4 Ways Retailers Can Avoid a Gap Moment This Holiday Season

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As Gap learned earlier this week with its tone-deaf political tweet, American consumers are anxiously awaiting results in what may be the most significant presidential election of their lifetimes. It is therefore not the right moment for a generic message about unity from an apparel brand.

Most other retailers have thus far avoided the topic on social media and are instead focused on holiday deals. And, decision or not, the election is unlikely to disrupt their holiday advertising strategies otherwise.

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That’s in part because Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas are 20, 34 and 49 days away, respectively, and most media budgets have likely already been committed by now. Retailers are also actively trying to woo customers in the longest-ever holiday season on record.

“I’m not sure how much more of an opportunity retailers have to severely curtail or pull back spend at this point,” said Kyle Rees, director and sector lead at Gartner.

Matt Baker, chief strategy officer of Deutsch New York, agreed retailers have to be promoting their holiday messages now “and they need to be solidifying their consumer base … while building a more robust and engaging ecommerce presence.”

In fact, Dom Gazzuolo, senior director of paid search at Wpromote, said it’s possible ad inventory prices have even dropped in the absence of political ads, which could make this the ideal time to make more of a holiday marketing push.

But the uncertainty of the election, combined with an ongoing pandemic that will undoubtedly impact holiday celebrations this year, means retailers have to be particularly careful. Here’s how they can avoid digital marketing faux pas through the remainder of this landmark year and still connect with customers.

Ponder your promotions—and pivot as needed

The Gap tweet once again demonstrated retailers need to carefully plan their messaging.

“I never think it hurts to stop and listen and actually maybe think twice and scenario plan the decision to promote something right now,” Rees said. “Game it out a little bit.”

Mara Greenwald, director of the Shop+ unit at Mindshare USA, noted we’re more likely to see retailers pause their campaigns in social media and on news sites than their direct messaging at this point given the extension of Black Friday deals in 2020 and the need to communicate.

The good news for ecommerce and online grocery, however, is they can be nimbler with performance models than media planned months in advance.

“With those performance models, retailers can quickly adjust based on demand,” Greenwald said. “And they can make optimizations based on factors such as Covid activity in their local geographies, in-store versus online behavior and the prevalence of BOPIS.”

Beware of contextual advertising on social media

Brands should also be cautious about contextual advertising.

Rees said he was in Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. this summer when Black Lives Matter protestors were tear-gassed to make way for President Trump’s photo op at St. John’s Church.

“And I remember coming back to my porch and I’m sitting on Twitter and I’m watching things and there’s all this talk about fire [and] smoke … and this ad for a charcoal brand shows up,” he said. “And I’m like, okay, where do you not want to be as an advertiser [when] the association that you’re picking up on has a much more negative connotation to it?”

The lesson for retailers is clear: listen to online conversations—and make sure you’re refreshing your ad targeting campaigns for this moment.


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