Dark Friday

23 11 2007

Santa

By Derek Beres

“What the hell is Santa doing here?”

Not the exact type of language (or even question) you’d expect from a group of suburban housemothers, yet it was posed—repeatedly, I’m sure—at the Menlo Park Mall in Edison, NJ a few weeks ago. Everyone knows that Santa doesn’t start appearing at the mall until after Thanksgiving, meaning, today. So what the hell was Santa doing there, cuddling with stuffed lions, coaxing girls in pigtails over with his affectionate if not slightly bloated smile?

With barrels of oil pushing the $100 mark, creating a large upswing in heating and gas expenses, along with the catastrophe of the unforgivable housing market, retailers are scrambling for what is expected to be a slower-than-average Christmas shopping season. Many businesses are made or broken during this stretch between Black Friday and the day ol’ Saint Nick comes a knockin’. So why wouldn’t he be at the mall early? He’s got some major PR work to do!

Santa knows marketing well. While the former bishop from Turkey known as Saint Nicholas of Myra may not have been “invented” by Coca Cola, it is certain that their campaigns put the image of the red-and-white fella into the hearts and minds (and wallets) of hundreds of millions. Just as Warner Sallman’s “Head of Christ” gave what Christians have grown to believe to be the definitive gaze of Jesus, Coke’s annual print and subsequent television ads have given the jovial character its final figure.

Yet Santa was nowhere to be seen on the mass television coverage this morning where, from a helicopter hoisted above a Wal-Mart in Somewhereville, thousands of people trampled atop each other to break the barricade of other customers to flood the stores. This phenomenon occurred nationwide; Macy’s in New York City had a waiting line of over one thousand people at 5:30 am, and decided to open their doors a half-hour early.

Across the board, retailers are reporting that electronic is “it” this year. It reminds me of the story in Michael Pollan’s excellent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, where the farmers that face surplus are faced with only one solution: grow more corn. The act of growing more decreases its value, and the only way to catch up is to…keep on growing. In general they are receiving a dollar a bushel less than what it takes to grow it, and their “profits” are secured by government subsidies. In a nation filled with less expendable income due to the startling increases in electric bills, what do we do? Buy more electronics. Perfect solution.

Coinciding with the season will be the onslaught of commercials, with retailers, as usual, reminding us how important family values and time spent with loved ones is. Oh, and buy our product, because that helps you get closer to your family. What’s lacking in the retail sector—what’s always lacked in the retail sector—is honesty. You can’t bake that cake and sell it at a cost below what you paid for ingredients. Hence, wily marketers gloss over the idea of the value of time with the value of their time: spending time in their stores. Fortunately for them, as witnessed at the mind-numbing focus of mainstream media on Black Friday, we’ll never know the difference.

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