Localising Christmas: The Tradition/Relevance Gap
Posted by
Al Mackay at 08:00

It's the end of the year and we all know what that means - beaches, braais and spending as much time with friends and family as we can. We'll eat too much and struggle to stay cool in the sticky heat and many of us will celebrate Christmas. Even those of us who do not celebrate will struggle to avoid the Christmas atmosphere all around - our retailers make sure that we are confronted with snowflakes, snowmen, pine trees and reindeer wherever we go. It irritates me every year. What do any of these things have to do with our experience of December? It strikes me as bad marketing.

Market relevance

We live in the age of hyper-relevance and hyper-localisation. Most brands are trying as hard as they can to get close to people, become part of their world and share experiences with them. They are investing massive resources in understanding their markets so that they can offer them something relevant and emotionally engaging.

Many of our brands are doing it well - think of the particularly South African aesthetic of BOS ice tea, or the recent campaign by Standard Bank that tells us "they call it Africa. We call it home."

Local symbolism

Isn't it time the marketing around Christmas caught up with the reality that we're not a snowy European country? Why are our retailers and package designers so nervous about reinventing a few traditions to make the festive season feel like our own? I've seen small steps in this direction - with people using wire baobabs as Christmas trees in their homes, for example. Imagine the opportunity in making the festival truly African? Food brands could host Christmas shisanyamas and beach parties. Designers and printers could release wrapping papers that take their design cues from African motifs, and cards that have Zulu or Sesotho greetings on them.

Smart marketing is about making things relevant to your audience, and I have no doubt that there would be commercial rewards for brands that innovated to do so. After all, Coca-Cola is rumoured to be responsible for Father Christmas's red suit - perhaps some of our brands could have a similarly transformative effect. 

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