Sarah Jennings
Sarah Jennings 22 December 2017

What can Santa Claus teach us about e-commerce media planning?

A light hearted look at international media planning through the lens of Christmas festivities, illustrating why it is important to know your audience; define your location accurately; make sure your timing is relevant and use innovation to stand out from the crowd.

In a few days’ time many children (and adults!) around the world start looking forward to their Christmas traditions.

We thought it would be fun to see what Santa can teach us about media planning.

  1. Know your audience.

Christmas fans celebrate in a wide variety of ways.

Lots of children leave incentives out for Santa – Christmas cookies and milk in the US, pan de pascua (the inevitable Christmas fruit cake with a cinnamon twist) in Chile, and his probable favourite, a pint of Guinness in Ireland. They think about the appropriate environment, so a cold beer cools him down as he passes over sunny Australia and a warming cup of coffee sustains him and keeps him awake as he crosses chilly Sweden.

Other children concentrate on Santa’ support system to make sure he arrives safely.  In Argentina they leave out hay for the reindeer after the long journey from Europe, and in the Netherlands, they leave carrots and water for Santa’s horse.

In the UK children hedge their bets with dual targeting – mince pies for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph.

In the Nordics, instead of Santa, the focus shifts to Nisser and Tomte, the two magic elves who accompany him. Children leave out risengrod, a type of rice pudding with fruit, to stop the naughty elves from sabotaging Christmas.

For more granular targeting it is important to get Santa’s name right by country – Pere Noel in France, Viejo Pascuero in Chile and Sinterklaas in the Netherlands.

The Germans are happy to share their data with Santa by leaving a personal letter addressed to Christkind, their nickname for him, so he can give them precisely what they want for Christmas.

  1. Define your location accurately

About 2 billion people celebrate Christmas – that’s a lot of people, but only a third of the world’s population.

 If only one third of people celebrate Christmas, two thirds don’t. Therefore, it is important Santa doesn’t expend time and energy on the 18 countries that don’t celebrate Christmas at all. These include Algeria, Bahrain, Israel, Morocco, North Korea and Pakistan.

In many markets Christmas is a commercial or relatively new public holiday aimed at increasing shopping and spending or is aimed at tourists, rather than being a religious or family experience. Santa needs to be aware of that, so his Christmas messaging makes sense. 

For example, only around 1% of people in China are Christian, so most people know little about Christmas. It is often only celebrated in the big cities where they have trees, lights and grottos. This is despite China producing most of the world’s Christmas decorations. 

  1. Make sure your timing is relevant

The Philippines like to get started early with the countdown to Christmas kicking off on September 1. This year 4 out of 10 tweets in the Philippines on September 1 this year were about Christmas, some 150,000 tweets in total. This countdown, known as Ber Months, is one of the key traditions that make this the world’s earliest and longest Christmas season, stretching to the third Sunday in January in parts of the country.  

Santa visits on Christmas Eve in many markets around the world. Gift swapping and a celebratory family meal happen on December 24 in countries including Lithuania and Poland. Bad news for the millions who ‘enjoy’ the last-minute Christmas Eve panic buying.   Any last-minute gift ideas sent on Christmas Eve will just have to wait for next year.

On the other hand, in countries such as Russia, Ethiopia and Greece, January 6 and 7 are the key dates for Christmas celebrations, so Santa needs to reserve enough energy to keep his campaign going a little longer.  

Some lucky children get presents twice, once at Christmas and once at Epiphany (although some unfortunates get gifts on Christmas Day and must wait until Epiphany to open them!) In some countries it is customary to give small gifts throughout the 12 days of Christmas – a little and often frequency strategy wining out over the one-off spectacular coverage.

  1. Use innovation to stand out from the crowd.

Icelanders have a beautiful tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve. Most books are sold between September and December in preparation for the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood”.  At this time of year, most households receive an annual free book catalogue of new publications to help them decide what to buy.

In contrast to most other countries, physical books win out over eBooks (it’s not much fun to gift an eBook) and the book industry is driven by most Icelandic people buying a few books each year rather than the UK or USA pattern of a few literary enthusiasts buying the bulk of books sold. 

Christmas Day is not such a big deal in Japan so in the 1970s KFC launched a Christmas menu to encourage people to eat chicken at Christmas, before the turkeys got a look in.  This has now grown to KFC’s largest sales day of the year with a Christmas countdown, a special Christmas menu, people reserving their takeaway two hours in advance and queues of well over an hour in the major cities.  Senior managers hit the shop floor for the day to make the most of the short-lived sales opportunity. KFC have created a KFC Christmas phenomenon.

So, thanks Santa – Christmas behaviours around the world reflect good media planning practice in a Brazilian nutshell!


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