It’s getting close to Christmas, they’re cutting down trees…they’re putting up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace.
Well, you guys are anyway. Here at the ReferralCandy sweatshop in the North Pole, we work like Santa’s elves to bring you awesome referral marketing services all year around instead.
So while you lot are making out under mistletoe and drinking eggnog, we’re slaving over referral coupons and cash rewards while wearing bright pastel-colored tights, a la Will Ferrell in Elf.
Unfortunately, we’ve got no manic pixie Zooey Deschanel here to keep us motivated. Sob.
All of this endless slaving have made us pretty Grinchy about the whole business of Christmas.
So we’re gonna do it. We’re gonna ruin Christmas for you…
by revealing how Christmas is actually the greatest marketing
campaign scam of all time.
Pay close attention, marketers, and together we’ll learn from the best.
Firstly, the shocking truth: it’s got nothing to do with Jesus’s birth.
We all know the Christmas story, right? Most people would tell you that December 25th marks the birth date of Jesus of Nazareth, the central figure of Christianity.
Scholars who’ve looked closely at the Bible as well as other historical records, however, tell us that Jesus was most likely to have been born in either late summer or early autumn.
Scientists point out that the central West Bank area where the Christmas story plays out is unbearably cold, wet and windy during the December period.
This means that no self-respecting shepherds like the ones in the Christmas story would be taking their flock out to pasture. It also makes it much less likely that a census like the one which Jesus’s parents supposedly travelled to their ancestral homes of Bethlehem for would be called.
So much for a white December Christmas eh? At the very least, we’re all about three months late for birthday celebrations.
So where do our notions of Christmas as a snowy affair come from then?
The answer: it’s pretty much a rebranded pagan festival.
Some historians say that Christmas was an—ahem—brand revamp of the Roman winter solstice, a pre-Christian festival.
The word “solstice” itself derives its roots from the Roman sun god, Sol—an etymological hint alluding to mid-winter being the time of the year when the Sun dips low enough in our sky to almost twerk on the Earth.
Still others believe that Christmas was originally the Germanic festival of Yule, an archaic name that originates from the Nordic countries and was originally dedicated to Odin and the Norse gods of old.
That’s right—instead of Santa, we could’ve had Tom Hiddleston sliding down our collective chimneys, so as to speak. Ladies.
In modern parlance, then, Christmas is pretty much like every other corporate rebranding of pre-existing products the market already has—like New Coke, only not as shitty.
So why has Christmas survived so long, while the original winter festivals like solstice and Yule are now obsolete?
Part of the reason could be because of its long association with political power over the ages, but Christmas wasn’t a mere case of empires and kings forcing new religions and festivals upon people.
Instead, the traces of the winter solstice and Yule in Christmas shows us that the early church leaders were brilliant adaptors.
By co-opting and assimilating the competition, they provided a similar solution to an existing need, only better and more-evolved. This allowed them to successfully mediate a middle ground between the religion of the ruling class and the common practices of the people, thus allowing Christmas its grand old age of over a thousand years.
Even in more recent and modern times, Christmas is a festival that’s constantly changing to adapt with the age.
Santa Claus, for example, originated as a Middle-eastern saint named Nicholas from modern-day Turkey, and was never part of the original X’mas narrative to begin with. He’s become integral to the festive mood over the years though—in fact, his current iconic red and white look was partially popularized by a series of Coke advertisements.
Thus, even though it has its roots in winter and religion, Christmas today transcends its origins by being relevant to both secular society as well as non-seasonal countries.
That doesn’t mean the specific theological implications of Christmas for Christians go away however. It simply means that even non-Christians can understand and apply the principles of hope, love, forgiveness and goodwill to all mankind.
Hold up, you say. That doesn’t quite answer the question.
Is Christmas just a marketing scam because it misrepresents history then?
Well, perhaps. But that’s sorta missing the point.
As we’ve mentioned before, all great marketing campaigns have always told compelling stories we need to believe in.
The best stories are always the eternal ones, the ones that fill a deep human need for connection or significance within us.
Apple, for instance, successfully leveraged on the archetype of the rebel to market the Macintosh, using the universal feeling of alienation to create a passionate community of brand believers.
Similarly, one of the ecommerce retailers we’ve met through our line of work tells a beautiful story about how her grandmother’s passing led her to set up her current business. She spends most of her time nowadays plowing through garage sales for unique, antique decorative dishes—a unique way of remembering a loved one.
Does it matter that there was nothing inherently rebellious about chips and transistors in itself, or familial about porcelain and china?
Consciously or not, every successful marketer understands that a person who buys into a brand is purchasing a narrative by which he defines and actualizes himself, a need that is deeply enshrined in our universal psychology.
Stories don’t necessarily have to be true in that objective sense in order for them to be powerful. What matters is that we invest them with meaning.
Christmas, then, tells us a compelling narrative about the the triumph of hope over the eternal recurrence of darkness. Regardless of your religious inclinations, it isn’t tough to imagine such a story providing comfort to our ancestors in the middle of long and freezing winters.
In conclusion, therefore, Christmas might or might not be a scam, but its evolution over the ages holds a valuable lesson for every marketer who might be stubborn about their brand.