Thanksgiving & Christmas: Holiday Lineup's Unbeatable One-Two Punch

By Lowry, James R.; Charles, Thomas A. | USA TODAY, November 2009 | Go to article overview

Thanksgiving & Christmas: Holiday Lineup's Unbeatable One-Two Punch


Lowry, James R., Charles, Thomas A., USA TODAY


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ALL HOLIDAYS are not celebrated with equal fervor by consumers. The variance in their acceptance and celebration is the result of the differences in support they receive by the general public, retailers, religious establishments, and other groups. There are 10 U.S. Federal holidays established by law--New Year's Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, Christmas Day (a religious holiday), Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, President's Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Thanksgiving. In addition, there are four popular secular holidays--Halloween, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and Father's Day, although the first two have decidedly religious roots. Two other holidays--Easter, a religious holiday, and St. Patrick's Day, a quasi-religious one, are observed by many Americans. These 16 holidays were chosen for study because they are recognized and celebrated widely. Each can be viewed as a distinct brand, and the effective branding of a holiday can impact consumer spending significantly.

The origin of an annual holiday stems from the desire of a championing group to commemorate an individual or a particular event. This complex process may involve a lengthy period of persuasion and negotiation among the sponsors and political, religious, and other entities that legitimize the holiday.

Each holiday elicits a particular type of response by consumers. Through their collective actions, retailers, journalists, religious leaders, and government agencies greatly influence these responses. As a holiday draws near, retailers frequently advertise goods associated with it. For instance, candy is promoted for Valentine's Day and fireworks on the Fourth of July. Journalists construct interesting stories about a holiday, giving it an additional dimension. When the holiday is a religious one, church leaders urge their followers to celebrate the religious aspects of it.

By legislating that five of the Federal holidays be celebrated on a Monday, the government has created three-day weekends. Because Thanksgiving always is observed on a Thursday, it often is extended into a four-day weekend. These lengthy weekends permit travel, recreation, and other leisure-time pursuits, prompting increased consumer spending.

The promotional efforts employed by the various groups that have an interest in a particular holiday represent the process of collective branding. Although each group's actions are separate, the totality of their efforts distinguishes the holiday as a brand. Contributing to the holiday as a brand is a combination of symbols and activities that differentiate it from other days. The continual promotional activities of those with an interest in a certain holiday help to identify its uniqueness. For instance, think of the mental images prompted by the mention of Easter. The story of Jesus on the cross as related by religious leaders comes to mind. Stores stocked with Easter finery, candy, and cards are visualized. The Easter bunny and children searching for Easter eggs are other images projected. In contrast, the perception of the Fourth of July includes fireworks displays, patriotic parades, and outdoor entertainment.

A particular holiday often is identified by a certain symbol or character that represents it. These symbols and characters frequently are used effectively by marketers to promote their holiday offerings. For example, during the Fourth-of-July period, an automobile dealer advertises a firecracker of a sale. For Valentine's Day, a jeweler offers a heart-shaped pin inlaid with diamonds. When consumers view these promotions, they gain a greater awareness of the holiday. This may lead a consumer to surmise that a marketer's offering is relevant to the holiday. Believing that he or she should participate in the holiday celebration, a consumer may consider making a purchase.

Some holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, obtain almost universal participation; others, such as Martin Luther King Jr. …

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