OPINION: Stuart Elliott in America

'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

and true.

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

a fruitcake.


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