Black Friday, Cyber Monday Not Moving Scatter Needle

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The returns from Black Friday and Cyber Monday appeared to be encouraging. Consumers are willing to spend as the holiday season begins.

That’s sparked some optimism among ad buyers and sellers that the economy could improve, but it’s unlikely in the short term to encourage marketers to push more last-minute money into what has been a lethargic fourth-quarter scatter market.

“I feel fairly optimistic,” says Gary Carr, senior VP, executive director for national broadcast at media agency TargetCast tcm, noting that car sales have been strong as people replace vehicles damaged by Hurricane Sandy. “Americans love to spend money,” he says.  With the elections over, worries remain about the fiscal cliff, Europe and the Middle East blowing up. And at this point, “nobody’s shoveling money at us.”

While there might be some anecdotal examples of marketers who react to short-term events like Black Friday, “I’ve never found retail sales to have a meaningful relationship with advertising,” says Brian Wieser, senior research analyst at Pivotal Research Group. His key indicators, personal consumer expenditures-people buying stuff and industry production, aren’t looking so hot.

“It doesn’t matter what happened on Black Friday. I just don’t see the underlying factors with advertising looking very favorable at this point,” he says.

Wieser says scatter volume has been very light and pricing has been fairly weak, despite what media company executives have been telling analysts about ad sales. (Wieser says the disconnect stems from media companies calculating pricing trend by including all upfront advertisers, including those with low bases, while he’d prefer to compare pricing for scatter buyers with the rates those companies paid previously in the upfront or  scatter.)

Ad sellers say they’re getting mixed signals. Even at this late date, fourth-quarter money is slowly rolling in on a weekly basis and they say pricing remains above upfront levels. One sales exec says he’s seeing strength in the home improvement segment as home prices rise.

First-quarter options were a bit lighter than normal, which could indicate that 2013 will start on solid footing. But some salesmen say budgets for advertisers who buy ads in the calendar upfront are coming in more slowly than normal, with only 30% of accounts registered. In fact, some networks expect not to finish calendar deals for 2013 until mid-January, which would allow buyers to miss the first few “bleak weeks” of the year-usually among the slowest in terms of retail sales.

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