Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas - Marketing, psychology and the world

Santa Claus, Christmas carols, gifts, endless queues at the malls and the local post offices, house decorations and more human externalities! Christmas is here! Hohoho!! But, what does Christmas mean for us? Why "Merry Christmas"? Does Santa really exist? How could Christmas decoration both in houses and in retail stores affect our psychology? Marketers and psychologists are actually curious human beings that have studied almost every aspect of human and consumer behavior, including Christmas psychology!

Santa Claus really exists?

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas or simply "Santa", is a mythical figure with legendary, historical and folkloric origins who, in many Western cultures, is said to bring gifts to the homes of the good children on December 24, the night before Christmas. Images of Santa Claus were further popularized through Haddon Sundblom’s depiction of him for The Coca-Cola Company’s Christmas advertising in the 1930s. The popularity of the image spawned urban legends that Santa Claus was invented by The Coca-Cola Company or that Santa wears red and white because they are the colors used to promote the Coca-Cola brand. Historically, Coca-Cola was not the first soft drink company to utilize the modern image of Santa Claus in its advertising: White Rock Beverages had already used a red and white Santa to sell mineral water in 1915 and then in advertisements for its ginger ale in 1923.

Kids believe in Santa Claus as a function of age. Kids are also more likely to believe if their parents encourage them to do so [Anderson & Prentice, 1994]. But it’s not clear that these beliefs are a sign of greater gullibility or even a greater interest in fantasy.

Actually, researchers found that a belief in Santa was unrelated to other measures of a child's interest in fantasy [Prentice, 1978]. And a recent series of experiments conducted at Harvard found that kids make important distinctions between beliefs in folkloric, fantasy characters and beliefs in other unseen, but scientifically-established, entities. Kids who professed to believe in Santa were nonetheless less certain about it than they were about the existence of oxygen or germs. Another set of experiments revealed that 4-year old kids don't invoke magical explanations for things that happen in the real world-not unless those things otherwise seem impossible [Rosengren & Hickling, 1994].

What happens when kids finally penetrate the veil and reject our fantasies? We might feel a little awkward or wistful. But the kids don’t appear to be heartbroken. When researchers questioned children who had stopped believing in Santa Claus, a milestone they reached around the age of 7, kids reported feeling pleased.

They had figured it out. They were enlightened now.

According to Anderson , it was THE PARENTS, NOT THE KIDS, who reported feeling a bit sad..

Why Merry Christmas?

Tim Kasser, an American psychologist, known for his work on materialism & Kennon Sheldon, professor of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, noticed 10 years ago that "More happiness was reported when family and religious experiences were especially salient, and lower well-being occurred when spending money and receiving gifts predominated. Engaging in environmentally conscious consumption practices also predicted a happier holiday, as did being older and male. In sum, the materialistic aspects of modern Christmas celebrations may undermine well-being, while family and spiritual activities may help people to feel more satisīŦed". Thus consumerism is not always the answer.

Christmas decoration

Werner & Brown [Journal of Environmental Psychology, 1989] suggested that most people like decorating their house for Christmas. One possible reason for this behavior could be the desire to communicate friendliness and cohesiveness with neighbors. Stimulus homes had been preselected to represent the four cells of a two by two factorial design crossing the presence/absence of Christmas decorations with the resident’s self-rated social contact with neighbors (low/high). As expected, a main effect for the decorated factor indicated that raters used Christmas decorations as a cue that the residents were friendly and cohesive. Decoration interacted with sociability in a complex but interpretable way. 

In the absence of Christmas decorations, raters accurately distinguished between the homes of sociable and nonsocial residents; in open ended comments, they attributed their impressions to the relatively more ‘open’ and ‘lived in’ look of the sociable residents’ homes. When Christmas decorations were present, raters actually attributed greater sociability to the nonsocial residents, citing a more open appearance as the basis for their judgments. The results support the idea that residents can use their home’s exterior to communicate attachment and possibly to integrate themselves into a neighborhood’s social activities.

As regards retail stores and their Christmas decoration, the following video, that explores current neuromarketing methods (measuring stimuli and emotions to retail stores Christmas decoration), might shed light on unconscious consumer decision-making processes: