The marketing calendar has been thrown out the window

Prime Day is in October, NHL and NBA aired in the summer, Halloween is on hold, and marketers are adapting to the year without a calendar.

Marketers love a holiday. 

Brands track product launches, campaigns and communications closely to the annual holiday calendar to stay culturally relevant and top of mind with consumers. Holiday campaigns help associate brands with seasonal markers that also have commercial appeal, such as Halloween, Easter or Valentine’s Day. 

This calendar mindset extends to the B2B world, where marketers plan activations around corporate and industry trade events throughout the year. These venues are not just a stage for B2B brands, but for all types of brands to get media exposure and raise their corporate profiles. 

But here we are in 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic has rendered any semblance of a calendar meaningless. As we stay home day in and day out, holidays take on a different meaning and tone. 

And brands are adapting.  

There’s no better example than Amazon, which kicked off its Prime Day ecommerce bonanza yesterday after postponing it from July due to pandemic-related supply chain constraints. Rather than canceling Prime Day, Amazon rescheduled it to mid-October and effectively rebranded it as the earliest-ever kick off to the holiday shopping season, beating out legacy retailers. 

It’s a move that could pay off to the tune of $7.5 billion for Amazon, with sales predicted to rise 43% from last year’s summertime event, per JP Morgan. The new date already has implications for retailers including Target, Walmart and Best Buy, which launched their own earliest-ever “Black Friday” shopping events this week to keep up with increased demand. 

Other brands are sticking with holiday marketing themes while adapting communications and activations to our new reality. It’s a tack candymakers are taking as Halloween, which accounts for $4.6 billion in global annual candy sales, creeps into sight.

Sour Patch Kids, for example, will deliver candy in 12 U.S. cities to trick-or-treaters that opt to stay indoors this Halloween. The lucky winners will also cop a ride in a giant jack-o-lantern, allowing Sour Patch Kids to ensure that Halloween, albeit different this year, is still memorable for kids, while driving positive brand sentiment. 

Hershey’s began selling Halloween candy at retailers two to three weeks early this year to juice up a longer sales cycle. The candymaker also launched a website that helps people map safe trick-or-treating routes based on the COVID-19 caseload in their neighborhood, allowing it to keep the possibility of trick-or-treating alive for some while acknowledging the hesitation of others. 

These bold decisions are starting to pay dividends: sales of seasonal chocolate and candy rose 13% in September, according to the National Confectioners Association. 

The holiday calendar, of course, still exists. We’re still going to buy a ton of stuff for Christmas, ring in a (much anticipated) New Year in January and celebrate our loved ones come February. COVID-19 hasn’t cancelled fall or the obligatory pumpkin spice everything

But we’re also sure to see ongoing tweaks to the tried-and-true marketing schedule of years past as the course of the virus remains uncertain, and potentially beyond as our world becomes more virtual. 

Brands shouldn’t shy away from the blank slate, but rather use it as an opportunity to refresh the way they add value to consumers' lives, and communicate that value in fresh and exciting ways.

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