Media Buying Briefing: A look at agencies’ holiday spending strategies this year

This Media Buying Briefing covers the latest in agency news and media buying for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Monday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

This year’s holiday spending season indicates earlier sales periods and audio trends that could attract more Gen Z consumers. Additionally, artificial intelligence and measurement will play a bigger role during these competitive times.

The holiday shopping surge is expected to surpass previous December peak periods, with 50% of spending expected this November alone, according to Proximic, Comscore’s programmatic targeting division. Shopping will get a boost thanks to trends like more mobile shopping, social media commerce and Amazon deal days.

“Gone are the days when Black Friday was confined to a single day,” said Jack Lindberg, director of media insights and analytics for Amazon Marketing Cloud at The Mars Agency.

Chris Stiner, senior executive of account services at Media Culture, cautioned that while e-commerce clients have seen online shopping stabilize this year, the continued inflation also has brands maintaining their advertising in “a more reserved manner” compared to previous holidays.

The shifting spending season

Major retailers from Amazon to Target started their Black Friday deals as early as mid-November. In addition to Cyber Monday’s continued sales, many brands are also extending their discounts later into the quarter to “maintain sales momentum,” Lindberg said.

“Amidst this changing scenario, economic uncertainties — whether perceived or real — are making consumers more responsive to discounting and price sensitivity,” Lindberg added.

Angela Seits, managing director of strategy and insights at PMG, also noted that clients are launching Black Friday offers “earlier than ever to get ahead” during this competitive advertising environment. Seits added that PMG research also shows people are “comparison shopping” earlier in the season — but holding out for bigger deals.

“Economic and inflationary pressures are influencing consumer spending,” Seits said. “Clients that launched early in October or created unique promo events over long weekends — while maintaining a promotional drumbeat — are seeing this approach pay off.”

Purchases from new buyers start increasing in November and remain high through December, with three-quarters of people saying they spend increasingly more time online hunting for deals, per Criteo’s holiday spending survey.

Social and audio’s impact on Gen Z

New forms of social media and audio content may have greater appeal to Gen Z audiences particularly during the holidays. More than two-thirds of shoppers will use social media to get gift inspiration. Leading this trend, 87% of Gen Z consumers expect to find shopping inspiration through social platforms, per Proximic.

Christena Garduno, CEO of Media Culture, added that online spending is expected to grow faster than in-store purchasing. “It’s looking like 2024 will be a busy holiday shopping season,” Garduno said. “This is partially caused by the ongoing expansion of e-commerce and the rising acceptance of multichannel purchasing.”

PMG’s holiday shopper research this year also found a growing interest in audio content among younger consumers. Gen Z was best reached through audio content, like music and podcasts, and said they use that channel to relieve holiday stress. This group was also more likely than other cohorts (that prefer television) to seek inspiration from influencer content for holiday shopping, per PMG.

“I think Gen Z is turning audio into a fully immersive ecosystem of experiences,” Seits said. “They don’t just listen to their favorite artist or podcaster and move on. They binge-listen to content and then follow artists and podcasters on social, and they join communities of like-minded listeners on Reddit and Discord.”

More than 70% of Gen Z are listening to podcasts with video at the same time. Seeing the hosts and influencers of their favorite podcasts also helps them feel more connected, Seits explained.

AI and measurement

With AI playing a great role in content, Garduno anticipates seeing more AI usage across customer support, campaign personalization and ad spend optimization. She also mentioned virtual and augmented reality content forms growing as “customers may virtually try on items or visit businesses from a distance with the help of AR and VR shopping experiences.”

More varied marketing strategies have made measurement a greater focus recently. As Greg Wolny, chief activation officer of Code3, mentioned, they are getting more granular when looking at measurement “for each dollar spent” and focusing more on incremental lift and other non-Return on Advertising Spend-types of KPIs.

“This is resulting in testing new platforms for ad tech and reporting,” Wolny said.

While holiday shopping will remain competitive this year, agencies are more reserved going into the first quarter of next year as inflation and other economic factors remain. Clients are expecting year-over-year drops in ad performance, said Nitin Sinha, head of paid media at Laundry Service.

“One piece of advice we always give clients during times of economic uncertainty is that consistent upper-funnel messaging — without the expectation of immediate short-term returns — is extremely important at this time,” Sinha said.

Color by numbers

As the presidential election season ramps up, research from Samba TV showed that Gen Z and millennial voters may be harder to reach this cycle. Some findings:

  • 56% of baby boomers have seen “a lot” of or “some” political ads, but that drops to 46% for both millennial and Gen Z voters.
  • 41% of voters get their news through streaming platforms, but that increases to 54% for millennials.
  • The proportion of voters who have seen political ads through streaming has almost doubled since August, up from 14% to 27%. For millennials, that jump was 34%, up from 18%.

Takeoff & landing

  • Netflix selected Crossmedia as its new media agency of record for Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
  • Mediahub was selected as the global media agency of record for wearable company ŌURA.
  • Full-service marketing agency Jacobson/Rost rebranded to Morning Walk: A Performance Branding Company.
  • Exverus Media added Hillary Kupferberg as its vp of performance marketing to oversee the retail media and e-commerce department.
  • The Mars Agency hired Victoria Cromie as managing director for its Toronto office.

Direct quote

“We can’t accept that a company’s approach to safety will drastically change every time they get a new CEO. The fact that OpenAI’s board were able to fire Altman despite knowing the backlash they would face is actually a good thing; most tech companies are far too beholden to their founders, even though this has often had terrible consequences.”

— Max von Thun, Europe director for the Open Markets Institute, about OpenAI’s board ousting Sam Altman.

Speed reading

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