I’ve found myself watching a considerably increased amount of television in the past week, which is understandable given an increased correlative time spent at home. Perhaps I’ve been oblivious to trends in TV advertising and marketing, but in this holiday quarter, I’ve noticed a sea change in the ad spots. My recollection of holiday commercials has been a thinly veiled reinterpretation of BUYBUYBUYBUY! BUYALLTHETHINGS! YOURFAMILYWILLHATEYOUIFYOUDONOTBUYTHEMXYZTHINGIES! Granted, most ad spots are like that anyway, but the amp is normally turned up to 12 during the shopping season.
This season, the angle seems to be a little different. Gone are the incessant doorbuster spots and numerous spots for gimmick sales–‘don’t miss our super-duper manager hates us sale! 139% off everything from 2.23-3.04 am!’, —and by gone, I mean they’re just not on all the time–and they’re replaced by something more calm, yet blatantly cynical in advertising’s inimitable way.
The theme is family, community, togetherness, and not in the aforementioned ‘your family will love you more’ way, but rather in a ‘this will help you create real, lasting community’ way. It can be found in everything from pizza ads (Domino’s is doing this right now, but their spot isn’t holiday specific campaign) to the usual suspect big box retailers (Target’s ‘My Kind of Holiday’ campaign has heavily featured social gatherings, family time and the annual family photo effort, all showing how their products facilitate, fun, meaningful events) to the jewelry pimps (the would-be stepfather giving his stepdaughter one of those silly Kay Jewelers-Jane Seymour pendants to seal the deal with Mom).
[EDITORIAL ASIDE: While I’m here and thinking about it, the last ad is far superior to the one they ran and reran a few years ago of the romantic couple stuck in the luxury cabin during a thunderstorm. Hearing that stiff say ‘…and I always will be,‘ delights me every single time. I digress.]
Such change in tactic is so radically different from what we’re accustomed to, particularly with regard to the holidays, that it catches people off guard. The difference in tone is such that it makes a few of us think ‘Hey, this isn’t the normal in-your-face crap we usually get! I think I’m going to shop a Casual Male huge sale…and I don’t even have a male in my life, unless we’re talking about my cat. He is a little husky.‘
The reality, though, is that advertisers are hedging their bets in a highly unstable economic market, and are selling this way because they know people don’t necessarily have the money or means to spendspendspend like they did in years past and pre-recession. It’s a way of companies and marketing executives managing expectations or an attempt to underpromise and overdeliver to shareholders or investors in January during earnings season. They’ve all but ceded this already-abbreviated, flawed season to whatever fate it delivers. They’re not worried about your family or friends, they’re worried that they’ll scare you off by aggressively asking you to fork over the capital to which you may or may not have access.
And, each ad block reminds me that we, for the meantime, have no income. Every holiday season has been a kick in the groin for me, especially since moving to Missouri, whose counties inexplicably demand all of its residents to fork over hundreds of dollars in personal property taxes at the end of each year, during the holiday shopping season.
[A rabbit trail on taxes aside, in what universe does it make sense to make someone pay state and county sales tax upon purchase of a vehicle, then further demand annual levies on that which was already taxed? State voters have already banned such a practice in real estate sales, the logical next step would be to ban it for all forms of personal property. There are far more creative ways to extract revenue from residents than to make us pay for what is already in our possession. Personally, I think a graduated sales tax in the final quarter of each year is a fairer way to generate revenue and give a jolt to local economies throughout the state when it’s needed most. That seems to make too much sense. Again, I digress.]
These commercials are for people with means, and I am not one of them. And I don’t feel bad for it, either. Being on the sidelines, it gives me a pretty clear view from the nosebleeds just how desperate retailers are getting this year, even if they don’t realize it. I am not a target market, and that’s fine by me.
Marketers have one thing right: this time of the year is absolutely about family and spending time with the people we love. We don’t need their crap to make the season matter, though. Dr. Seuss tried to teach us that a long time ago.
They were still selling. We were still buying.
Same stuff, different day.
Dispatches from the Bread Line are week-daily blog posts until I’m employed again.