Do seasonal campaigns work?

"St Matthew-in-the-City is at the sharp end of the Anglican Church."


Forget about any religious connotations: Easter is one of those festivals of consumerism, another time for marketers to make merry and make money.

But do seasonal campaigns work?

“The thing about seasonal ads is they are an excuse for retail to make a new pitch. They will always try to link things through, Easter specials, Christmas specials, ensure there is some seasonality,” David Walden, Whybin/TBWA chief executive said.

Whybin/TBWA handles the 2degrees phone account and always has a Christmas campaign linked to sales.

Some seasonal campaigns have even become annual classics, such as crooner Vince Martin’s “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” for Beaurepaires at Christmas. “He obviously works. He reinforces the brand. The rest of the time they are yelling at us to buy-three-get-one free. Christmas is the time to reward the customers,” Mr Walden said.

Mr Walden cited other recent campaigns such as “DIY roses” for Tui beer and the Women’s Refuge Valentine’s Day Card as successful seasonal adverts.

Indeed, as Ben Goodale, managing director of Justone explained: “Seasonal advertising allows retailers in particular to bring some change to their advertising and keep it fresh; retail events are really important because they provide reasons to shop. It helps provide cues to consumers that ‘now is a great time to hit the shops.’”

Thus, such ads dominate Christmas and Easter, times more about shopping and seeing friends than religion.
“Seasonal campaigns are also fun. They freshen up the creative staff and play on emotional aspects (warm fuzzies about Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas). This resonates well with consumers,” Mr Goodale said.

“All retail and lifecycle calendars are planned months out and so these things are never a surprise. We’re already thinking about campaigns for Spring, and soon we’ll be thinking about Christmas,” he said. “And yes, using seasons works, otherwise you’d see a lot less of it.”

DDB managing director Justin Mowday agrees: “Yes, seasonal ads do work. All the major retailers, such as the Warehouse, will be working around Easter. Retailers look for new news, week in week out. They need to make themselves fresh and relevant. Calendar events can help them do that,” he said.

Thus, Labour Weekend has become a big retailing weekend, with big box retailers discounting heavily to shift stock in the start to summer.

There are seasonal products such as frappes at McDonalds and frozen L&P during summer. “I guess the whole seasonal thing stems from people wanting to be relevant,” MrMowday said.

Fluctuating advertising costs suggest seasonal campaigns must work for many or they wouldn’t do it.

Starcom NZ chief executive Alastair Jamison said his company does considerable seasonal work, confirming advertisers see it as an opportunity to make campaigns relevant and topical.

“Around key retail seasonal periods the TV ratecard is more expensive,. On Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – media activity goes up, driven by seasonality,” Mr Jamison said.


Blackwood Communications Group chief executive James Blackwood brands much of the seasonal advertising as a “barrage of crass commercial co-op crap from the major chains.”

Mr Blackwood harks back to the days when “newspapers ruled” and clients had budgets put aside for opportunities.

“Why, because topicality was a chance to look nimble and in tune with the zeitgeist. They’d also win awards,” he said. “I think topicality deserves all the kudos. I’d opt for a topical message over a seasonal ad any day.”

During the Rugby World Cup, Mr Blackwood’s agency BCG2 delivered the Avigra campaign, which featured the euphemistic line “Keep it up, Lads.”

And the day after the first snow in Auckland for 72 years, Barnes, Catmur and Friends ran national newspaper ads for Subaru to reassure concerned Aucklanders that the streets were still passable.

“It’s far more rewarding to see that someone has made the effort to respond to real news. It also positions them as quickwitted,” he said.

“It’s the unexpected occurrences, such as the Japanese tsunami and Christchurch [earthquakes] that force you to think differently,” Mr Blackwood said.


If Jesus is the “reason for the season,” as Christians claim, He seems as endangered today as those rabbits in Alexandra.

The controversial St Matthew-in-the-City church in Auckland is almost alone in featuring religion in its seasonal campaigns.

This Easter’s billboard showed a Facebook image of Jesus on the cross, with a “like” from Judas Iscariot.

“It [the church] is at the sharp end of the Anglican Church. It uses the billboard to get issues discussed about which it feel strongly,” said David Walden chief executive of agency Whybin/TBWA, which runs the seasonal campaigns for St Matthew-in-the-City.

“When we do it well, the talkback lines light up, the letters to the editor are written. The whole thing becomes a debate, which is what the advertiser is seeking,” he said.

DDB managing director Justin Mowdray said religion is “too sensitive (to feature in ads). If you are negative about one religion, you offend people. If you are positive, you offend others.”

Blackwood Communications Group chief executive James Blackwood suggests other reasons why campaigns not “do” God.

“I’m not sure the crucifixion and the resurrection are the most fertile grounds for pithy, blithe one liners. Poking fun at anyone’s creed, colour or beliefs is a cheap shot. Building an advertising idea around it is suicide,” he said.

As a consequence, one would have to go back to the mid-1990s for a “decent” ad that used Easter as a reason to advertise.

“It was a Colenso Wellington ad for Beaurepairs,” Mr Blackwood recalled.

“It reminded people to check their tyres before they ‘hit’ the road. It was something like ‘Only one person ever rose from the dead at Easter. Drive safely’. Not a bunny or egg in sight and it was very powerful at the time,” he said.

Of course, there is one company that thrives on using religious imagery in its campaigns, seasonal or otherwise.

Yes, Hell’s Pizza has gained much controversy and publicity for it. But, confirming the comments above, offended Catholics have boycotted the pizza chain.

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