[Note: The below is a reprint of a piece I wrote for BusinessWeek.com in 2006. I thought it was still pertinent--perhaps even more so--today.]
I miss Christmas.
The other night I saw a TV commercial from Lowe’s that was built upon a cute premise. A clumsy young guy approached a female warehouse employee and blurted out, “Would you be my wife?” Startled, the clerk hesitantly began walking the man through the store until she realized that all he wanted was a woman’s opinion about the gift he was thinking about buying for the love of his life.
But here’s where the spot went south: as the young man role played with the clerk, turning around and presenting his “wife” her gift (presumably on Christmas morning), he looked at her and exclaimed, “Happy Holidays!”
Happy holidays? Is that really what a husband would say to his wife? By trying to cover all the bases, the spot just felt forced. It was a departure from reality and a prime example of the unreasonable fear advertisers have these days of saying the word “Christmas.”
It used to be that people wrung their hands about the over-commercialization of Christmas. These days we have almost the opposite problem—Christmas is disappearing entirely. Advertisers still want the huge spike in sales that Christmas provides but they’re afraid to acknowledge the holiday itself. It’s almost funny to watch them trip over themselves trying to find euphemisms as they avoid saying the dreaded “C” word. But “happy holidays” and “season’s greetings” only go so far. They sound hollow and synthetic, and that kind of approach is no way to build a connection with your target audience.
It seems that companies have become so afraid of offending some mythical person out there that they’re unwilling to express their true sentiments. After 20 years in the advertising business there’s one thing I’ve learned: every ad is offensive to someone. Still, I find it a stretch to think that wishing your customers a “Merry Christmas” is going to set somebody off. And if it does, well, there’s a word for them: Scrooge.
Ah, you say, but Christmas is a religious holiday—what about people from other faiths? It’s true that to millions of people Christmas is the most religious holiday of the year, but to millions of others it’s all about Santa Claus and reindeer and stockings hung by the chimney with care. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year, even for those who don’t celebrate it as a religious holiday. And there’s no reason why the recognition of one holiday precludes the celebration of others. Lumping them together only makes each less special.
Remember “A Charlie Brown Christmas”? Of course you do, because it’s perhaps the most popular Christmas television program of all time. For 41 years this charming (and overtly religious) special has been delighting children of all ages, and it has lost none of its appeal. Why? Because people love Christmas.
And just think of all the warm advertising traditions associated with Christmas, from the Budweiser Clydesdales to the Norelco Santa. In fact, not so long ago Norelco used to call itself “Noelco” during the holidays and use the tagline “Even our name says Merry Christmas.”
Seventy-five years ago Coca-Cola invented the modern image of Santa Claus, a fact of which—to their credit—they still proudly boast. But even Coke has gotten cold feet; they’re featuring Santa on their packaging this year but still won’t call it a “Christmas Can” (despite the nice alliteration). Instead, they printed “Holiday Can” at the top. Ugh.
By all means don’t be insincere. If you don’t want people to have a merry Christmas, don’t say so. But if you do, don’t be afraid to let your advertising spread a little Christmas cheer. Otherwise, before long we’ll all be reduced to humming holiday carols as we open our holiday cards and put holiday presents under our holiday trees. Not to mention dreaming of a white holiday.
To that I say humbug. Merry Christmas!