Driving Holiday Sales Through Native Advertising

Posted by WhatRunsWhere on December 17, 2015
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The holiday season is in full swing, which means brands are going head to head to compete for the attention of consumers through numerous advertising channels. With over 50% of shoppers planning to do their holiday buying online this year, there is no doubt that the digital channel is a major priority. Especially since brands can build digital holiday campaigns to drive online sales and in-store traffic.

One of the major digital trends being used to serve holiday campaigns this year is native advertising as brands can reach audiences in an unobtrusive way. These days, consumers are eager to learn about products through content and with native advertising, advertisers can reach audiences with creatives that seamlessly blend in with content being browsed on sites.

With brands under pressure to drive sales during the holiday season, WhatRunsWhere decided to investigate the online strategies of four major department stores, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and JCPenney. Eager to find out whose holiday campaigns are capitalizing on native advertising and whose missing out on a lucrative opportunity to drive sales? Get the answers below!


Up first in our holiday investigation is Macy’s (macys.com). When analyzing their online strategy, we discovered two holiday native ads – suggesting a native-only strategy so far in the season. Looking at the creatives below you’ll notice the advertiser is split testing two different headlines with the same creative to determine which resonates more with audiences.

          holiday campaigns     holiday campaigns

So which ad performed better? We went behind the scenes and learned that the Get Back to Macy’s creative only ran for one day at the beginning of this month while the It’s Not Too Late to Save creative was first seen early December and ran until mid-December. The longer running campaign suggests that the creative was converting more which is why Macy’s ran it longer.

Although these native ads don’t have an obvious holiday design, the landing page they both lead to does. Below you can see Macy’s Happy Holidays, Canada message that promotes free shipping with a purchase of $130 or more. It complements their Friends & Family Sale which is the main focus of the landing page. This ad was placed through Yahoo! Gemini.

 holiday campaigns


Next up in our investigation is Nordstrom. Our analysis included both shop.nordstrom.com and nordstromrack.com; the results indicate a different strategy for each site.

For shop.nordstrom.com, WhatRunsWhere uncovered a native-only strategy to kick off their holiday promotions. In the creative below you can see Nordstrom promoting Jewelry as a ‘Gift Idea’. The simple headline, combined with an image of a female modeling different jewelry, entices viewers to click to learn more about the possible gift. We saw this ad run for 6 days in mid-November, evidently their holiday campaign started earlier than Macy’s.

holiday campaigns

Below you can see the landing page this native ad leads to which promotes ‘Memory-Making Jewelry’ as a gift idea. While the ad creative clearly focuses on holiday gift-giving, it’s interesting to note that their landing page is product focused. This is a common strategy in native advertising called direct response marketing. Creatives are designed to trigger the viewers’ curiosity, with the intention of leading them to a landing page that will (hopefully) convert the sale.

holiday campaign

Like Macy’s, Nordstrom placed their native ad via Yahoo! Gemini. Given this is a native ad-focused network, it makes sense that both brands chose Yahoo! Gemini to serve their ads.

When it came to nordstromrack.com, WhatRunsWhere uncovered a different holiday strategy. The first difference was in the type of ad used. As you can see below, their only holiday ad was a banner. The copy promotes holiday gift giving, similar to their native ad previously discussed, however, it also focuses on a 70% OFF promotion. Additionally, they use the Call-To-Action (CTA) ‘Shop Now’ to drive clicks.

holiday campaigns

Another difference in Nordstrom’s banner and native campaigns was in the duration. This campaign ran from mid-November to mid-December whereas their native campaign only ran for a short time in November.

Looking at the landing page this banner ad leads to, we see a subtle holiday message above the main image – Good Tidings: We’re Making Great Gifting Easy – again emphasizing the overall holiday theme of gift gifting. Although the landing page includes a holiday message, the main focus seems to be the image of the female promoting Frye boots. Finally, Nordstrom Rack placed this ad through a Direct Media Buy; a strategy that we haven’t seen yet in our investigation.

holiday campaigns

Neiman Marcus

The next department store in our holiday investigation is Neiman Marcus (neimanmarcus.com). When analyzing their holiday campaigns, we only discovered banner ads which means they are the only advertiser not pursuing native. So how does their display strategy stack up?

Below you can see that their holiday ads promote several messages:

  • Gift giving under $200
  • Specific products under $200 (lipstick and bowties)
  • Free shipping + free returns

Both ads began running mid-October; the ad promoting bow ties ran until the end of October while the ad promoting lipsticks ended early November. To drive audiences to the landing page, Neiman Marcus uses the same CTA as Nordstrom ‘Shop Now’.

            holiday campaigns          holiday campaigns

So where do these ads lead to? Below you can see that audiences are taken to the ‘GIFTS’ tab on neimanmarcus.com. They are given several options along the left hand side to categorize gifts including 20% off Gifts, Designer Gifts, Popular Gifts and Corporate Gifts. When analyzing the network used to place the ads, we discovered that Neiman Marcus used Google Display Network for both.

holiday campaigns Neiman Marcus


So far we have seen diverse strategies for the holiday campaigns of Macy’s, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. Now it’s time to find out how our final advertiser in the investigation compares: JCPenney (jcpenney.com). During our investigation it became clear that they were the only advertiser to combine native and banner ads. Although we saw both types of ads used by Nordstrom, they were tracked on two different domains.

Below you can see the native ad we uncovered for JCPenney’s holiday campaign that ran for one day in mid-November. They use an image of a happy family with the simple headline Here’s to a Perfect Holiday with JCPenny. It’s an intriguing headline that draws viewers to click to find out how they can have the perfect holiday as well. This ad differentiates from all the other advertisers as it doesn’t overtly promote the brand’s products. Instead, they promote a holiday feeling that can be achieved with JCPenney.  They are attempting to build an emotional connection with viewers.

holiday campaigns department store

When audiences click the ad, they arrive at the landing page below which has been designed to drive sales as it has a heavy focus on products. You’ll also notice there is no holiday messaging, only festive colors and a ‘Sweet Dreamers’ tag that looks like an ornament.

holiday campaigns JCPenney

This is similar to what we saw with Nordstrom’s direct marketing response strategy – a holiday focused ad creative and a product focused landing page. Another similarity we found was in the network used to place the ad: Yahoo! Gemini.

Now let’s see how JCPenney’s banner ad strategy compares to their native.

Although the ad promotes a specific product, it’s done in a way that personally connects the viewer to the ad by using the pronoun ‘my’. Implying that JCPenney has ‘my favorite holiday sweater, builds an emotional connection. An element that was also evident in their native ad strategy.

holiday campaigns JCPenney

By clicking the CTA ‘Shop Now’, consumers are led to the landing page below which has a similar layout to the one used in their native campaign. It focuses on selling the product versus holiday messaging.

holiday campaigns

Although we have identified some similarities in JCPenney’s native and banner campaigns we also uncovered differences when it came to distribution. First, they used a different network; Google Display Network was used to place the banner ad and Yahoo! Gemini was used to place the native ad. Second, the banner ad ran for a longer period of time; mid-November to early December, compared to the native which only ran for one day.

Investigation Summary

 Now that we’ve looked at all four advertisers, let’s recap what we’ve learned:

holiday campaigns

It’s clear that these four advertisers are tackling the holidays with different online strategies. Nordstrom and JCPenney both combined banner and native advertising, Macy’s only employed native advertising, while Neiman Marcus has only executed banner ads.

So what’s the best strategy for holiday campaigns in the digital landscape? 

Considering the boom in native advertising, marketers have a huge opportunity to capture audience attention and drive both online and in-store sales through this channel. That being said, the old saying goes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket (especially if you are new to native advertising). All industries are different and native advertising will work better in some than others.

Using competitive intelligence to identify what types of advertising are profitable in your niche and amongst your competitors can inform your strategy with the right tactics. You’ll quickly understand what is driving the most conversions and can invest in profitable holiday campaigns this season and throughout the rest of the year!


Topics: Display Ads, Digital Advertising, Brands, Native Advertising, Google Display Network


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