A Finger-Lickin' Good Christmas, and a Well-Examined New Year

There are many strange instances of marketing and holiday traditions coming together. Let's be more alert in 2017.

A Finger-Lickin' Good Christmas, and a Well-Examined New Year


We just celebrated the most wonderful time of year, when many families gather in their homes to see what a smiling, jolly man with a white beard brought them. Was it toys? Coal? Flatscreen TVs?

Or deep fried chicken in the Southern tradition with a secret blend of 11 herbs and spices?

For families in Japan, the holiday is still occasion to gather round the table and break bread, but the bread is buttermilk biscuits and the old man providing the treats is named Colonel Sanders, not Santa Claus. Kentucky Fried Chicken is the way the vast majority of Japanese families ring in Yuletide cheer.

In one of the strangest instances of marketing and holiday traditions coming together, Japan’s Christmas celebrants have been queueing up for the Kentucky Christmas dinner package at KFCs across the country since 1970. Back then, Takeshi Okawara, the manager of Japan’s first KFC, noticed a hole in the market: there was no national tradition for Christmas.

He started offering a Party Barrel around the holidays, which eventually evolved into the nation-wide “Kentucky for Christmas” campaign, the positive effects of which are still being felt today. Mr. Okawara served as the CEO of KFC Japan for 18 years, and the holiday season currently brings in a third of the chain’s annual sales.

While incorporating the holidays into a brand’s marketing efforts is nothing new, there’s been a recent effort to take it a step further by incorporating branded traditions into holidays and other cultural moments.

This year, Burger King’s Whopper Exchange encouraged people to bring in unwanted Christmas gifts in exchange for a free burger the day after Christmas, with all the gifts being donated to an unspecified charity. How long until Boxing Day burgers become a tradition?

REI made waves last year when they took the Black Friday occasion to close their doors and encourage people to make a new holiday tradition in the great outdoors with family. This year, they’re at it again and have been joined by the likes of the National Parks Foundation and Outdoor Research.

While the traditional smoldering yule log has long since been replaced by hours-long videos of roaring fireplaces on Netflix and YouTube, Lagavulin took it up another notch last year with Nick Offerman’s 'Yule Log'. For 45 uninterrupted minutes, Mr. Offerman sits and silently drinks Lagavulin next to a roaring fire, and I can’t tell you how many holiday parties I’ve been at that have featured this stoic masterpiece in the background. Lagavulin doubled down this year with Nick Offerman's 'New Years Eve', clearly aiming to further cement its place in holiday celebrations.

And of course, we have Coca-Cola to thank for the single most prevalent aspect of modern Christmas holiday traditions: Santa Claus himself. While old St. Nick has existed in various forms over the centuries, the plump, rosy-cheeked version we know today sky-rocketed to world renown primarily because of a wildly successful Coke campaign from the 1920s. (However, contrary to popular belief, this version of Santa was not created by the soda company, only popularized by it.)

Does marketing exploit wholesome cultural traditions, or are cultural traditions just another form of marketing? Perhaps it depends on how one defines “marketing.” Culture has always been subjective, of course, but the act of convincing someone to change their behavior in a way that benefits another has existed since cave paintings. When that behavior invokes nostalgia and strengthens relationships, it’s tradition — but when it involves a purchasing decision, it’s called “marketing.”

As we head into a new year and collectively examine our own behaviors and how we might change them, it may do us all well to consider not only what we’re doing, but who it is that wants us to do it and why they care so much.

A very happy — and examined — new year to you all.

What does kindness look like? It wears a mask.

Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
  • The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
  • The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Keep reading Show less

Science confirms: Earth has more than one 'moon'

Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.

J. Sliz-Balogh, A. Barta and G. Horvath
Surprising Science
  • Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
  • These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
  • The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists stumble across new organs in the human head

New cancer-scanning technology reveals a previously unknown detail of human anatomy.

Credit: Valstar et al., Netherlands Cancer Institute
Surprising Science
  • Scientists using new scanning technology and hunting for prostate tumors get a surprise.
  • Behind the nasopharynx is a set of salivary glands that no one knew about.
  • Finding the glands may allow for more complication-free radiation therapies.
Keep reading Show less

Millennials reconsidering finances and future under COVID-19

A new survey found that 27 percent of millennials are saving more money due to the pandemic, but most can't stay within their budgets.

Personal Growth
  • Millennials have been labeled the "unluckiest generation in U.S. history" after the one-two financial punch of the Great Recession and the pandemic shutdowns.
  • A recent survey found that about a third of millennials felt financially unprepared for the pandemic and have begun saving.
  • To achieve financial freedom, millennials will need to take control of their finances and reinterpret their relationship with the economy.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Personal Growth

    6 easy ways to transition to a plant-based diet

    Your health and the health of the planet are not indistinguishable.

    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast