your window, the British summer is just around the corner and just as often as the sun hides behind a cloud, a new retail summer campaign is unleashed.

From Topshop’s Splash waterslide installation, to M&S’s “Spend it Well” campaign, or Diesel’s “Make Love Not Walls” offering, summer campaigns are becoming common in retail.

The growing budgets mean summer campaigns are fast catching up with flagship Christmas marketing pushes. With behaviour and circumstance differing greatly between the two events, which is more important for retailers to ensure they get it right?

Lawrence Alexander, director of digital strategy at marketing agency Home, believes summer success is still at the whim of the weather.

“At Christmas, marketing can make a big difference. In contrast – in Summer the weather still makes the most difference,” he told the Retail Gazette.

“It’s easy to get stuck into the cycle of seasonal campaigning, historically this strategy has proven to be a measurable way for marketers to demonstrate ROI and grow revenue.”

“No matter how good a campaign is, no-one wants shorts or ice lollies when it’s only 12 degrees.

“A lot of businesses are now relying on the ‘dump’ of cash at Christmas to pay for the coming year (or even the past year). But with events like Black Friday, it’s becoming more fiercely competitive.

“Plus, the homogenisation of production means brand and campaigns are more important than ever.”

Although (as we have seen this spring) the weather can be unpredictable, a smart marketing strategy can turn this to the retailer’s advantage.

Christopher Baldwin, head of marketing for Northern Europe at Selligent said: “It’s easy to get stuck into the cycle of seasonal campaigning, historically this strategy has proven to be a measurable way for marketers to demonstrate [return on investment] and grow revenue.

READ MORE: Retail Gazette Loves: Marks & Spencer’s “Spend it Well” campaign

“While this is still the case at present, consumer behaviour is changing and traditional ways of thinking are no longer enough to guarantee ROI and engagement.

“The key is to create and offer content that is both relevant and valuable for consumers in the moments that matter — and when there is no reason to communicate, then don’t. It is better to be silent, than to be irrelevant.

“So how does this work in practice? Take for example a clothing retailer, they could amend offers that reflect the weather forecast or use the customer’s historical transactional data, such as preferred garment colour, to ensure any offer/engagement is personal and relevant.”

Unlike the traditionally lighthearted themes of Christmas, there has been an increasingly politicised narrative running through many campaigns this summer.

Although Diesel’s “Make Love Not Walls” campaign makes a clear dig at controversial US President Donald Trump with no major consequences, using politics in marketing is can often end in tears for companies. Pepsi’s recent PR furor is a prime example of this.

“A challenge for retailers is the absence of any calendar events over the summer.”

Alexander argues that depending on your goals as a brand, this may work in a retailer’s favour.

“They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and that’s probably true if all you’re interested in is brand awareness and brand recall.

“People aren’t keen on big brands exploiting emotional topics for their own gain, but you only have to see the search trends for Pepsi versus Coke to see this is the first time in a year that Pepsi has outranked Coke for Google searches. It begs the question: what is good?”

Fung Global lead analyst John Mercer adds that this also depends on a company’s audience.

“Political campaigns are rarely right for mass-market brands, as Pepsi has learnt,” he told the Retail Gazette.

“These types of campaigns tend to be much better suited to more niche brands in categories such as fashion and beauty: Lush is a retailer known for taking political standpoints, for example.”

Despite the clear opportunities summer offers for retailers, the short, sharp focus of Christmas means that consumer spend is far greater, and therefore marketing campaigns take priority.

READ MORE: Retail Gazette Loves: Topshop’s VR water slide

“A challenge for retailers is the absence of any calendar events over the summer. After the spring run of Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Easter, there is only Father’s Day in June until back-to-school shopping gets under way,” Mercer said.

“M&S appears to have struck the right note with its ‘Spend It Well’ campaign across food and clothing.

“This campaign successfully encompasses the diverse types of discretionary seasonal purchases that shoppers make over summer, which stand in contrast to the more focused purchasing of calendar events such as Easter and Christmas.

“Christmas remains a much more important season for most retailers, and December remains the peak shopping month.

“Some 12.5 per cent of 2016’s total retail sales were made in December, versus July accounting for 7.6 per cent of annual sales and August just 7.3 per cent, according to ONS data.”

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