US Insights

First half highlights of the winter holiday advertising frenzy

Rachel Gursky

Content Marketing Director

TV 12.09.2019 / 09:00

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Kantar’s Media division analyzed this year’s trends in TV and paid search retail advertising for the first half of the holiday season

Once the true start of the holiday shopping season, the sales that begin late Thanksgiving Day have evolved in recent years. While the five-day weekend is still one of the busiest for retail, sales have been inching forward in the calendar, as well as lasting longer throughout the season, giving shoppers a longer window of opportunity to snag good deals.

Retailers are eager to connect with holiday shoppers during this crucial period and with more competition than ever, advertising plays a critical role. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), nearly 190 million Americans shopped in stores and online from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday 2019, and retail advertisers do what they can to grab their share of these consumers’ wallets.

Kantar’s Media division has analyzed this year’s trends in TV and paid search retail advertising for the first half of the holiday season, finding that these weeks remain as competitive as ever, with new leaders emerging and strategies shifting from some of the biggest retailers in the game.

The right time to shine

Thanksgiving fell a week later than typical in 2019, and retailers adjusted their advertising budgets accordingly. A comparison of weekly expenditures leading up to Black Friday in 2019 vs 2018 shows spend levels were off to a slower start. However, Black Friday week ended stronger this year than last, indicating retailers were holding back to reach shoppers closer to the anticipated long weekend. The increasing prevalence of fast and free online shipping may also be encouraging procrastinators. (The final date Amazon Prime members can get free shipping for Christmas delivery is December 22nd this year.)


Overall during the five measured weeks, total spend on National TV from retail advertisers reached $808 million, down 5% compared to the $847 million spent during the similar period in 2018. However, actual spending on the Black Friday week was higher in 2019, at $238 million as compared to $222 million. The gap may thus be due to a slower start, and could begin to narrow as we move further into the season.

Amazon takes the lead

Looking at the top 10 retail advertisers through December 2, 2019 (which includes Cyber Monday), we found a new leader emerge. After breaking into the top 10 for the first time in 2018, Amazon made its way to the top of the leaderboard this year with an 84% increase in national TV spend YoY. The e-tail king has been steadily increasing spend on TV in recent years after facing pressure from more and more retailers offering free same-day or next-day shipping.

Conversely, once the leader of the pack, Walmart cut its TV spend for the second year in a row, dropping from the top spot for the first time in recent years. Despite declines from the majority of the top 10, the overall percent change from this group was only -1%. The double digit increases from Amazon, Kohl’s and Old Navy were large enough to make up for some of the lag.

Black Friday bounces back

While retailers may be spending less overall, they are placing more of an emphasis on sale events to move their merchandise. In recent years we have seen less importance placed on “Black Friday” specific messaging, however 2019 told a different story. Spend on TV spots containing the term “Black Friday” increased by 23%, with retailers investing $146 million on commercials mentioning the sale event by name from October 28-December 2, 2019 compared to just $124 million during the similar time last year.

Many of them took advantage of the extra week leading into the season this year to reinforce their sale events, as well as retailers like Kohl’s who started offering Black Friday deals as early as November 1. Retail leaders Walmart and Target doubled down on their Black Friday promotions in an effort to win early shoppers, while Zale’s and Lowe’s also had considerable increases.

The extra promotions did not fall on deaf ears. The NRF reports that Thanksgiving weekend 2019 drew nearly 190 million shoppers, up 14% from 2018. Consumer spending increased in tandem, with shoppers shelling out an average of $361.90 on holiday items over the five-day period, an increase of 16% YoY.

Cyber Monday falls by the wayside

While Black Friday made a comeback, Cyber Monday didn’t fare quite as well. Retailers spent only $15 million on Cyber Monday messaging in 2019, compared to $26 million in 2018. Despite more shopping being done online, Cyber Monday messaging hasn’t made much traction in recent years.

Many retailers are now expanding their “Cyber Monday” sales to last all week, or in some cases all season long, giving less of a sense of urgency to get those ads out on the Monday following Thanksgiving. Some retailers even cut the term “Cyber Monday” from their TV promotions overall. In 2018 we monitored 17 retailers mention the event in their TV ads, compared to just 11 in 2019.

Creative analysis: Tugging at the heartstrings

Many retailers have been trying to differentiate themselves by placing less attention on sales and savings, instead finding more personal notes to connect with consumers.

For this year’s holiday campaign, Amazon took the focus off speedy deliveries with a more sentimental creative. Set to the tune of Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” and drawing parallels with the film Love Actually, Amazon began its holiday blitz early in the season, depicting the importance of spending the holidays with loved ones.

Meanwhile, Walmart’s main concentration was its grocery offering, showing how easy it is to order on its mobile app and pick up curbside when hosting family for the holidays. Walmart may have been relying on its strengths in grocery to draw in people doing last-minute shopping for the Thanksgiving feast, and then encourage them to start buying gifts via in-store merchandising and promotions.


Target celebrated diverse groups with its “Thinking of You” holiday campaign showing that no matter how you celebrate or what you celebrate, Target has what you need.

Home improvement stores Home Depot and Lowe’s both promoted getting your home ready for the holidays. Home Depot emphasized seasonal décor for the holidays you want to make the season yours, while Lowe’s focused more specifically on finding the perfect tree along with all the trimmings.


JC Penney began the holiday season on a sentimental note, but shifted gears to its “Black Friday Forever” campaign beginning close to Thanksgiving.

After taking a break from celebrity spokespeople in its ads in recent years, Old Navy brought in Neil Patrick Harris as the host of its holiday themed talk show called “Old Navy Tonight.”


Top Retailers in Paid Search Advertising, Black Friday-Cyber Monday 2019

Kantar also analyzed paid search advertising performance by retailers during the 2019 Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend, looking at U.S. Google text ad and product listing ad click share on 2500 popular retail product keywords from November 29 through December 2. Keyword examples include ‘xbox one’, ‘ps4’, ‘shoes’, ‘ipad’ and ‘engagement rings’.

Paid Search BF

Walmart was the top performer out of 5,043 advertisers appearing in product listing ads (PLAs) for the 2500 retail product keywords over the extended Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend. The retail giant generated an 11.5% click share during the period. Walmart has been concentrating on PLAs rather than text ads in its paid search strategy in recent years and ranked 12th in text ads during the period.

Amazon ranked second in PLA clicks with a 7.8% click share from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, while also ranking first in text ads out of 3,523 advertisers, with a 7% click share. Amazon has been inconsistent in its use of PLAs in the past, perhaps because so many shoppers are going straight to Amazon to start their product searches.

Online home goods and furniture retailer Wayfair ranked second in text ads with a 3% click share and fourth in PLAs with a 3.6% click share.

Kohl’s took the third spot in PLAs with a 5.4% click share and seventh in text ads (1.3% click share). JCPenney ranked third in text ads with a 2.9% click share while also garnering a 2.9% click share in PLAs, though it was only enough to rank the retailer in the seventh position.

Top toy advertisers

Looking deeper at one of the most popular holiday retail categories, Kantar also analyzed product listing ad and text performance on 895 popular toys keywords over the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend, including ‘xbox one’, ‘toys’, ‘playstation 4’, ‘baby alive’, ‘lego’, ‘nerf guns’, ‘calico critters’ and ‘hatchimals’.

Paid Search Toys

During the 4-day period we found product listing ads from 1,208 advertisers displaying on the toy keyword group. Walmart again led in PLA clicks, far surpassing the competition with a 25.3% click share. For comparison, the second ranked advertiser, Kohl’s, generated half as many clicks (12.5% click share) as Walmart, followed by eBay (9.9% click share), Amazon (8.9% click share) and Target (8% click share).

Within text ads, we observed 448 advertisers sponsoring the toy keyword group over the long weekend. Amazon was the top performer with an 18.7% text ad click share, followed closely by Xbox, which generated a 17% click share. Performance dropped considerably from there as the three advertisers rounding out the top ten gain single-digit click shares on the toy keywords: Best Buy (7.7% click share), Microsoft (4.8% click share) and Kohl’s (3.9% click share).


Source: Kantar

Editor's Notes

Kantar’s Media Division will continue tracking advertising throughout the 2019 winter holiday period and beyond. For more information about our competitive insights, please contact us at clientsupport@kantarmedia.com or 800.497.8450.

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