Time-warp marketing

Cool summer

Not my cuppa tea

My prize for the most exaggerated marketing trick of the year goes to two companies who are stretching consumers’ patience and stretching the time continuum. Every year, companies put Christmas items on sale earlier and earlier. This year was the furthest I’ve seen anyone pull Christmas forward. I found this example of winter fruit teas in a German supermarket in AUGUST. I wish I was joking, but I’m not.

At the other end of the scale, I was still finding this summer yogurt (below) on the shelves in December. Summer variants in December? Do me a f(l)avour.

So why does this happen? The answer on one level is simple: because customers still buy the products out of season. It’s a proven fact (and the sales data confirms) that some people will cave in to temptation and nibble Christmas gingerbread in the autumn (or maybe now earlier). Similarly, what’s wrong with a bit of variety in the cold months rather than more winter flavours – when you can escape with the taste buds?

SummerYogThe other reason for this trend – which is incidentally not new, just being pushed to the extreme – is that shifting consumers to different seasons can flatten the peaks and troughs of seasonal sales. Why not make a bit of money before Christmas rather than cram all your sales into the most hectic four weeks of the year? And why not entice customers who are simply not turned on by yet more winter flavours and sell them some summer stuff?

Finally, there is a non-marketing motivation behind all this. The producers of Christmas products have major logistical problems coordinating intense manufacturing peaks, shoving stock into supermarkets and managing their warehouses. If they leave everything to the ‘real’ Christmas period, they would simply have too many items clogging up the factory and the logistics chain would crack under the strain. So supermarkets help producers and let them shift products early, almost like a downstream warehouse. At the same time they make some early Christmas sales – to a minority of customers, but an increasingly significant and willing minority.

I guess I’d better get used to summer Christmasses and yuletide summers.

Alex Woodruff

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