Saturday, December 03, 2005


Happy "Holiday"... but which one?

I'm getting a little tired of people who are becoming afraid of saying "Merry Christmas." The funniest thing I have seen was a sign in a mall in Rhode Island was a sign that said "Happy Holidays" but underneath was a listing of all kinds of greetings in other languages, such as "Feliz Navidad" and "Buon Natale," all of which goes to say it's okay to say "Merry Christmas" in any language except English.

Growing up in New York, we knew everyone's holidays, and we would take joy in their celebrations of them. In the City, you had to know what holidays and holydays were occurring just to know where you could park your car. Alternate side of the street parking, which meant there was no parking on a side of the street so that street cleaning equipment could get through, would be suspended for so many holidays. Knowing the holidays would even mean that you would know what traffic patterns to expect. As I told my son, everyone got into the act. Jewish composers have written some of the most famous Christmas tunes. Irving Berlin, who wrote "White Christmas," was the son of a cantor. He didn't write "White Holiday Season." And it's a Christmas tree that they would be in the background while they were singing it.

My side of the family was mixed Italian and Jewish by marriage. My wife's mother arrived in the U.S. from Austria as a teenager and was taken in by a Jewish family who taught her English and also had her prepare ethnic and holy day meals for them. To this day in our house, we make some Jewish cookie recipies as part of our Christmas cookies assortment. There's nothing like a good Pastrami sandwich from a good kosher deli. On Long Island, there was a kosher deli run by two Italian guys. The rabbi who would inspect them said that they were so aware of dietary laws some of the other delis he inspected should have been ashamed. We're still looking for a good mandel bread recipe we could make for Christmas. We had a challah bread on our Thanksgiving table. New York's mix of cultures and ethnicities is part of being a New Yorker, no matter where you end up living. Somehow, taking joy in each others holidays has turned into suppression of them.

Then it struck me... "Happy Holidays" is yet another sign that all this personalization technology and capability has failed to make a real dent in the communications marketplace.

Merlin W. Gorsline in the Customer Relations Department of Land's End, in a letter to the Catholic League, said “If we knew which customers feel as you do, we would be delighted to send them catalogs with ‘Merry Christmas’ splashed throughout the pages. However, we don’t.”

If 1:1 worked, customers and prospects would be able to get catalogs and other mailings based on the holidays they celebrated. Why would a company send a "Happy Holidays" e-mail promotion when they could get closer to their customers by sending them a more direct and applicable. Even people who want a Festivus catalog or a Winter Solstice catalog could be able to get one.

Isn't this what 1:1 marketing and "opt-in" e-marketing is supposed to be about? This should be part of the solution of the "happy holiday crisis." Can't retailers ask customers what kinds of "holiday" promotions they want? Strangely, they never ask. Why? Because the per unit price of sending out a catalog with "holiday" is a lot cheaper than sending on that says "Christmas." In e-marketing the differential cost should be nil, theoretically.

But wouldn't the whole "holiday vs. Christmas" issue be a simple and newsworthy way to get the 1:1 personalization capabilities of digital printing into the news? There's only 22 more public relations days until Christmas... someone should pick up the ball and run with it.

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