Jul 14 2023
Clare McKinley

Ask an Expert: Holiday Advertising Best Practices


Turbulence around holiday shopping appears to be the unwanted gift that keeps on giving. Recent years have been marred by supply chain disruptions, inflation, and widespread economic uncertainty (not to mention a pandemic and international conflicts), foiling many holiday shoppers’ plans. And though we hate to be a Grinch about it, it’s beginning to look a lot like this year’s holiday season will bring more of the same.

Wondering how the nuances of 2023 consumer behavior will impact holiday spending and see what advertisers can do to optimize their investments for Q4? Read on to find out (and to get some industry-specific recommendations for automotive, higher education, CPG, and cannabis brands!)

How Will Economic Uncertainty Impact 2023 Holiday Shopping?

While this holiday season will likely include some undesired economic turbulence, the good news is that shoppers and advertisers alike now have a few years of comparable experience under their belts.

Like last year, price—which encompasses not just sticker price, but also factors such as coupon availability, perceived value, and/or the promise of free shipping and free returns—will be top-of-mind for consumers, more than a third of whom are buying less than they were six months ago. Customer loyalty is still the goal—especially in a world where 20% of customers produce 80% of your profits (s/o to the Pareto Principle!) But with economic uncertainty coloring all aspects of the holiday shopping experience, it's more important than ever for marketers to test their messaging, see what is resonating with consumers, and then make data-informed decisions as they implement and optimize campaigns.

Additionally, customers starting their holiday shopping earlier in the year is another trend that’s showing no signs of stopping. Last year, October e-commerce sales increased by almost 10%, thanks to pre-holiday season promotions like the Prime Early Access sale. As a result of promotions like these, plus consumer concern over shipping delays, low inventory, and higher prices later in the year, the holiday season now effectively spans all of Q4.

Finally, online shopping continues to gobble up a bigger slice of the holiday pie, with holiday retail e-commerce sales expected to grow by 11.9% this year. But brick-and-mortar is still very much in the game—in fact, in 2022, in-store holiday spending rose above $1 trillion for the first time ever.

Now that you’re aware of the biggest general holiday shopping trends impacting the 2023 season, let’s get into some industry-specific learnings:

Industry-Specific Holiday Advertising Guidance

Automotive Holiday Advertising Best Practices

For decades, automotive consumers have been trained to take advantage of great offers from automotive brands around this time of year. As a result, there are more in-market auto shoppers during the holiday season.

Rising interest rates and the microchip shortage continue to put pressure on the industry, but there are differences from this time last year that should deliver more advertising investment: vehicle availability is improving, and new electric vehicle brands, models, and tech are fueling massive buzz for the industry as a whole.

To best connect with automotive consumers this holiday season, advertisers should take advantage of increased site visits with retargeting, using purchase intent data to build audience segments (since purchase intent signals are strong drivers for life stage changes and major purchases like auto), and tapping into the football season by targeting premium CTV sports inventory with PMPs.

- Jim Zabel | VP, Client Development - Auto

Higher Education Holiday Advertising Best Practices

While there may be temptation to lighten advertising spend during Q4 when rates are a little higher, higher education marketers should refrain from doing so because the holiday season is crucial for recruitment!

For prospective undergrads, many families have important conversations about their future over the holiday break. Plus, the target market for undergraduate campaigns is likely spending way more time on TikTok and CTV over the holidays, since they’re on a break from school and have more time on their hands. These channels are always good ways of meeting this audience when and where they are, but even more so over the holidays.

- Kara Klein | Director of Client & Media Services

CPG Holiday Advertising Best Practices

If you’re a CPG advertiser, you've been building brand awareness all year long, and now is the time to help those investments pay off by focusing your advertising efforts on driving to purchase. Digital shelf optimization and point of sale activation are musts, and when it comes to media efforts, brands should prioritize screens and channels that meet consumers when and where they’re in a purchase mindset. This could look like using QR codes on CTV, placing “Add to Cart” CTAs on display ads, tapping into e-commerce opportunities within TikTok or Meta and, of course, leveraging retail media networks and their point-of-sale capabilities.

And here’s a bonus tip for CPG challenger brands: Make your dollars work smarter by concentrating on less crowded spaces, where your message will stand out, and by utilizing platforms with first-party shopper data to identify high-value shoppers or lapsed purchasers. And for brands large and small, be mindful of distribution and make sure that if you have messaging in-market, you’ve also got ample product on your shelf.

- Ashley Thorn | Director, Client Development

Cannabis Holiday Advertising Best Practices

In a market that’s growing more and more saturated, cannabis and CBD brands would do well to take up some space this holiday season. Investing in increased holiday spend will allow brands to not only reach their typical audience, but also cast a wider net to reach consumers looking for that perfect gift—and/or for help mitigating holiday stress.

These audiences are not the typical cannabis customers, so competitors will be less likely to target them, allowing your brand to own the space. Complement these efforts with promotional codes to encourage users to try something new. Then, after the holiday season, be sure to retarget holiday shoppers with loyalty messaging and promotions to encourage repeat purchases.

- Jane Frye | Director, Client & Media Services

While it may seem like Q4 is eons away, now is the time for advertisers to get started on their holiday campaign planning. Want to make sure you’re able to make the most of the seasonal opportunity? Our 2023 Holiday Advertising Checklist covers everything marketers need to know to enjoy a successful Q4.

Get the Checklist