Is it too soon to talk about Christmas?
I've come to a conclusion: Christmas is the ultimate marketing success. (But not, I assume, in the way originally intended.)
God's gift to retail business: the marketing campaign that runs itself
Year after year, the whisper of Christmas arrives on the autumn wind. With a little help, the whisper builds quickly to a song and then a shout. Frenzy grows. Shoppers are trampled.
How does it happen? I have some ideas that may account for the popularity and success of consumer Christmas.
- Consumer Christmas is based on an existing broadly recognized cultural-religious holiday, which gives it legitimacy, but it has been effectively expurgated of all spiritual meaning, which means you don’t have to be Christian—or even religious—to celebrate it.
- It has persistent and wholesome themes (charity, selflessness, giving, family, light in the darkness). In our fast-paced convenience culture, with little time to make gifts or really even think about them, the theme of giving means buying.
- It has simple symbols (trees, stars, snow, wrapped gifts, red, green), which allow it to easily spread and adapt to different places and cultures.
- And it has honourable mascots (Santa, Jesus). Who doesn’t root for poor babies born in barns and jolly eccentric old white men who bring gifts to the good children and coal to the bad ones?
- Followers defend it vehemently, whether or not they have a faith connection to it.
- You never need to tell people it's coming. Everyone already expects it.
- Its power of truncated tradition and manipulated myth combine to create a gravitational pull that sometimes traps other events, like Boxing Day, in its orbit. Other pure marketing schemes, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, try to ride the gravitational wave to prominence.
A brief digression
No other holiday is more associated with a child’s smiling face as she unwraps a gift. Today, however, these anticipation and joy have moved from the holiday to the everyday. We have elevated unwrapping to an art, a spectacle to share with the world, and called it unboxing. This is the power of consumer Christmas.
A questionable conclusion
I haven't got a clue what you can do with this information. Okay, maybe I have one clue.
I guess don’t mess with success is the best I can assess. It’s a fair bet that until Jesus returns, Santa will be his lieutenant and consumer Christmas will march around every year, everywhere. It's hard to out-promote a man who selflessly travels the globe bearing gifts for all. (You don’t hear too much about the kids who get coal these days.) It's also hard to be heard above the noise.
I've got a few questions, too.
What if marketers always acted like they were selling to one person? That seems to be the goal of much marketing today, but does it succeed? What would that mean for Christmas: compassion, authenticity, humanity? Does this work? Without a sincere connection to the traditions of Christmas, how can a consumer respond to these themes in Christmas marketing?
I don't know! So please let me know what you think in the comments or on twitter.