'Tis the season. Deck the halls. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa
Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
OK, now that those time-honoured (read: time-worn) phrases are out of
the way, let's get down to a frank chat about holiday advertising during
this most unusual of holiday seasons.
After 11 September, it's indisputable that we need a little Christmas,
right this very minute. (Sorry, there's another one. It won't happen
again. Promise.) But how can sellers of goods and services figure out
what approach to take when the moods and attitudes of consumers are
moving faster than Harry Potter at a Quidditch match?
That's particularly a problem because ingenuity is required at a time of
the year when it's usually far more effective to fall back on the tried
One way to pitch to Americans these days is patriotically, seeking to
take advantage of the strong nationalistic feelings stirred by the
terrorist attacks. The American flag, once confined to festooning
apparel sold by Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, is now omnipresent in
ads for everything from MTV to the Discover credit card.
A corollary of patriotic peddling is military marketing. For instance,
the Kmart discount chain sponsored a "Military Appreciation Weekend",
during which military personnel and their families were given a 10 per
cent discount on what they bought in stores or online.
But it's tough to mix white and blue with the Christmas colours of red
and green. The result is a rainbow-like melange that could easily be
mistaken for an appeal to the gay market.
Another newly popular tack to take is centred on nostalgia, trying to
capitalise on the cravings for the familiar suddenly unleashed in the
last two months. One TV network, CBS, has recently hit the ratings
jackpot three times running with special shows devoted to video versions
of comfort food: Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett and Michael Jackson.
(Jackson, of course, is familiar only in a general sense, in that he
looks nothing like he did in the 70s or 80s.)
And Absolut Vodka is introducing another in its long-running series of
print advertisements called "Absolut cozy", a pun-derful paean to the
renewed urge to nest, cuddle and cocoon at home. In this case, "cozy"
also means a cozy, as in an old-fashioned knitted cover, decorated with
reindeer, that fits over an Absolut bottle. The cozy is by the designer
Cynthia Rowley and it's photographed in her, well, cozy apartment.
But nostalgia, as the saying goes, isn't what it used to be, so smart
advertisers are attempting to purvey updated nostalgia, if that isn't
oxymoronic. Coca-Cola, for example, just introduced a television
commercial in which its ubiquitous Santa Claus character, who began
appearing in print ads in 1931, is for the first time presented in
animated fashion. The result; a spot that seems both contemporary and
Fruit of the Loom, which markets underwear and socks, is bringing back
characters known as the Fruit Guys, actors in costumes styled after the
fruits spilling out of the cornucopia on the label in each Fruit of the
Loom garment. (I'm not making this up, I swear.) Again, they're known
characters, but in a new setting and delivering a new message.
It's not fair to ask if the Christmas version of the Fruit Guys comes in