When to Run Holiday Campaigns: An Analysis of 53,850 Social Media Ads

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Running a social campaign is a lot like buying a flight. Costs go up and down, and at one point you may be paying twice as much for something as you would on another day. Everyone wants to get the best deal, but if everyone tries to buy at the same time, costs go up. Both also tend to cost more during the holiday season. But just like with flights, it is possible to be a savvy shopper and make sure that your brand is getting the most from your precious Q4 campaign dollars. To help you make a more informed decision with your bids this season, we looked at more than 50,000 ads run over three years, across five platforms, and by advertisers in 19 industries. Here’s what we found.

In 2015, social ads on Thanksgiving had the highest average CPM (cost per thousand), as marketers prepared feasting consumers for the next day’s Black Friday shopping. That shifted in 2016 and 2017, as Cyber Monday became the top day for social media advertising. The shift was gradual; in 2016, the Cyber Monday CPM was only $0.26 higher than the next holiday CPM. One year later, Cyber Monday CPMs spiked, towering over the second-highest by almost $2. In 2016, that next-highest CPM was on Thanksgiving. In 2017, it was on Black Friday.

See More: Social Ad Strategies for Thanksgiving Weekend

It’s not just CPMs that are changing – shopper behavior has also been shifting online and from Black Friday to Cyber Monday in recent years, with Cyber Monday reaching record levels in 2017. 81 million people (US) shopped online on Cyber Monday last year, growing the day 17% year-over-year to $6.6 billion. That’s compared to 66 million online shoppers on Black Friday.

When structuring your holiday season campaigns, it’s important to keep in mind that costs will spike on these key dates. In both 2015 and 2017, the average CPM dropped nearly $3 the day before and the day after the CPM spike (in 2015 the spike was Thanksgiving, in 2017 it was Cyber Monday). You may need to spend on those days regardless of the cost, but you can look for opportunities to keep targeting focused when costs are high.

Think about your Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday spending as the opportunity to reach the key group of customers you’ve been honing in on all quarter long. By taking a fuller-funnel approach to your holiday campaigns, you can target more broadly for brand awareness, look for consideration indicators to narrow your audience, and then target a select group for conversion on those highest CPM days. Audiences that are still in the awareness or consideration phases can continue proceeding down the funnel as the season goes on, as you’ll have ample opportunities to convert and retain them before the end of the year.

Download: Awareness to Conversion,
The Best Ad Types for Every Stage of the Funnel

The first two weeks of November and the last few days of December consistently have the lowest CPMs of the holiday season, but there are also low-CPM days to look out for between the season’s spikes. The first Tuesday in December, for example, has had one of the lowest CPMs of the holiday season for the past two years. The Monday before Thanksgiving has also clocked in lower than the season’s average CPM for three years running. And in 2015 and 2017, Christmas had the lowest CPM in all of December.

Instinct tells us that people unplug on Christmas Day and it’s a bad time to advertise online. The data, however, shows that those instincts are wrong. The only time that consumer internet usage really dies down during the holidays is for a few hours on Christmas Eve. The rest of that week sees higher-than-normal internet usage. Traffic peaks on Christmas and Boxing Day – 15-20% higher than the previous week – with users on the internet more throughout the morning and staying online later at night.

Some of the top keywords searched on Christmas day over the past few years included Nintendo Switch, Walmart hours, Zara, Lululemon, AirBnB, movie theater, Xbox, IKEA, Playstation, Burger King, McDonald’s, iPad, and hoverboard. Popular topics included sales, sports, and what to watch.

It’s clear that, on Christmas morning and in the hours that follow, consumers are looking for a place to eat, something to watch or do, and the must-have items they didn’t unwrap that year. This presents a myriad of opportunities for advertisers, and shows there’s no reason to slack on social advertising just because gifts have already been purchased. Instead, you can take advantage of the low CPMs on Christmas to reach consumers who are spending just as much (or more) time online than they were before the holiday.

To see more, download our Complete Guide to the Holidays >