That perfect gift – part 2

Chia Pet

The campaign to get you to buy Christmas gifts combines several strategies that are enormously effective, Together, they are able to create a mass trance that lasts for two months and causes people to do crazy things like go into debt, wait in line outside big box stores at 4am, and buy Chia Pets.

The fact is, businesses need the bump in sales; retail stores make about 50 percent of their profits in the last three months of the year. I think I would respect the process more if the merchants were up front about that. But instead they pump up sentiment along with our anxiety as their ads assure us that their product is the one true answer in our quest for “that perfect gift”.

Because the pitches for these holiday dollars are so intense and in your face, the holiday season is an especially good time to examine advertising for clues about how we might persuade ourselves to do our own bidding. Let’s deconstruct some of the Christmas marketing strategies to see if there is anything we can use in our own ad campaigns.

Home for the holidays

Humans are configured to want connection. It’s hard-wired into us and is exploited by advertisers, who are particularly blatant about using family sentiment to hock their wares time of year. I often wonder how much of our personal Christmas mythology about home, hearth and family has been created by copy writers.

This is the perfect season to observe how blatantly we are manipulated by the spurious associations that are drawn between human connection and products, and to consider how we might use a similar strategies to find motivation for our own agendas – which often ARE related to home, hearth and family!

Your genuine desire for tradition and connection is artfully woven into associations with plastic playthings, expensive clothing, luxury automobiles, shiny rocks and electronic circuitry (ok, that last one IS important!). Not to mention mountains of cheap, useless crap. Directly and indirectly, marketers suggest that selecting the correct gift can bring you:

  • The admiration of your spouse
  • Happy children
  • A warm and loving home
  • The security of tradition

Apparently just about any product can be linked to the outcomes above. The other day I saw a commercial for Crest Whitestrips. It had all of the usual elements – snow, decorations, Christmas carols, coming home for the holiday to a warm, happy family, etc. The message suggested that the experience of coming home for Christmas could be even better if you had whiter teeth.

The ghost of Christmas presents

Beneath all of those happy warm family scenes is a second, more sinister message: our important connections may be disrupted if we don’t participate. Consider the story of Scrooge, who is depicted as unhappy and alone because he did not give to other people at Christmas.

Our concern about this dire outcome creates a perfect racket of guilt and worry. After all, if everyone has to buy a gift for everyone else who might get them one, we are all concerned about it. We share a common problem that is exploited to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars in sales.

Remembering to participate in the ritual is massively supported by ubiquitous environmental cues:

  • There is a color scheme.
  • Everywhere we go, the world is decorated to support the occasion.
  • We are encouraged to bring the decorations into our own homes as well.
  • Special ritual objects are brought out in anticipation of the event.
  • We eat special food.
  • There are songs about it that everybody knows. People even come to your door to sing them.
  • Friends you may not hear from at any other time send you reminders in the mail.
  • There is special programming about it on TV, and special performances in the community.
  • There are constant reminders in every other form of media, as well.
  • There is a special greeting.

A dozen hints for our personal ads

Retailers depend on you spending lots of money on stuff other people don’t need, and they leverage a number of legitimate human desires to convince you to do so. Advertisers use the strategies they do because they work.

You can use some of these same strategies to get yourself to do things too. Here are some suggestions for supercharging your own ad campaigns that are culled from observing how the Christmas experience is structured. Try combining a few of them to power the desire in yourself to achieve the things you want to create in your life:

  1. Create a hard and fast deadline.
  2. Associate the target objective with your deepest need for connection. It doesn’t matter if the association is far-fetched. Make it clear that this thing contains an element that is essential to maintaining the love and security of your family.
  3. Convince yourself that the people closest to you will be really disappointed if you don’t follow through. Especially your children.
  4. Set up expectations that will create awkward and embarrassing situations with your friends if you fail to participate.
  5. Decorate your home. If possible, get your neighbors to do the same.
  6. Remind yourself about it constantly, in as many ways as possible.
  7. Get your family and friends to remind you too.
  8. Be sentimental while exploiting the deepest archetypes you can muster, like the life-giving properties of light and fire, or returning home to your mother’s cooking after a long absence.
  9. Do a full-court press. Be relentless.
  10. Tap the kid in yourself. Let yourself get really excited about wanting this thing.
  11. Tell someone else what you want, believe you will get it, and look forward with all your heart to receiving it.
  12. Create traditions around it. Do it every year.

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