For Holiday Ads, Nothing Says Tradition Like Cardi B’s Twerk Shop

In a 22nd-floor suite of the Ritz-Carlton in Manhattan, sipping a nonalcoholic sparkling rose from Pepsi, I was waiting for Cardi B to talk to me about Christmas.

The Grammy-winning rapper stars in Pepsi’s new holiday commercial. It is set in Cardi’s Twerk Shop, where Cardi B offers twerking tips to an elf as a jingle plays.

Here comes Cardi B

Here comes Cardi B

She’s gonna make it rain

When she arrived for the interview, she seemed exhausted. She curled up on the couch, bundled herself in a blanket and laid her head near my lap. She talked about the commercial, which went online on Thursday, saying the outfit she wore during filming was edited in postproduction to mask some of her cleavage.

“Can you believe that?” Cardi B said. “I didn’t even feel like it was a lot.”

In an advertising environment that has shifted toward targeted online ads, Pepsi’s multimillion-dollar campaign — with its celebrity spokeswoman, its elaborate sets, and a planned broadcast rollout during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and several N.F.L. games — is really something of a throwback.

These days, companies need to reach people who are flipping through their phones, looking to get 10 percent off their next shoe purchase. Their seasonal ads are a long way from the campaigns that helped shape the American idea of Christmas.

Coca-Cola spread the modern image of Santa Claus with full-color magazine ads starting in the 1930s. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer originated as part of a promotion for Montgomery Ward in 1939. Hershey’s “Christmas Bells” commercials, which have featured Hershey’s Kisses candies since 1989, have been around longer than many millennials.

Now that holiday shopping has become a monthslong pursuit and increasingly takes place online, many companies opt for simple digital displays that can be used year-round.

“The big holiday campaigns that make a lot of sense on television make less sense in a Facebook or Instagram ad,” said Danielle Sporkin, the head of integrated planning at the agency OMD USA. “It’s not that big brand messages are dead, but it’s about having a bigger sweep of messages to use on different platforms.”

Many ads are doing away with snow drifts and conifers. This year’s holiday campaign from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is footage of a roast spinning slowly over flames — a “Drool Log” that’s based on the WPIX-TV “Yule Log” of yore.

The electronics company Philips, famous for its decades of commercials featuring Santa riding Norelco shaving products, stopped running the ads after 2011. “Our marketing strategy has evolved to more of an always-on, less seasonal approach,” Shannon Jenest, a marketing executive at Philips, said.

In recent weeks, companies like Best Buy and Macy’s have pulled back on spending for digital holiday ads compared with last year, even as the total amount that brands spend on online advertising has more than doubled, according to the advertising analytics platform Pathmatics.

Retailers spent nearly 21 percent less on holiday TV ads in the United States from Oct. 28 through Wednesday than they did during the same period last year, according to the research firm Kantar. Gap is keeping its Christmas-focused advertising away from television. Home Depot and Wayfair have cut their spending on holiday-focused TV commercials by more than half, Kantar found.

Still, the giant red bows atop cars won’t completely disappear from TV commercials. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been plowed into seasonal marketing this year, including Oreo’s first holiday campaign since 2016.

Amazon, which reported last year that customers had ordered a record number of items during the holiday season, is another exception. The company increased its recent holiday TV budget 89 percent, according to Kantar.

As overall spending on holiday TV ads has dropped, so has spending on Black Friday commercials. The designated shopping day is fading after years of hype.

“Advertisers shot themselves in the foot with Black Friday — they diluted the term and overused it and confused the consumer,” said Jacqueline R. Wachholz, an advertising expert at Duke University. “Now it’s the whole week, the whole month. I’ve seen the phrase mentioned in July.”

For Holiday Ads, Nothing Says Tradition Like Cardi B’s Twerk Shop