Revolutionary Measures

The (marketing) meaning of Christmas

christmas tree

As everyone by now has been reminded by their children/mother, there’s less than a month to Christmas, cueing mass panic and a rush to Amazon.

Rather than starting shopping I thought I’d look at the marketing behind Christmas and how it has evolved over the past centuries. From the Christian Church to John Lewis brands have attempted with varying degrees of success to link to a midwinter celebration. Here’s a top four of marketing successes:

1          The Church
Before people start getting upset about the hijacking of the Baby Jesus’ birthday by commercial interests it is worth going back to pagan times. Before the Christian Christmas began there was a major celebration of the midwinter solstice, around the end of December. There’s no record of when Christ was actually born in the Bible, so essentially the church merged the existing pagan festival with Christ’s birth from around the fourth century as part of a move to increase converts and popularity.

2          The Victorians
For popularising other traditions (such as present giving around the day itself, rather than at New Year, and Christmas trees) we have to thank Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert, helped by the pen of Charles Dickens. The stereotypical Christmas scene of snow, robins and greenery comes directly from Victorian times, despite the current lack of ‘seasonal’ weather on the day itself. What better way to spread colonial strength than by giving the world an excuse to celebrate?

3          Coca Cola
There’s a widespread belief that Father Christmas’ red and white costume comes directly from Coca Cola’s 1930s ad campaigns. This may not be completely true – his forerunner St Nicholas dressed in red and white bishop’s vestments – but it is certainly something that the soft drinks giant cannily exploits to this day.

4          John Lewis
Over the last twenty years the competition to own the Christmas experience has led to more and more lavish advertising campaigns. Thanks to a heavy dose of hype these ads now attract press coverage on their own, with commentators discussing their relative merits, and now monitoring the social media buzz. Undoubted winner of the past few festive seasons has been John Lewis, which has knocked Marks & Spencer off its perch as the must see Christmas advert. This year it has spent a reported £7m on its animated Hare and Bear campaign, which generated over 14,500 tweets in its first few hours of release.

So, why is it important? Firstly, Christmas has come to dominate the retail landscape, with many chains doing the majority of their business in the months around 25 December. Secondly, spending is still cautious (despite what official figures say about the UK moving out of recession), so competition for every pound spent is fierce. If you can tap into the Christmas spirit not only will you generate seasonal goodwill, but you will also bring in revenue from customers who will remain loyal over the whole year.

This means that while it is easy to sneer at the over-excitement about TV ad campaigns, they are only the successors to previous attempts by brands to ‘own’ Christmas and therefore win over their audiences – whether to sell soft drinks, Victorian values or even Christianity itself. As the investment shows Christmas is far too important to be left to Father Christmas. Myself, I’ll stick to Scrooge………

 

November 27, 2013 Posted by | Creative, Marketing | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Queen vs Seb Coe

As many of us struggle back into work after the Jubilee celebrations we’re now being reminded that it is just 46 days until the start of the London Olympics. And we’ve got Euro 2012 and the Tour de France to fit in first – there are times I’m very glad I work from home……

While the Jubilee and Olympics are very different events, it is fascinating from a marketing point of view to look at how they are presenting themselves – and what London 2012 organisers can learn from last week’s celebrations.

jubilee marmite "limited edition"

jubilee marmite “limited edition” (Photo credit: osde8info)

What struck me most about the Jubilee was its openness – there were obviously formal events such as the flotilla, concert and service at St Paul’s Cathedral but the emphasis was on letting people celebrate in their own way. Whether this was a street/indoor party, going to the pub or setting fire to enormous bonfires the Jubilee catered for a whole range of interests. And if you wanted to ignore the whole thing you still got two days off work.

This openness extended to branding – anyone could stick the word Jubilee on their products without fear of being sued. Some has been inspired, such as rebranding Marmite to Ma’amite while others have been less inventive and simply added a flag and crown to their packaging.

This is in complete contrast to London 2012 where any use of Olympic logos by unofficial partners is immediately slapped down. While protecting your brand (and the multi-million pound investment your official sponsors have made) is important it can go too far and actually have a negative effect. Witness a Devon estate agent threatened with legal action for putting a makeshift Olympic display in its window when the torch relay came past. Not really a challenge to multinational official sponsors. Ironically it was in Devon that sponsors Coca Cola arranged for Will.i.am to carry the torch – hardly opening the Olympics up to the local community.

From a marketing point of view the Diamond Jubilee ticked all the boxes – people enjoyed themselves despite the weather and the Royal Family came out of the event stronger and more popular than before. There’s still time for London 2012 organisers to look at the success of the Jubilee and see what they can do to make the games an inclusive experience for the whole country. Over to you Seb………..

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June 11, 2012 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Father Christmas – marketing genius

father christmas riding through the streets
Image by dryfish via Flickr

After imbibing several glasses of festive spirit (and surviving Christmas lunch at my children’s school) I started thinking about Father Christmas. Specifically, what makes him so successful – and what lessons marketers can learn from the jolly redcoat.

Before those of a religious or pagan bent leap upon me, I do appreciate that Christmas is about a lot more than a fat man in a sleigh dispensing presents to good boys and girls.

Putting that aside, why is Father Christmas so good at marketing himself? Here’s my top five reasons:

1          Focus
He’s stuck at doing one thing, and doing it very well with a clear end date for his campaign, even if the start date seems to be pushed earlier and earlier each year. No variations into Christmas in Summer or trying to steal business from St Valentine here.

2 Openness
Father Christmas is very open to working with others – whether it is Coca Cola, toy retailers or suppliers of novelty nick nacks that no-one in their right mind would otherwise buy. He’s not over-protective of his brand or image rights as he obviously realises all exposure helps (although this might be pushing it a bit.)

3 Air of mystery
Despite being a very approachable brand, Father Christmas has kept his air of mystery. Vital information such as how he gets round the world so quickly, how he gets into houses without chimneys and how he fits all the presents into his sleigh are all kept vague – unless Wikileaks is about to really shock the world with new revelations. And, of course, children never, ever, get to see him on Christmas Eve unless they want to risk zero presents.

4          Multiple brands
A big fat man dressed in red may not be everyone’s cup of tea. So, cunningly, Father Christmas has promoted sub-brands to ensure there’s something for everyone. Whether it is Rudolph with his nose so bright, the toymaking elves or even Mrs Christmas. This also gets over the bit of a pickle he’s got into with the whole Father Christmas/Santa Claus/Saint Nicholas multiple name issue.

5          Incentives
It’s a bit like Pascal’s Wager – if you don’t believe in Father Christmas you don’t get presents. And if you’re not well behaved then ditto (this particularly applies to my children). A simple, straightforward incentive that everyone can understand.

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December 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments