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Target Decides It’s Never Too Early for Christmas Ads

Lisa Scherzer
Personal Finance Editor
The Exchange

This year's presidential election was supposed to put a hold on retailers' usual onslaught of holiday ads. But one chain couldn't resist.

In what appears to be the first opening salvo of holiday shopping spots, Target (TGT) aired a Christmas-themed TV commercial over the weekend (AdAge's report), eliciting a few "too-soon" cries from consumers who are just starting to think about their Halloween costumes.

Though it feels as if they appear earlier and earlier each year, holiday TV ads typically start showing in early November. Online coupon site RetailMeNot.com recently issued a report dubbing the shopping season "OctoNovemCember," saying that 39% of consumers begin their holiday shopping before November, according to their survey.

But snow and Christmas lights in mid-October? Just for the record, there are 37 days until Thanksgiving, and 70 until Christmas.

The Target commercial features Bullseye, the company's canine mascot, running down the street with a shopping bag full of presents on Oct. 14. The ad highlights Target's new holiday price-match program that launches Nov. 1.  (One YouTube commenter griped: "Hey Target....can I at least finish trick or treating before I get bombarded with Christmas?")

Target is certainly trying to get the holidays on shoppers' minds. The retailer partnered with Neiman Marcus on a holiday gift collection and gave Good Morning America a first look on Tuesday at some of the designer products. (The gifts, priced from $7.99 to $499.99, will be available nationwide at stores and online starting Dec. 1.) The Minneapolis retailer also said that, starting Oct. 14, it would feature 20 toys in store aisles with signs featuring QR codes. Shoppers will be able to scan the codes with their smartphones to buy those products and have them shipped for free.

Impact on Holiday Sales?

Early this month the National Retail Federation said it expects holiday sales to rise 4.1% this year over 2011, to $586.1 billion. That's lower than last year's growth of 5.6%, but higher than the 10-year average holiday sales gain of 3.5%.

In a still-weak economy, retailers are getting ready to fight hard for every holiday dollar. And Target's ad "is just the warm-up for what I consider to be an aggressive holiday season" when it comes to promotions and price, says Thom Blischok, chief retail strategist at consulting firm Booz & Co.

Still, is being the first retailer up to the plate going to make a difference for Target's holiday sales?

It's unlikely consumers will bite, says Robert Passikoff, president of brand research consultancy Brand Keys — at least not any earlier than they would have. "There's been this theory over the past few years that, the earlier you advertise, the more likely you are to get someone into the store and they'll buy something in the store that won't buy somewhere else," he says. "The actual shopping patterns haven't proven that out."

As with nearly every major shopping holiday (including back-to school), says Passikoff, consumers will wait until the very end to get the best deals.

Readers, how do you feel about holiday promotions in October? Do they factor into your shopping decisions or do you tune them out?