When to advertise

Pester power and attention share

In 2017 I made a Christmas list. I’m too old to be writing to Santa, so this was slightly different – it was a list of all the commercial entities who thought it appropriate to send a sales e-mail on Christmas Day.

There were 23 companies in all, including two who emailed twice. I made a point of unsubscribing from each of their mailing lists. I doubt that it damaged their profits greatly, but it made me feel better. It annoyed me that they couldn’t just take a day off.

I had no doubt that each of their marketing directors would’ve found justification for the decision to hit up the database on the one day that almost everyone agrees is sacrosanct. They’d have looked at last year’s figures and mapped out the efficacy of the messaging and the timing, they’d have said it was effective and proved that it’s all they care about. I don’t know what advertising means to you generally, but I’d hope you have more pride in your brand than that.

Times move on and I saw fit to repeat the exercise in 2020. This time around, perhaps due to more conscious mailing list management (on my part), there were 11 offenders including a double hit from Netflix. Amusingly there were also some repeat offenders whose lists I’d clearly strayed back onto, unless they were in breach of GDPR protocols. I’m sure Ebay, First Choice & Secret Escapes will argue otherwise.

What disappointed me this time was the banality of the messaging. I’d have hoped that if you were going to bother me on the one day that everyone in the UK accepts as a national holiday, you’d at least make it worth my while. Sadly, it was the same old, same old. A sale or a discount or similar. It’s almost like they’re only interested in me for my money.

Obviously, some brands never take a break. Commerce knows no bounds in the 24-hour economy. There is clearly a temptation to think that the shop is always open and the consumer always available. If your interest is only in profit or being front of mind this may be an acceptable way to behave. I might be over-sensitive about commercial intrusion, there are undoubtedly thousands of people who don’t care about such things. To me it’s a question of how you wish your brand to be seen, what you want it to represent. If that’s naked profiteering and disdain for social norms, then so be it.

More than anything though, I want to believe that you’ve given it some thought. I don’t want to think that the primary motivation was that you’ve got some shit to sell and there’s a potential to grab attention on a day when people are relaxing. Are advertisers at risk of treating Christmas just like an average Sunday, a time when you know people are online and you can overwhelm them with commercial messaging?

Is everything fair game and nothing off-limits? I always ask clients to think about their ideal consumer and how they get in their heads, how they want to be spoken to, what they want to hear. It is important also to know when they want to hear from you and how often. Too many marketing people ignore this and simply rely on repetition. In these times of greater personalisation, it’s simply not good enough. You must try harder and be smarter, otherwise how do you stand out from the crowd?