As the Leaves Change, Holiday Ads Arrive

BEGINNING to look a lot like Christmas? Heck, for consumers, it has been looking that way for more than a month.

Some marketers are already running advertisements for — and posting content on Web sites about — merchandise, entertainment and other offerings related to the holiday season. Trees, theater tickets, holiday trips, porcelain Nativity scenes, crystal snowmen and even a New York Mets Christmas Village are being peddled in print and online ads.

There is a simple reason for this holiday creep: with the economy in such fragile shape, sellers of holiday goods and services are seeking to gather their dollars while they may.

“I do start early, and it has been very successful,” said Leon Gamze, president and chief executive at in Barrington, Ill., which sells artificial trees, lights and other Christmas merchandise.

How early? Advertisements for began appearing in September issues of magazines, which are published in August. One reader received the September issues of two magazines that carried ads from Mr. Gamze, Good Housekeeping and Martha Stewart Living, on Aug. 7.

To acknowledge the state of the economy, some ads for say, “Don’t miss our large selection of budget buys for extra savings!”

Although “the bulk of my business is October, November, December,” Mr. Gamze said, front-running the holiday alleviates some of the need to make sales closer to Christmas, when competition intensifies.

Other marketers already starting the holiday season, include Radio City Music Hall, part of Cablevision Systems. Its first ad for the 2008 edition of the annual “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” featuring the Rockettes, ran on Sept. 7 in the fall preview issue of the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times.

A spokeswoman for Radio City, Mikyl Cordova, said “the fall preview has always traditionally launched the media campaign” to sell tickets to the show, which this year will be performed Nov. 7 to Dec. 30.

Then, too, there are the purveyors of trinkets, bric-and-brac and collectibles like the Bradford Editions, the Hamilton Collection and Hawthorne Village.

They are already selling, among other things, the Thomas Kinkade “Holiday Reflections” crystal Christmas tree, the Hope Is Born Nativity, the Ultimate Disney Holiday Village, ornaments bearing portraits of New York Yankee players and the aforementioned Mets Christmas Village, including a snow-covered Shea Stadium with Santa Claus outside.

“You certainly shouldn’t be rushing Christmas, but it’s nice to be talking about your plans ahead of time,” said Frances Croke Page, a longtime executive at agencies like BBDO. She is starting a Web site devoted to New York during the holidays (, aimed at residents as well as tourists.

The Web site, developed by What Works, an agency in Long Island City, Queens, is intended as “a place to go for planning,” Ms. Page said, “not a place to go for jumping the gun” on the holiday season.

“I don’t want to get in the way of Halloween,” she added, laughing.

That sentiment was echoed by Kevin McCollum, producer of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” a Broadway musical with 63 preview and regular performances from Nov. 14 to Jan. 4. The first ad for the show ran on Sept. 7 and tickets went on sale on Sunday.

“You open your mailbox the day after Halloween, and all those holiday catalogs are there,” Mr. McCollum said.

Still, “I’m not getting a sense it’s too early for Christmas,” he added, referring to the timing of the campaign for his show, created by SpotCo, part of the First Artist Corporation.

The limited time the musical will be staged, its orientation toward family audiences and its Christmas theme mean “we have to get the word out” early, Mr. McCollum said. “If you’re buying four and six and eight tickets at a time, you have to plan it.”

Planning is also the rationale for a mid-September start for a campaign to promote visiting New Orleans for the holiday season. The campaign, by Peter A. Mayer Advertising, carries the theme “Christmas New Orleans style.”

“What we find is that people planning to travel over the holidays are already making their decisions now,” said Sandy Shilstone, president and chief executive at the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation.

“And we have requests for ‘Christmas New Orleans style’ information all year round,” she added, received by mail, phone and the Internet (

The campaign includes holiday themes for entertainment and meals, along with discount “Papa Noël” hotel rates.

Most major retailers wait until Nov. 1 to decorate their stores for Christmas or begin running ads with Christmas trappings. If they try to start earlier, they can draw complaints from consumers who prefer a more traditional approach to the shopping calendar.

But holiday merchandise can already be found on the Web sites of retailers like Target and Wal-Mart.

Mr. Gamze of said that occasionally his company would receive an e-mail message from a consumer who “will be a little cranky” that the company begins advertising so early, “but it’s rare.”

“If it wasn’t working for me, I wouldn’t do it,” he added. “I’m not that meshugeneh.”

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