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The Psychology of Christmas

24 Dec The Psychology of Christmas

I succumbed to the lure of ‘Buster’ and purchased a half price, cuddly version of the latest star of John Lewis’s Christmas advert; I even bought Betsy the badger too!! Both have been claimed by Harry, my cocker spaniel, and have subsequently been added to his ever growing box of soft toys. He is, most certainly, a very spoilt little boy! Of course as an animal lover, I am the ideal target for any advertiser who uses wild life or domesticated animals in their Christmas campaigns! John Lewis’s advert features its first black family alongside Buster the boxer dog and a varied assortment of urban wildlife who overcome their initial nervousness and play together on the trampoline in the garden…and no,  you can rest assured, I didn’t buy a trampoline! Waitrose’s Christmas advert features a robin who risks his life to land back in his favourite garden to share a Waitrose mince pie with a fellow robin! It doesn’t quite have the same appeal! However, according to Catherine Johnson Boyd of Anglia Ruskin University, both adverts do have an overtly political message which should not be overlooked. For example, in the John Lewis advert, ‘the message here appears to be that we need to overcome our cautiousness and embrace those we may view as different…….. and the robin’s message is that it can be worth experiencing hardship in order to achieve your goals – in this case, to be in Britain. It also apparently mirrors predictions that Britain is going to be in for a financially difficult time as we leave the EU. The size of the bird perhaps symbolises that something small (Britain) can be strong when faced with big “adversaries”.  An interesting analysis for sure!

Supermarkets and businesses have spent a record £5.6 billion this year on Christmas marketing. John Lewis actually spent £7 million on its advertising campaign which is perhaps not surprising given that the retailer makes 40% of its profits over the Christmas quarter. Over the last four years, it claims  its Christmas adverts have led to an average 16% lift in festive sales.

I have always preferred Christmas campaigns by Sainsburys and, despite the controversy over its 2014 advert, I found the Western Front film below not in the least bit exploitative or inappropriate but I do understand the unease and disquiet felt by some commentators.

Back in 1914 a German officer writing home to his father during Christmas said:

If I had my way some person in authority would proclaim that Christmas will not be celebrated this year. I cannot attain to the lack of imagination necessary to celebrate Christmas in the face of the enemy … The simplicity of Christmas with the laughter of children, surprises, the joy of giving little things – this is as it should be when it appears alone. But when it enters the lists with a war it is out of place. Enemy, Death, and a Christmas-tree – they cannot. live so close together.

Two years later in 1916 a British soldier wrote to his mother on Christmas day:

My Dear Mother,
There is very little here to remind us of Christmas. Just a handful of us remembering that it is December 25th, and that back at home your thoughts are, no doubt, more than ever with us. We are not dispirited, nor do we feel downcast at the fact that we should be spending such a great day like this … It is not a truce but just some sort of strange understanding between us and the Jerries on the other side that Christmas Day should be like this … Perhaps next Christmas the war will be over and I shall be back with you all again. How we long for that time when we shall be able to look back on these days and regard them as a dream.

The reality of life in the trenches strikes a sombre note and Sainsburys were clearly stung by the criticism to their 2014 advert and thus chose a more light hearted theme for their next marketing campaign in 2015.  Judith Kerr’s calamitous cat Mog therefore took centre stage in a wonderful advert that really did live up to the company’s tag line ‘Christmas is for sharing’. I couldn’t really write this blog post without posting a link to the three minute film entitled Christmas Calamity.

So that’s it for now.. a Merry Christmas to everyone and good wishes for the festive season!

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