Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Spectacular 2012: Appendix A

InsaneDavid Presents: Christmas Spectacular 2012: Advertisements (Appendix A)

Since we're at the midpoint of this year's Christmas "thing" I wanted to stop with the festivities for a moment and write a little something. I suppose I should call this a "feature" rather than a "thing" but moving right along...

At the start of this feature I mentioned that I love advertising and I truly do. Advertising is the one man-made medium that I love more than any other. We're not talking about those guys that dig through barns looking for old metal signs, I'm talking about the content and context and the culture, not physical advertising or memorabilia. I hear a lot of "Christmas is too commercial" or "that's not the reason for the season" but the really good advertising isn't about either of those things, at least not blatantly. Christmas has always been commercial, that's what Charles Schulz was parodying in "A Charlie Brown Christmas" way back in 1965. As Linus said, "Gee, do they still make wooden Christmas trees?" Then of course Schulz also later gave us one of the most genius moments of American television with another Linus duologue, "Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about..." Heck, the story "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" was created to be a promotional giveaway by Montgomery Ward in 1939. Our country isn't a fascist society and I still do like to believe it is built upon choice. I also like to believe that it is still a country where a great idea can spark the imagination, build a corporation, and possibly even change the world. With so much choice, so many products, and so many ideas - in a nation based on freedom of those things - how to you influence selection? That's advertising. Superman may have stood for "truth, justice, and the American way." Well the American way is advertising.

As for Christmas being too commercial, I don't agree with that. If anything the rest of the year has become too commercial. Stay with me here. When I was a child I was extremely spoiled. I won't argue that with anyone. For quite awhile I was an only child and the first grandchild in a huge family. Additionally most of my family was very localized to me. Within reason, I had pretty much anything I was interested in - that doesn't mean everything, because I wasn't interested in everything, and never had a "gimme, gimme" mentality. I also took overtly good care of my toys. Still, I didn't get new toys or games every week or anything like that. It was always a special occasion type thing and while I tended to get something for every holiday (including the usually more mundane gift-giving holidays), the big ones were still always Christmas and my birthday. Back then Christmas was still considered to be the big retail time and while Black Friday has spiraled out of control in recent years, it was still bigger then than it is now.

Now days sales take a spike because of product launches. Sometimes these occur multiple times per year, with the same line of products. People buy "big gifts" all year round. I worked twelve years in retail and I'll tell you that the spending for kids has been hard and fast throughout the year, regardless of the poor economy, for the past three years. Weekly and bi-weekly trips to buy kids expensive yet low quality products for no reason in particular or to get your kids to do / not do something is the name of the game these days. I could go off into one of my tangents about the culture of false entitlement we're perpetuating currently but that's not the focus here so I'll stop myself. The point I'm trying to make is that these days Christmas has to be even MORE commercial to stand out from the rest of the year. This is so that you still will spend more, that you will shoot for even bigger gifts. People my age (early 30's) probably remember looking through catalogs as a kid, circling things, stuff like that. I'm also going to assume that the rest of you, like myself, were never told "well, I'll get you this for Christmas" by your parents. So even though more or less you were expressing exactly what you wanted, you never did just know until Christmas Day. I also think that made things more special, more memorable, where as you get older it's not the toy or the fun you had with the gift that you have fond memories of - it's the process that led up to receiving it. The memory of that time, that place, your parents, that moment in your life, the feelings that surrounded it all. Not so much traditions but moments. As humans we tend to attach memories to physical objects but really I think we tend to attach physical objects to memories. "Rosebud..."

With my retail experience I can tell you that these days year-round sales are expected to match the type of profits that were previously generated by the Christmas season. And the boost in the Christmas season is now expected to top even that. All this with lower wages, less staff, and in the midst of a stalled economy. Don't get me wrong. I want people to spend on their friends, family and children how they see fit. It's part of that freedom and liberty thing. What I don't like to see is people that feel entitled to want new stuff all the time, especially children, and then expect to receive it. These things have nothing to do with commercialism and nothing to do with advertising. Because those ads and commercials and sales don't pick your pocket, don't carry you into a store, and don't make you slide your credit card. Christmas will only return to being "less commercial" once the rest of the year decides to cool down. Because the secret here is that Christmas in America has always been commercial.

One of the great things about being American is you can go get things you don't necessarily need. You have that choice. Advertising is a way to present those choices. While advertising as a whole is on the decline and becoming cheaper and less inventive due to television viewership no longer being on the uphill surge, it's still far and away better than online, audio and print advertising these days. I love television advertising, it's a record of culture and trends per era, so when Christmas advertising rolls around each year - I guess you could call it my "Christmas."

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