By Cordelia Bell
From early November until December we are inundated with holiday media campaigns: commercials, computer pop-ups, and print ads. Each campaign is competing to draw buyers away from their competitors and increase product sales. These brands ride on the coattails of the holiday season hoping to capitalize on holiday consumerism. While each campaign is different, there are common themes among these commercials: family, holiday traditions, hope, and people coming together. These positive messages utilize pathos, an appeal to emotions, to convey the message that their product can make consumers feel happy. Holiday branding can be generalized into three main types: heartwarming, guilting, and the perfect holiday commercials.
The ethos of the ‘heartwarming’ commercials is especially strong. These commercials typically evoke positive emotions and depict families, children, and/or people who have been separated. They rely on the strong emotions rather than overt messaging to sell their product. This type of branding is especially powerful because the viewer is not always aware of the product placement.
This Toys “R” Us Commercial depicts a sad boy and his father doing holiday activities. On Christmas morning, the boy receives a motorized toy truck that drives to the door. The door opens and the boy’s mom, who is a soldier, appears. The positive emotions created by the unexpected reunion at the end is the primary focus of the commercial, while the product placement, the toy truck, is secondary. However, these positive emotions are associated with Toys “R” Us, subliminally encouraging consumers to buy their products.
These commercials depict a consumer deficit that can be corrected by their product. This guilting is often coupled with aspects of “heart-warming” and the “perfect holiday”. Typically, a consumer can achieve the perfect holiday by buying their product and it is implied that if they do not buy this product then they are letting are letting their families down.
In this commercial, grandparents are guilted into buying Comcast’s Xfinity Wi-Fi and television because their grandchildren complain about the lack of internet in their house, suggesting that grandparents without Xfinity are letting their grandchildren down. The commercial uses the Christmas season as the motivation for getting Xfinity now because the holiday is a time when families come together.
These commercials have the most overt product placement. They create a causal link between buying their product and creating the ‘perfect holiday’. They typically focus less on pathos and fixate on the rewards of consuming. ‘Perfect holiday’ commercials may have aspects of guilting but their primarily focus on the rewards of buying. This type of branding is typically used by decorating and toy companies.
In this Pier 1 commercial, holiday bottles are personified and speak directly to the shopper. The bottles tell her that they like to party and will help make her party better. This is a clear example of a “perfect holiday” commercial because the products are literally telling the consumer that buying them will improve her holiday.
There are many other types of holiday branding, which rely on celebrity endorsements, humor, etc., but the aforementioned branding techniques are the most common. I focused on commercials because commercials are typically the most overt form of holiday branding. These commercials double as entertainment and opportunities for companies to sell products. However, this type of branding has become ingrained into American culture; people often watch these commercials just for entertainment. There are even television shows that dedicate episodes to replaying holiday commercials. This has caused companies to compete to create the most entertaining commercials. Changes in branding techniques can be attributed to this phenomenon and to companies’ prerogative to increase sales by taking a creative spin on the holiday season.