Monday, December 10, 2007

Don't just give a gift

I shouldn't be surprised by the commercialism of Christmas. I've seen commercials for diamond jewelry for years now - complete with a starry eyed excited woman thrilled on Christmas morning. Maybe her husband surprises her across a table with the jewelry. Maybe he puts the necklace on her neck while she's sleeping. The common thread is that there's always a man (husband) giving the woman (assumed to be his wife) a piece of jewelry that she's thrilled about.

I remember talking in college about the subtle messages within ads - that if we're not conscious of what we're seeing - we start to accept things as normal. Families have two parents (male and female) who are between 25-35 with two kids (boy and girl). Older people look like they're around 50.

Typically, ads try to present an idealized reality - that if we buy the product (whatever it is), we can obtain that reality.

For some reason though, this holiday campaign has hit a thrilling new low to my mind. It's holiday commercialism at its worst.

One ad talks about a Dad who loves to fix things and had all old and worn tools. And what do the daughters do? They buy Dad a whole new garage full of brand new drills, die cast wrenches and cabinets. The tag line says "Don't just give a gift, grant a wish".

Or the mother who talks about her teenage daughter who doesn't have to wear a uniform to school anymore. They buy her a whole room full of new clothes - complete with the daughter shocked and squealing in delight on Christmas morning.

To some extent, the campaign is brilliant. It plays on our most basic feelings, our love for our families and our desire to make them happy. The insidious part is that it's claiming to sell happiness, one Christmas, thousands of dollars a pop.

And perhaps someone who just gets a loved one a single gift, a drill, a couple of outfits (what the vast majority of us can afford) - is just not cutting it.

They (we) just don't care enough about their family member to go into thousands of dollars in debt for them.

Yes, of course, there are plenty of people who can afford to spend thousands of dollars on a new garage full of tools, a new car, an expensive set of jewelry for the holidays. But I'm not sure this ad is really directed at those people.

As a Mom, it is incredibly important to me to send an alternate message to my kids during the holiday season. That gifts and money do not equal love. That the amount that I spend on a gift has nothing to do with the amount of love I have for anyone.


Anonymous said...

I have seen the commercial with the kid who gets a whole new wardrobe. Ugh. I've had the same reaction looking through various "holiday gift guides" at what the retail industry thinks are "good gifts." Under $50 is a dwindling category. There's also such concern about the economy, and the message we seem to be getting is that to be good Americans, we have to spend, spend, spend. After all, that's what Americans do - they buy. That's the thing that will save our economy... right? We are in desperate need of an alternate story! Thanks for writing your thoughts on this; it's good to know there is still some sanity out there.

C. L. Hanson said...

Yeah, that sounds awful. talk about encouraging waste: serviceable (but old!) tools just aren't good enough for your occasional fixer-upper!! Can't people aspire to have something simple and of good quality that lasts, rather than competing to be the first to fill the local landfill?

Aerin said...

Thanks NN. Yes, I think that's part of why many families started setting gift expense limits. Now, with my siblings, we're not exchanging at all. Some people are donating to needy families. This has worked so well for us! And we just play board games or watch movies on the holiday. I saw your post about gifts as well - which was nice.

chanson - yup. Encouraging a lot of waste. My in laws pointed out that the company is American, with a lot of American made tools, so to some extent, they're fighting to stay afloat. And who can say if they donated all of the tools to the local goodwill (doubtful and not a part of the commercial). I just think it's more of what you've written about in the past - the orgy of consumerism instead of togetherness.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that Christmas has become too commercialized. However, I have to say... Sears did a great holiday slogan "Don't just give a gift, grant a wish", because too often, we just get a mindless hand-down gift (i know, it's not the gift, it's the thought that counts, but you can so tell someone is giving a gift in order to get a gift back from you or in order to say "i always give you a x'mas gift"). To those we care we love... we should know their wish, so ... not just give a gift, grant a wish -- you may not even have to "buy" anything ... may be a phone call to your parents, walk the dog in the park with your kids, finally tell someone you love him/her even you get rejected.......

Yes, that's "grant a wish".

Aerin said...

Yvonne - thanks. Yup - if people take the slogan to mean that - I think that's great. That's just what I'm talking about.

From the commercial though, it did seem to imply that you could "grant a wish" by buying things from that specific company "Sears".