by Mimi Nicklin (@MimiNicklin) As I write, I’m planning my annual trip for Christmas to the UK and it occurs to me that the most powerful pull towards a “white” (aka European) Christmas is the ‘Christmas spirit’ that is waiting for me in London town. What is ‘column-worthy’ about this, however, is that, when you delve a little deeper, nearly everything I describe as “Christmas spirit” is nearly 100% created by either retail activation or marketing magic of some kind.

Entirely a long-term trick

Those nostalgic feelings for winter mornings, steaming hot chocolate, carol singers, and the overwhelming desire to run head on into Bond Street to spend my hard-earned rands is, in fact, all entirely a long-term trick that marketers have been embedding into my consumer psyche each and every year to date.

The Selfridges window displays; the Starbucks limited-edition Christmas mugs filled with spiced, spruced and scented coffee; the John Lewis annual TVC and this year’s combination of “Christmas Hits 2014” — all a very clever, and truly commercialised, collection of Christmas cheer and festive celebration, collated by brands in every category.

In this final month of the year, I therefore pose to you a question. In 2014, isn’t the Christmas spirit we crave and celebrate really the “Christmas spirit that marketing made”? When we truly review the icons, emotions, soundtracks and snow trucks — aren’t these beautifully festive and compellingly cosy hooks no more than the marketing fraternity’s best-ever incentive to buy?

The proof:

  1. Amazon is opening a shop. Yes, I know it is one of the world’s biggest retailers already, but this Christmas it is opening a pop-up bricks-and-mortar, real-people, real-product store. It got me thinking. For all its wonderfully convenient and catalogued shopping online, perhaps it’s realised there is something just a tad more special about Christmas shopping that one can see, touch, and engage with in the ‘real world’. People were always going to shop on Amazon this year but, with a touch of Cliff Richard on the sound system and mince pies at the tills, Amazon can own the Christmas (shopping) Spirit on a whole other level.
  2. Window-display designers are paid salaries of an all-time high. They may be the oldest retail-merchandising trick in the book but these windows tell Christmas stories and sell product benefits all in one — perfect testimony to the fact that these imagination-capturing and ‘feet in the door’ driving media are 100% marketing’s tactics to project the Christmas spirit we recognise onto city streets worldwide. Creative. Festive. Inspiring. And, yes, all a great plan devised by marketing directors everywhere.
  3. Retail activation and retailer TVCs. There is surely no one who hasn’t seen and already fallen in love with this year’s John Lewis ad? Last year, it was the enduring friendship of a Hare and a Bear that melted our hearts.
    Twelve months on, John Lewis hopes the bond between a boy and a penguin will similarly capture our Christmas imaginations. The retail activation that supports the TVC is further evidence that if, when you head in store, even the mannequins appear to be celebrating Christmas cheer (or have turned into penguins!), the countdown to the 25th has probably begun! A perfect example of marketer’s creativity to build from a TVC and continue storytelling in the store, and create Christmas spirit that drives purchases you would never have previously considered.

    John Lewis Monty the Penguin 4John Lewis Monty the Penguin 1John Lewis Monty the Penguin 3John Lewis Monty the Penguin 2
    Photos: Business Insider and John Lewis
  1. Festive product innovation that convinces us to shop “just because it’s Christmas”. Whether it’s limited-edition stock or festive naming, there are marketers worldwide convincing us to buy products we never normally would.Christmas limited-edition products
  2. And, finally, in-store design and POSM. If it feels like Christmas when you are doing your shopping, it probably is! It seems that, at Christmas, the point-of-sale design and in-store teams suddenly realise that, versus the rest of the year, it is worth creating stories and displays that go beyond promo messages or prize communications — the final piece of proof that we marketers may indeed have created the entire packaging of what we know as “Christmas spirit” and convinced every retailer, mother and child that they love it!
    Christmas point-of-sale displaysReferences: Kristina Fick's Visual Merchandising on Pinterest; Suchandra Bullock's Visual Merchandising on Pinterest;

So, back to the original question, dear reader: Is Christmas really all about people, and family, and —dare I say it — religious celebrations, or is it actually an example of the best marketing campaign of all time?

I shall leave you to ponder until we meet again in 2015. Happy Christmas!

Mimi NicklinMimi Nicklin (@MimiNicklin) followed her passion and experience in the consumer, retail and shopper space from regional roles in Europe and Asia, to South African shores in 2010. Having led global brands through the line for Procter & Gamble, and two of London and Hong Kong’s top agencies, her background gives her an international perspective to add to her depth of SA understanding. She serves as strategic director and a partner at 34 Group. Mimi contributes the monthly “The Sell” column concerning shopper marketing to MarkLives.

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