30 November, 2007

Much Ado About Nothing…

What is the most appropriate way for retailers to address customers during this heightened season of religious sensitivity? Do they go with the generic, boiled down “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” or the more pinpointed “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanza”? Big decisions, big debates, big dollars at stake.

Not sure what all of the hub-bub is about. Every passing year, the intensity of the debate seems to get stronger. And this year, the debate rages on…

A brief article in Time Magazine this week noted how the American Family Association's Project Merry Christmas was targeting stores like Lowe's for advertising "family trees" instead of Christmas trees in its catalog. This actually forced an apology from Lowe’s, citing a “proofing error”. Heightened sensitivities indeed.

The same article referenced that seasonal sensitivities are not unique to the United States. A story out of Australia made headlines worldwide after a department-store Santa reported being told not to say "Ho, ho, ho" for fear of offending women. (no joke)

Retailers usually set the tone for the debate early in the fourth quarter with the directness of their advertising. In a pluralistic yet ego-centric society such as ours, it’s a risk major advertisers take by focusing on one segment of the population (Merry Christmas) rather than the population at large (Happy Holidays). However, an overwhelming majority of Americans celebrate Christmas as opposed to their non-Christian counterparts. A national telephone survey by Rasmussen Reports supports this, as 67% of Americans chose “Merry Christmas” to the alternatives.

Now in full disclosure, I’m Jewish. I don’t celebrate Christmas. And I may be in the minority here, but I never really took offense to those wishing me a “Merry Christmas”. I never “corrected” them or attempted to insert my “Jewishness” into the situation, and usually replied in-kind (i.e. with the same verbiage wished upon me). However, there are many out there who do not agree and will rebut anyone who says “Merry Christmas” unto them with a “Happy Holidays” response. I see both sides of the argument. But this is supposed to be a season of harmony, of peace on earth. Therefore, I believe that during this time of year, it is just easier if the minority capitulates to the majority. Now, those who know me know I’m all for a good fight, but I’ve been living with this all my life and have just found it easier to roll with the punches than to take an affront to something so harmless as Christmastime advertising and peer-to-peer well wishing.

For marketers, though, this is a complicated and hyper-sensitive season. I believe that a direct approach is the best approach. Since, as stated above, an overwhelming majority of Americans celebrate Christmas, advertisers need to direct their ad dollars towards the majority. Makes perfect sense to me. Why would Target create a “Happy Hanukkah” broadcast TV campaign to cater to less than 10% of the population? Besides, this year Hanukkah will be over long before Christmas even starts (Dec. 4 – 12). Hardly worth the advertisers’ effort.

Really, the only thing that gets me in an uproar is the debate itself. My thoughts—a Christmas tree is not a Holiday tree or a Family tree, it’s a CHRISTMAS tree. A Christmas wreath is not a Holiday wreath or a Seasonal wreath, it’s a CHRISTMAS wreath. And the likes of Santa Claus need not be matched with the creation of a Hanukkah Harry or the Kwanzaa equivalent.

For me, images of Santa Clause hocking everything from Q-tips to car stereos do not offend me. And though I know he isn’t talking directly to me or my “people”, I can’t imagine a holiday season any other way.

Much Ado About Nothing…SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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