The way social media and stores are behaving, you’d think it was Halloween next week. No, you’re not imagining things, campaigns for holidays are in fact starting earlier each year, and we’ve got the data to prove it.

We took a look at major holidays in the back half of the year to see how early promotions have historically started, and to get a better idea of just how bombarded we’ll be in the months to come. It’s already looking like this will be the most engaged year for most of these holidays, as we’re gearing up for an entire season of promotional content, and numbers have skyrocketed since 2018.

Engagements to Web Content for Holidays in 2019

 


As this graph charts engagements to web content YTD, we see Christmas content drop off come January, get a sudden bump mid-summer, and then Halloween takes over from there. While many consider the official end of summer permission to lean in to the Halloween season, they’re forgetting a magical period that has only gained in popularity (or collective bemoaning) depending on your taste. 

Around the end of August, pumpkin spice starts to infiltrate all beverages, cakes, desserts, cookies and walks so the rest of the year’s holiday festivities can run. Pumpkin spice season was barely a blip on the radar a few years ago, generating a collective 2 million engagements to content in all of 2016. In 2019, it hit 2 million engagements in the span of four days this August. Brands and publishers alike can count on a boost in engagements when they cash in on this in-between holiday treat.

Engagements to pumpkin spice content in 2019

As you can see, there is no other time during the year when pumpkin spice receives this amount of engagement. Many companies have begun playing into the very trope that accompanies this autumnal beverage, as a way to capitalize on the public’s very divided interest. Busch broke into the conversation mid-August: during peak pumpkin promotion time they dropped a cryptic photo of a “Pumpkin Spice Latte Super Hard Seltzer” that has 17% ABV on Facebook then sat back and watched the internet lose its collective mind. Later admitting it was a joke, they still enjoyed interacting with their followers about the imaginary product and had some earned media to boot.

The most widely circulated story though came from bestproducts.com and featured those Pilsbury pumpkin spice rolls that were talked about everywhere on the internet as soon as Sept. 1 hit. 

Many brands are pulled into the conversation regarding new products and Starbucks may as well be synonymous with the season thanks to their original Pumpkin Spice Latte that started it all. Last year, pumpkin spice peaked in August at only 490k engagements, but this year hit over 2 million. So poke fun all you want, but brands and publishers are enjoying the fruits of their labor as pumpkin spice continues to climb in engagements and acceptance year over year. And if you hate it, rest assured, pumpkin spice falls out of the news cycle by mid-October, though people are already weeks deep in Halloween discussions at that time.

Engagements to Halloween content in 2019

It seems unbelievable but this year, stories about Halloween hit a gobsmacking 2 million engagements to content in July. Not even late July, either. In the middle of the month, Target’s preview of their wheelchair-inclusive costumes received coverage from several news sites, spreading quickly across social. The second spike came the first week of August, when “ugly Halloween sweaters” and Disney’s “grown up Halloween party” started trending.


With these levels of engagement, it’s hard to believe we’re still two months out from the holiday itself. Different brands are being pulled into, and voluntarily throwing themselves into, the Halloween conversation, though Target definitely takes the lead. Upcoming trends: ugly Halloween sweaters, Halloween advent calendars, and cashing in on Halloween-themed foods and drinks.

If last year’s numbers are any indication, we’re in for a long slog, as Halloween content doesn’t drop off until nearly the end of November. But here’s the affirmation we’re all looking for: engagements didn’t hit over 2 million last year until September, and this year Halloween peaked in July with 2 million engagements, so yes. It’s creeping into our lives earlier and earlier with no signs of slowing down.

Engagements to Halloween content in 2018

Next up is Thanksgiving and by way of association, the notorious Black Friday sale. The two have increased in engagements and earned media since 2015, but tend to get drowned out in the noise of the surrounding holidays.

 

Engagements to Thanksgiving & Black Friday content in 2018

Per last year, we should start to see content focused on Thanksgiving toward the end of September and gearing up for larger campaigns during October. 2017’s thankful season saw 13 million engagements for the holiday, while 2018 blew past 22 million on Thanksgiving day, and we’ll probably see an even bigger jump this year. Black Friday takes the smallest piece of the pie considering the holidays we are focusing on, but still gets a respectable 800k interactions by mid-October, peaking at 6 million last year during the sale itself.

Engagements to Holidays content in 2018

When we look at 2018’s spikes in engagement, it’s clear which holiday earns the most coverage. Nothing comes close to Christmas and its 45 million engagements that started ramping up as early as August. This year looks like it’ll follow suit, though an article released in April, yes, spring hadn’t even sprung yet, but Christmas was on everyone’s mind when delish.com broke the news that Hallmark will air a record breaking 40 new Christmas movies this year.

Engagements to Christmas content in 2019

When pulling the data for Christmas over the past few years, a pattern started to emerge. Every year during a decidedly non-Christmas month, a story would drive engagements to Christmas content while the rest of us were considering a vacation or pleasant drive to the beach. Turns out, Hallmark has carved out a niche to ensure their content does not get lost in the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

These stories typically generate hundreds of thousands of engagements and are always published during the Christmas “off-season” or in 2019’s case, before Easter even happened. 2018’s iteration of this story was published in March, though engagements were slightly lower, illustrating timing still matters when it comes to promoting something like Hallmark movies too early.

Christmas promotions and coverage will continue to creep up on us as we get closer to December, and the rest of the holidays will spend all season competing for attention. Regardless of what Christmas songs, promotions or movies lay in wait this year, at least we’re not Brown Thomas, who inexcusably, opened their Christmas shop a whopping 132 days prior to the holiday.

If you’d like access to historical social media data to learn what (or what not) to do for your next campaign, take a look at NewsWhip Analytics.

 

Katherine Ellis

Katherine is a Content Strategist working at the confluence of journalism + marketing. She's most interested in bridging the gap between business and editorial and exploring ways publishers can use data to inform their storytelling.

Email Katherine via katherine.ellis@newswhip.com.

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