Christmas and commercialism; the two go hand-in-hand. For what is Christmas without it? Just another day off. Oh, and apparently there’s some religious thing going on too, or something. Cynical? Sure, but this is the world we live in and have lived in for decades. It’s been almost fifty years since A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired on television lambasting the commercial aspect of Christmas. Which is funny, because I’m pretty sure the Hallmark Store down the street had an entire section of its shelves devoted to Peanuts Christmas memorabilia this year. Don’t bite the hand, Chuck.
I’ve made lots of posts about Christmas films and television specials, so why not a post about Christmas commercials? I’m not going to kid anyone and say my life has been enriched by any commercials, but I do get a little uptick in my mood when Christmas commercials show up on television. Sure, the vast majority of them will be annoying and overplayed come the 25th but a select few are able to buck that trend. And while I’d never rank a good Christmas commercial alongside a good holiday special, it does surprise me sometimes when I realize how many of these things still remain in my brain years later. It helps that I spent a huge chunk of my childhood re-watching the same VHS tape full of television specials and commercials each holiday season (and adulthood, since I have it on right now).
Advertisements are supposed to pitch a product, naturally, and convince those who view it to go out and purchase said product. Considering the biggest custom surrounding Christmas is giving gifts, it makes a lot of sense why it’s become such a giant commercial. And since it also tends to invoke warm, happy, feelings, it makes sense for all advertisers to try and tap into that. If an advertiser can successfully create an emotional attachment to its product then that’s going to go a long way towards making that product stick out when it comes time for shopping. Let’s take a look at a few that stand out as being pretty “Christmassy” from past years (apologies for when the youtube links inevitably break, if you’re reading this long after it was originally posted).
Who comes down the chimney to deliver presents on Christmas Eve? Santa. And what do kids leave as a “thank you” for Santa? Cookies. It makes quite a bit of sense for cookie makers to come out and tap into that for a commercial, so that’s what Nabisco did with this Oreo cookie commercial from the 1980’s. Another seemingly full-proof advertising strategy is to craft a catchy jingle. That sort of thing likely predates radio and television by decades, if not centuries. Just take a minute and think about how many commercial jingles you can recall easily. I bet tons of people in New England can still remember the New England Telephone commercial jingle, and that company has been dead for decades. Oreo had a catchy jingle for a long time (and maybe they still do) that drew attention to the habit of dunking the cookie in milk and drawing parallels to being a child. It’s a pretty effective ploy. It was also an adaptable jingle as words could be substituted to change things up and have it relate to something else, like Christmas. In this commercial we have little Alex trying to stay up on Christmas Eve to catch Santa. Of course, he can’t keep his eyes open and when Santa comes down that chimney he’s delighted to find a plate of Oreos. Before Alex can wake, Santa is gone but he left a little note. It’s a cute commercial, and it’s likely the jingle that makes it stick out for me.
McDonald’s – “Star Wish”
Fast food doesn’t exactly bring about the holiday spirit, but considering fast food retailers often include toys in their kid’s meals, it makes sense for one to show up here. This commercial from McDonald’s though is fairly unique. It’s not pitching an actual product such as a food item or Happy Meal toy. It’s basically just a short little Christmas story that serves as a video Christmas card of sorts. Today with all of the negative press surrounding fast food and how unhealthy it is, it seems like a strategy that might be worth revisiting. In 1987 though, I don’t think the stigma was as strong. Instead this is probably McDonald’s wanting to push its characters that appeal to kids to create further good will with them. The short stars Ronald McDonald, Birdy, and Grimace, all characters that I believe have been deemphasized by the corporation in recent years. Society has basically decided it’s kind of shitty for fast food retailers to push their unhealthy food on children so these characters may be foreign to today’s kids (I would think they still know who Ronald McDonald is, but I’m not positive), but in the 80’s and early 90’s they were quite prevalent on television. The short features Birdy and Grimace looking for a gift for Ronald, and happen to stumble upon a falling star. They put the obviously alive little bugger in a box (since he came from space he probably doesn’t require oxygen to live, so we can excuse the lack of air holes, I suppose) and give him to Ronald. Ronald sees this amazing thing in a box and rightly decides he shouldn’t enslave it so they send him home. The star, who exists as a hand-drawn animated character, actually interacts pretty well with the real characters in the commercial and the set is far too good than it has any right being. McDonald’s spent some money.
I don’t know why, but it seems many advertisers decided the best way to market cereal was to have one character possess the cereal and another desperately seek it. There were the kids trying to get Lucky Charms, the Trixx rabbit, and the Cookie Crisp crook, to name a few. Another was Barney Rubble of Flintstones fame always trying to get Fred’s Fruity and Coco Pebbles cereal. It’s kind of bizarre as there’s really nothing about the Barney character that suggests he should obsess over cereal. It’s also kind of funny that the Flintstones are used to market food items and vitamins long after their day in the sun has set. This Christmas commercial stands out for me. I don’t know why, but it probably has something to do with Barney actually getting to have some Fruity Pebbles. I can’t think of a time when the Trixx rabbit actually got to enjoy a bowl of Trixx. I think most kids always wanted these characters to just get some cereal. And in the case of Fruity Pebbles, maybe Barney would finally see that what he’s been chasing is actually pretty terrible and he could move on with his life. So even though this commercial is memorable for me, it never made me want to eat this cereal since I knew it was awful. Who knows, though? Maybe I saw it so often each year that it convinced me to beg my mom to pick up a box just so I could be reminded that I didn’t actually enjoy it. I also find it alarming how effective a job this commercial did at staying with me as I can recite the damn thing word for word. Brainwashing at its finest.
It’s Christmas Eve, so this likely ends the Christmas posts of 2014. I hope you enjoyed them.