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Xmas commercials are stronger this year, but sales aren't

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While holiday retail commercials were stronger this year, according to one index, actual store traffic was weaker, according to another.

Stronger commercials

This year's ten top holiday commercials were stronger than last year's on the Ace Metrix index. Ace constantly tests commercials on representative panels of more than 500 consumers and scores them on an index of 1 to 950 for such attributes as persuasion, likeability, attention, relevance, information and watchability. This year's winners averaged a score of 653, a significant improvement over last year's average of 621:

  • #10 – Lowe's "It's Easy" (635) : As a woman in her kitchen keeps going to her refrigerator for different things, the refrigerator changes to a type that meets her need of the moment. The voice-over says, "It's easy to find the perfect fridge for your family," presumably because Lowe's has so many different ones in stock.
  • #9 – Olive Garden "Holiday Menu" (637): A family manically celebrates a lunch at Olive Garden, where "the hottest gift is a fresh-baked breadstick." It's essentially show-the-factory-with-product-closeups and a little seasonal voice-over copy thrown in.
  • #8 – Kohl's "Christmas Surprise" (639): A couple living in an urban brownstone hastily decorates an apartment room for Christmas, then hurries out, just before an old woman enters the building and goes to her apartment, which was the ione the young couple just finished decorating. The only references to Kohl's are a store bag in a medium shot and the end title.
  • #7 – Samsung "It's a Miracle" (649): Santa conducts a Steve Jobs-style product introduction meeting.
  • #6 – US Postal Service "Holiday Delivering" (653): Postmen and -women sing, off-key, to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," about what they're delivering. The voice-over promotes priority mail, "with 11 scans, so you can watch us get it there."
  • #5 – IHOP "Holiday Meal" (654): A straight retail spot, featuring closeups of "pancakes with holiday toppings," non-pancake main courses and desserts. In a nation of record obesity, it's no wonder that scored well.
  • #4 – Pillsbury "Make the Holidays Pop" (655): A recipe commercial for making bacon cheddar pinwheels with Pillsbury ready-made dough.
  • #3 – Duracell "Very Special Batteries" (658): As a Duracell truck drives along a snowy street, all the battery-operated toys and gadgets it passes power on. The voice-over explains that Duracell Quantum batteries and that "These red batteries are so powerful, they'll power all the Hasbro toys donated to Toys for Tots." What its use of the passive voice doesn't explain is who's doing the donating – Duracell, Hasbro, generous consumers, or some unidentified fourth party.
  • #2 – Reynolds "Cookie Magic" (669): Through the magic of animation, a sheet of Reynolds parchment paper tears itself off a roll, forms itself into a mini-superheroine, and saves a sheet of cookies from breaking and crumbling while baking.
  • #1 – Walmart "Christmas Magic" (687): Happy shoppers buy toys, then put nthe toys they've bought into a Salvation Army carton, which gets loaded onto a Salvation Army truck. We then dissolve to a boy in what's supposed to be a needy home (but looks a bit upmarket from that) as he tears open a wrapped package, sees it's a toy and grows wide-eyed with amazement. The last five seconds urge viewers to "Donate a toy or coat today" (after first having bought them at Walmart, or course).

"[M]any of the ads on this list are successful because they effectively impart values of family, giving and togetherness," Ace Metrix CEO Peter Daboll said in an email. "While consumers have a tendency to reward philanthropic work, this holiday season saw more do-good creative at the top than ever before."

Though some of the spots may have done good, another metric showed they didn't necessarily do well.

Weaker sales

Retail analytics firm ShopperTrak show that "Brick-and-mortar...store traffic in the final week before Christmas posted the third straight week of double-digit declines."

Traffic for the week of December 22, which included the last weekend before Christmas, was down 21.2 percent from the same week last year.

The two weeks before that were also down double digits.

And the weekend before that – Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend – traffic was down 4 percent.

In spite of that, the holiday shopping season as a whole was up 2.4 percent over last year – in traffic, but not necessarily in revenue or profits. That's because this year, many retailers had to buy store traffic with deep discounts – some as aggressive as 50 percent off the entire purchase. "Morgan Stanley analyst Kimberly Greenberger said that half of the retailers she covers offered whole-store discounts, compared with only 35 percent last year," CNBC noted. As a result, she said, negative fourth-quarter earnings revisions could be coming.

When you sell at a loss, you can't make it up in volume.

It just goes to show that whiloe strong advertising can accomplish a lot, it can't work miracles.

Specifically, it can't overcome many of the things that this year's holiday slump has been blamed on – snow and ice storms in the Northeast and Midwest (no doubt resulting from Global Warming), a big consumer shift from brick-and-mortar stores to online buying (especially during snow and ice storms), and tightened consumer spending (as we end Year 5 of the Obama economy).

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