Brands are a threat to Christmas – here’s why

Holiday opens up with Galaxy’ Can anyone explain what that means? Do they by any chance mean ‘Christmas opens up with Galaxy?’ And if so, does this mean Samsung are yet another company who have jumped on the ‘holidays’ bandwagon?

It definitely seems that way, but it wouldn’t be quite so bad if their strapline actually made sense or if they hadn’t just lazily replaced one word with the singular of another. Wouldn’t ‘holidays open up’ be more accurate?

But our issue isn’t so much with the grammatical accuracy or nonsensical meaning of their strapline, but rather the use of the word ‘holidays’. More and more frequently brands are shying away from mentioning Christmas in their advertising, which raises the question – why?

The true meaning of Christmas

If someone asks you what comes to mind when you think of Christmas, what do you say?

Maybe it’s Santa and snow or brightly coloured presents under a Christmas tree. Maybe it’s carol singing or re-reading ‘A Christmas Carol’. Or maybe it’s simply spending quality time with friends and family drinking mulled wine and eating lots of chocolate.

But if someone asks you what you think about when you talk about ‘holidays’, chances are you’ll think of a beach in Barbados, skiing in the Alps or even partying in Ibiza.

To put it another way – at this time of year, do you go holiday shopping, hold a holiday office party or have a holiday lunch on the 25th December? No, you don’t.

So, what is this obsession with changing every reference to Christmas to ‘holidays’?

It’s something Coca-Cola have been doing for years, but more and more companies, such as Apple and Samsung, are following suit.

But there is also another worrying trend. Just look at these ads from M&S, Notonthehighstreet and Etsy. Admittedly, they don’t use the word ‘holidays’, but what is noticeable is despite using lots of traditional Christmas imagery none of them explicitly mention the ‘C word’.

Don’t get us wrong. As an agency that delivers globally, we understand the importance of ads appealing to different audiences around the world, so you could argue brands are just being savvy and creating content that works across multiple territories.

But we also know the importance of creating work that actually appeals to the audiences it’s targeting, so given we celebrate Christmas in the UK, surely the ads should reference Christmas? It just feels lazy, or is there something more sinister going on?

Is Christmas in danger of being cancelled?

A few years ago, there was uproar when Birmingham City Council decided the word Christmas should be renamed as Winterval so as not to offend non-Christian religions. This is actually an urban myth. The name Winterval was just a generic term for all the events happening around the festive period, but a mixture of bad journalism and paranoid church leaders meant it was seen as a deliberate attack against Christianity.

But while that was fake news, it does raise the question about why the word Christmas is either being replaced with the dreaded word ‘holidays’ or is entirely absent from ads?

This wouldn’t be such an issue if brands were doing the same to festivals such as Eid, Diwali or Hanukkah. But this just isn’t the case.

And while it’s true Christmas has become increasingly commercialised in the UK with 61% saying they celebrate Christmas as a secular event, there are still 35% who celebrate it as a religious one. So surely, removing all mention to Christmas or trying to disguise it as just a ‘holiday’ could conceivably be considered offensive? Brands wouldn’t dream of dressing Eid up as something else so why is Christmas fair game?

Attempting to be inclusive, and failing

We’ve talked before about brands trying to be too woke so maybe this is just more of the same. After all, you can’t deny using ‘holidays’ is a more inclusive term and won’t alienate anyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. But if brands are trying to go down that route, they are failing.

Most of the ads include abundant references to Christmas traditions. In Christianity, the Christmas tree symbolises the birth and resurrection of Jesus; the tradition of giving presents is thought to be linked to the wise men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus; and the traditional Christmas colours of red, green and gold symbolise the blood of Jesus, eternal life and one of the three gifts from the wise men.

So, if brands are really intent on not causing offense then they need to stop using that imagery. Right?

Money is king

We think the answer is a lot simpler. Brands are just trying to have their (Christmas) cake and eat it. We all know Christmas is a peak selling time for retailers around the world, so brands are just capitalising on the pure commercialisation of Christmas while trying to keep everyone happy. And the best way to do that is by having Christmassy ads which don’t mention the ‘C word’.

It’s why Eid can stay as Eid and Diwali as Diwali – they aren’t commercially big enough worldwide to warrant rebranding.

And that’s what companies are attempting to do – rebrand Christmas so it’s more palatable for everyone.

But the risk is, over time, traditions which have been around for the last two millennia and define what Christmas is and means to people will slowly be eroded away. Christmas is already too commercialised, but at least it’s tenets of peace, joy and togetherness are still intact.

But if brands have their way Christmas will just become another Black Friday and who wants that?