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Published November 30th 2023

The Christmas Creep: How Brands Can Optimize Marketing for the Holidays

Is the holiday season coming earlier each year? Or is this just a myth?

We dove into the social data to see how brands can optimize for the Christmas selling season and discovered the impact current affairs could have on consumer habits.

Let’s take a look.

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So, what is the Christmas creep?

The term “Christmas creep” was originally used to describe the phenomenon of retailers introducing Christmas-themed merchandise before the traditional start of the holiday season.

Now, it’s slowly becoming a household phrase to explain Christmas seeping into our lives earlier and earlier. Merriam-Webster has even recognized “Christmas creep” as a word to watch.

Unsurprisingly, most of the sentiment-categorized online mentions about the Christmas creep this year have been negative – 77%, to be exact. Consumers begrudge indulging in the festivities too early, hoping not to get Christmas fatigue from a long stint of holiday-themed songs, foods, and films.

Yet there are still plenty of consumers who are more than happy to accommodate an earlier Christmas season.

So, is the Christmas creep real? And does it impact consumer conversations about the festive season? Or is it simply a phenomenon that comes part and parcel with mentioning Christmas in November?

Let’s find out.

Is Christmas coming early?

To discover if the holiday season is creeping earlier each year, we used Brandwatch Consumer Research to monitor conversations about Christmas over the last few years.

This year, online mentions of Christmas have been lower than any year since 2020 – so far, at least. And there are almost 2 million fewer mentions between this year’s November numbers compared to the peak in 2021.

It seems Christmas isn’t coming earlier – or if it is, this conversation isn’t happening online.

In fact, looking at the data, the number of online conversations about Christmas in October is getting smaller every year. Fewer people are indulging in the festivities in the early fall months.

So, what might be impacting consumer conversations about Christmas?

Rising inflation could be a factor. Canadians are reportedly scaling back on Christmas presents this year due to the ongoing cost of living crisis. This is a pattern across the globe, with two-thirds of UK consumers also planning to spend less on festivities.

The social data paints a similar picture. In November, there were over 26,000 mentions about the cost of living impacting festive plans. Consumers are sharing concerns about giving up luxuries around the holiday season.

Consumers are preparing to budget over Christmas, perhaps contributing to fewer online mentions about Christmas overall. With added spending concerns, people are less excited about the festivities than they used to be.

So, what else might be contributing to the reduction in online mentions about Christmas? Maybe the onslaught of Christmas-related marketing is making people less enthusiastic about the festivities. With retailers throwing up Christmas-themed campaigns early into November, some consumers are disgruntled about the early celebrations. This could be leading to fewer conversations about the season in October and November.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. While mentions about Christmas are down this year, emotions in the remaining mentions are largely positive – there were over 3 million joyful mentions in November.

Let’s look deeper at some holiday-themed conversations to get insight into consumer opinions on the Christmas creep.

Christmas songs…already?

Apparently, we’re listening to festive music earlier than ever. This year, both Wham!’s and Mariah Carey’s famous Christmas songs entered the UK’s top 40 music charts earlier than ever. ‘Last Christmas’ and ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ began climbing the charts in early November, reflecting a growing anticipation among listeners for these festive tunes earlier than ever.

Looking at the social data, it seems chatter about Christmas songs peaked earlier in 2022 than it did in 2023. This year’s data shows a steady lead on 2020 and 2021, but we’re yet to beat last year’s November peaks.

So, why wasn't there an early peak in the online conversation about festive songs this year, despite the charts showing people listening to Christmas music earlier?

Stores might be contributing to Christmas songs peaking in the charts. Retailers famously play festive tunes around the holidays, so maybe they’re getting the joy in early. This marvel triggers emotional spending – consumers spend more when feeling heightened emotions, like joy from Christmas music.

Another contributing factor might be that consumers simply aren’t sharing their Christmas song obsessions online. Whether it’s because they feel it’s too early to share their festive listening habits or because they’re content enjoying Christmas tunes on their own – consumers aren’t discussing their festive playlists as often on social media. 

But that doesn’t mean they’re not indulging in a bit of Wham!.

How to win the festive season

We’ve established that consumers seem to be suffering from festive fatigue. From a reduced holiday budget affecting spending habits to a reduction in those discussing Christmas on social, brands might need to adjust their festive marketing strategy to make up for dwindling attention. 

Rather than leaning into hardcore consumerism, brands might benefit from centering positive values at the heart of their campaigns. The holidays are a time for giving – and not just materialistically. It’s a time for families and friends to gather, spend quality time together, and care for one another. Perhaps leaning into these values can promote a positive consumer-brand relationship.

An excellent example of a campaign honoring these values is Cadbury. The UK-based confectionery company has developed a campaign that allows customers to send free chocolate in the post to a loved one – calling it the Secret Santa Postal Service. The campaign has been running for multiple years, and last year, it reportedly increased annual revenue by £261m.

At the heart of this campaign is Cadbury’s customers. Rather than asking them to spend more, they’re giving back. And it’s paying off.

IKEA Canada also followed a similar theme, kicking off a campaign last month about “taking a holiday from the holidays.” By centering their Christmas ad around switching off and leaning into their values over bolstering profits, the retailer has received praise online from customers.

Brands that lean into value-based marketing will likely benefit during the festive period despite the Christmas creep impacting consumer spending habits.

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