In much of the world, this month marks a shopping peak. This year, Americans are expected to spend approximately $616.9 billion during the holiday season—about 20% of retail sales for the year. In Ireland, retail holiday sales are expected to rise to about $4 billion, in a sign of increasing prosperity.
Marketers do their best to encourage all of that buying and to direct as much as possible toward their own products. Damien McLoughlin, the Anthony C. Cunningham Professor of Marketing and associate dean at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, says that marketers seek to take advantage of some of our most basic holiday impulses.
For example, he says, we all think of the holiday season as a time to be happy. But marketers know that “happiness” can mean different things to different people. So ads aimed at older people might evoke a sense of calm and contentment, with family gathered around the fire; an ad aimed at younger people conveys a sense of excitement over gifts and parties.
Marketers also take advantage of a phenomenon called “low-autonomy vice”: the sense that indulgences are more permissible—and enjoyable—if someone else takes responsibility for them, like a host urging us to take another piece of cake. McLoughlin says, “Any commercials that you see that say, ‘hey, it’s Christmas,’ and then encourage you to take behavior as a result of that…they’re trying to create these excuses on your part.”