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The holiday season is upon us, but consumers are celebrating differently than they have in years past as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve. The availability of vaccines marks a major difference this year from the 2020 holiday season. Yet, uncertainty about gatherings lingers under the shadow of the delta variant.

As holiday celebrations could be put on hold for another year by many, people are looking to brands as a source of inspiration for creative ways to celebrate. Always a part of holiday preparations, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies now have a particularly influential role in how people shop and celebrate this season.

The most innovative CPG brands have recognized the need for data-driven marketing to evolve with these sweeping changes. Leveraging Google consumer signals, they are showcasing their brands to consumers with the right messages at the right time this holiday season.

Going big and prepping early

CPG brands are central to holiday celebrations and shopping: In the U.S., Food and Beverage is the most commonly purchased category across seasonal moments. For example, 87% of people shopping during Thanksgiving buy in the category. For New Year’s festivities it’s 79% and for Halloween it’s 61%.1

As excitement about the 2021 holidays grows after a relatively quiet 2020 season, brand marketers have much to look forward to. While 47% of U.S. consumers say that COVID-19 will impact how they shop during the holidays,2 many are already planning celebrations — and are doing so early. Over the summer, year-over-year Google searches for “how many days till halloween” grew globally by over 80%, while year-over-year searches for “costume ideas” and “how many days until Christmas” each grew by 60%. And as of August 2021, 61% of U.S. holiday shoppers say they will plan their shopping early to avoid items being out of stock.3

Spooky spider and jack-o’-lantern. 80% increase in Google searches for “how many days till halloween” YOY.

Halloween reimagined by Hershey

Given the uncertainty surrounding how people would celebrate Halloween 2020 (or if they would celebrate at all), Hershey turned its attention to the holiday earlier than usual last year to ensure that KitKat bars would play a role in Halloween festivities. The brand wanted to bring joy to consumers during an otherwise subdued holiday and to help them celebrate Halloween in a way that felt safe and fun.

We were able to understand which markets would celebrate traditionally or would celebrate Halloween in a modified approach at home.

— Charlie Chappell, VP of media at The Hershey Company

To accomplish this, Hershey worked with Google to understand consumer trends in the U.S. market for Halloween 2020. They developed a custom insights model leveraging Google Search data to assess how people were feeling about trick-or-treating.

“Using this data, we were able to understand which markets would celebrate traditionally or would celebrate Halloween in a modified approach at home,” explains Charlie Chappell, VP of media at The Hershey Company. “This allowed us to not only understand consumers, but also design creative that resonated with them emotionally.”

Hershey reshaped its creative messaging, serving one ad in markets more likely to trick or treat and another ad in markets less likely to do so. It subsequently reached custom audiences on broad-reach platforms like YouTube. The result was Hershey’s “best Halloween ever” from a sales perspective, according to the company. From a brand lift perspective, the new creative outperformed past seasonal creative, driving record numbers for both ad recall and consideration, and delivering positive marketing mix model results.

The results from 2020 have provided momentum for a strong 2021 sell-in of product to Hershey’s retailers, consistent with the industry’s expectation of a major rebound for trick-or-treating in 2021. Hershey’s is continuing to leverage Google Search data as it executes its media plan for Halloween 2021.

“Harnessing the power of both first-party and third-party data, we can use insights to understand what matters most to our consumers right now and build the organizational muscles to be ready even in uncertain times,” Chappell says.

Bringing beautiful holiday moments back with L'Oréal

The beauty industry has been significantly disrupted during the pandemic due to quarantines, salon closures, mask-wearing, and a general lack of social interaction. Subcategories like skin care and hair color flourished in 2020 as consumers abandoned the salon for at-home treatments. Makeup, on the other hand, was relegated to video meetings and sometimes removed from everyday routines as people both masked up and worked from home.

Data is key in ensuring we are responding to consumer’s needs and creating personalized experiences.

— Shenan Reed, SVP, head of media, L'Oréal USA

But during the first quarter of 2021, L’Oréal noticed a renewed demand for makeup. The company used Google Search data to monitor category shifts to understand when and where there would be demand for key makeup products. The data revealed that restrictions and safety guidelines were correlated to makeup product searches; areas that saw loosening restrictions also saw an increase in searches. This insight allowed L’Oréal to strategically plan its marketing efforts across a variety of media platforms in the first half of the year.

“Data is key in ensuring we are responding to consumer’s needs and creating personalized experiences for them to feel engaged and invested in our products,” says Shenan Reed, SVP, head of media, L'Oréal USA.

As the holiday season approached, L’Oréal took a hard look at how the pandemic affected not only the “what” of beauty marketing but also the “where.” With YouTube viewership shifting to connected TV (CTV) devices, L’Oréal increased its visibility on the TV screen. By doing so, it was able to drive stronger brand lift on CTV than with cross-device marketing.

L’Oréal is also turning to the power of automation within search to segment and personalize communication with consumers for the holidays. While a customer who’s ready to purchase might receive a message guiding them to a specific retailer, a customer in an exploratory stage may be given an opportunity to discover and engage through virtual try-ons or other digital experiences to help them find their perfect shades.

“Throughout the holiday shopping season, we’ll be closely monitoring our campaigns across platforms to adapt to any changes or capture unexpected opportunities. Automation helps us make informed, real-time decisions to do so,” says Reed.

Driving strategy with data

Using signals from Google Search, YouTube, Shopping, and Display gives marketers a real-time pulse on consumer sentiment so they can fine-tune their marketing. With people ready to celebrate this holiday season, marketers will need to take just such a data-driven approach to create messaging that resonates and is personally relevant to customers.