Counting Down the Days to Christmas

Advent calendars are getting more sophisticated each year, featuring increasingly elaborate packaging, daily surprises of higher value, and a growing range of themes and categories, from jerky, healing crystals, and nail polish to cat food, instant noodles, and wine. Licensors across property types have gotten into the game, typically either through in-house-produced examples or with existing toy, calendar, book, stationery, or gift and collectibles partners as a component of a broader licensing agreement.

Some of the primary sectors where licensed properties play a role include:

  • Beauty and wellness. Paladone makes a Friends-inspired Central Perk 12 Days of Bath calendar, incorporating body washes, hand creams, lip balms, bath salts, and similar items. A number of luxury and designer labels have released advent calendars focused on beauty, with products ranging from mascara and mini-fragrance bottles to skin serums and shower gel. Examples include Dior, Emilio Pucci, and Yves Saint Laurent, to name a few.
  • Food and beverage. Many of the calendars in this sector come from the food, beverage, and restaurant brands themselves. Baileys offers one advent calendar containing 12 mini-bottles of liqueur in different flavors and another with a selection of chocolate truffles, while Jack Daniels’ version includes 24 mini bottles of whiskey. Kellogg’s sells a calendar with a Pop Tart or cereal bar for each day. Taco Bell debuted a “Season’s Heatings” calendar, which sold out in a day, featuring 12 different hot sauces. Non-food-related property types have entered the food and beverage space as well; Nestlé’s KitKat brand offers an NHL advent calendar featuring various flavors and shapes of KitKats for each day, along with hockey-related clues to help find hidden items in a locker room scene on the packaging.
  • Collectibles. Hero Collector markets a Star Trek calendar in the shape of a Borg Cube, which includes 24 collectibles, each with a note allowing fans to discover details about the scene that spurred the creation of that day’s gift. The Nintendo Super Mario Advent Calendar includes figurines and accessories, while Marvel has an offering featuring 24 pins depicting characters and tokens (e.g., Baron Zemo’s mask) from its Disney+ series, including WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Zuru’s 5 Surprise Mini-Brands calendar includes its signature grocery collectibles tied to brands such as Hershey. The Funko Pop! brand offers a range of calendars based on its co-brands, including Fortnite, Harry Potter, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, with a new mini-collectible for each day.
  • Doll accessories. Licensee The Queen’s Treasures sells a Little House on the Prairie advent calendar, shaped like the Ingalls’ Little House-era home, with each day featuring accessories for its licensed 18-inch dolls that are inspired by gifts the girls received in the book, as well as ornaments and quotes from the author. Barbie’s calendar includes an exclusive doll on the first day, followed by a clothing or accessory item on subsequent days. L.O.L. Surprise’s version also includes a limited-edition doll, along with more than 25 surprises to go with it.
  • Holiday gifts, ornaments, and décor. Most advent calendars have a Christmas theme, due to the nature of the product, but some are solely focused on Christmas, rather than having the holiday layered on top of other themes. The Home Alone: The Official AAAAAAdvent Calendar contains a paper ornament for each day, all tied to a scene from the film (e.g. an iron or army toys). A Friends edition from Urban Outfitters includes desk accessories such as erasers, pens, and notepads, as well as trivia, all based on holiday episodes of the show. Insight Editions’ The Nightmare Before Christmas: Official Advent Calendar features wrapped gifts including ornaments, note cards, and mini-books. The Coca-Cola Advent Calendar, in the shape of a delivery truck complete with an image of the famous Coca-Cola Santa, highlights a variety of stickers, pins, and other novelties, as well as cans of Coke, Coke Zero, Diet Coke, and Fanta.
  • Crafts and activities. The Lego Star Wars advent calendar includes seven character mini-figures and 17 mini-builds, including 11 vehicles, for a total of 335 pieces; Lego offers calendars for several of its co-brands. A Disney Storybook Advent Calendar available through QVC features 24 stories for ages 3 and up to create family experiences throughout the holiday season. Artist Michael Storrings’ puzzle licensee Galison offers a calendar featuring one 80-piece puzzle (measuring 5 by 7 inches) for each of 12 days. Crayola has a “Christmas Countdown” calendar with crayons, markers, coloring sheets, and the like, each with a holiday theme.
  • Jewelry. A number of jewelry designers, brands, and retailers offer advent calendars featuring a piece of jewelry per day, some focusing on one category, such as earrings, and others spanning a variety of products. Items range from casual costume offerings to fine pieces, with Tiffany & Co’s $150,000 version certainly being one of the highest-end examples of the latter. The 4-foot-tall white oak box depicts the Michel Basquiat painting featured in the jeweler’s latest ad campaign (with Beyoncé and Jay-Z). The 24 surprises come from the retailer’s various in-house brands, including HardWear and T1, and that of long-time licensing partner label Elsa Peretti. Proceeds are donated to Free Arts NYC.
  • Fan engagement. All advent calendars are about fan engagement, but some offerings, particularly in the sports realm, make that objective a centerpiece of the product. Danilo’s Liverpool F.C. battery-operated musical advent calendar highlights a different soccer-related item and trivia question behind each door. Three magnetic players (Virgil Van Dijk, Jordan Henderson, and Mohamed Salah) are included and can glide and interact on the magnetic pitch while the club’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” plays. Playmobil has offered a calendar as part of its NHL license that highlights 24 items including two child and three adult figures, NHL flags, practice goals, pucks and puck bag, cones, bench, and the Stanley Cup (with a pedestal). The idea is to provide everything the user needs to imagine being on the journey from skating at the childhood practice rink to winning the Cup.

Themes and content vary widely beyond these key areas. NBC/Universal’s The Office calendar includes 12 days of socks, for example.

Some calendars are given away for free as promotions, but most are sold, with prices ranging from a reasonable mainstream gift price such as $29.99 to hundreds of dollars (or even thousands, as the Tiffany example shows). In most cases, they are considered good value, given the number of items included and their collective retail price if offered solo. Add to this the experience, as calendars offer the opportunity for fans to sample new items, interact with the brand for 12 to 24 days in a row, and display the calendar, and the property, throughout the holiday season. And there is the element of collectibility, with many calendars being limited editions and/or including desirable exclusives.

On the other hand, licensors and their partners need to make sure that there is real value in the eyes of consumers, especially if the price is high. Chanel offered an $800-plus advent calendar this year that included daily items such as a flip book, key chain, string bracelet, and stickers. These inexpensive surprises did not raise the holiday spirits of those who purchased or received this product, as various unboxing videos and the resulting negative media coverage can attest.

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