MindFire Communications, Inc.
The great debate: Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas?
December 6, 2009 | Inga Rundquist

Like fruitcake and ugly sweaters, it’s becoming a tradition for many companies to wrangle over whether their seasonal messaging should include "Merry Christmas” or "Happy Holidays.”

In many circles, "Merry Christmas” has fallen out of favor for being discriminatory, non-inclusive and generally bad form – particularly when you don’t know the religious leanings of your audience. This political correctness irks others to no end.

It’s a debate that’s gone on for years, and like virtually everything else in marketing, it ultimately boils down to knowing your audience. Consider these two examples:

  • In 2005, Walmart tried to attract a new customer base by de-emphasizing "Christmas” in its holiday campaigns, among other things. This approach backfired. In addition to facing mounting criticism from religious groups that staged boycotts, sales also decreased. By the following year, Walmart had injected "Christmas” back into the holiday season. The retailer recognized that its audience connected more with the Christmas message, and "Christmas” has maintained a strong presence in holiday marketing ever since. The "Christmas costs less at Walmart” tag for this year’s campaign is proof of that.
  • This year’s Gap "Holiday Cheer” campaign has created lots of buzz in the marketplace. The campaign is a high-steppin’ musical production featuring cheers like "Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanzaa, Go Solstice!” and "Happy Dowhateveryouwannakkah.” Many religious organizations are already crying wolf, claiming that Gap is being disrespectful to those who celebrate the spirit of Christmas. Others, meanwhile, can’t get enough of the ad. It’s clear that Gap was trying to connect with its diverse customer base by incorporating all possible beliefs into its cheers.

As with any other marketing tactic, the solution to this dilemma is to pay attention to your audience. Instead of blindly trying to be politically correct, determine what will ring true with your brand and your audience when it comes to your seasonal messaging.

If your target market is more traditional, perhaps the "Merry Christmas” greeting will work better for you. If you have a younger, more diverse base, an approach similar to Gap might be more fitting.

Bottom line – keep your message in line with your brand and your target audience.


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