To my mind, there are only a few moments in our diverse nation that reflect so many of our shared values as do the Holidays. Whether you call this time of year Christmas, Kwanza, Chanukah, or even Festivus (Seinfeld’s mock holiday for the ‘rest of us’), the Holidays are common touch points that brings us together.
Small businesses wait for nearly a year to ride the wave of good vibes and generosity that seems to bubble up like crude oil from half-forgotten springs. The Black Friday sales bring small businesses out of the red and literally into the black. Like pilots seeding the clouds to make it rain, marketers liberally shower us in nostalgia, shared cultural values, and sappy emotions so we'll open up our wallets a little wider than we should.
Take a look through 60 years of Coca-Cola’s Christmas advertising and see a masterful demonstration.
60 Years of Coca-Cola Christmases
1950s. The first example is from the 1950s. GIs were back from WW2 and their kids were young; the oldest were only 15 by 1960. It was an era of optimism, wealth and growth. The message matched the time, it was simple. “Coke equals Good Times” is about all that was said.
1960s. The second example is from the 1960s. The kids were a bit older now and beginning to look back. Mom and Dad were remembering other happy times at their Grandparents homes during Christmas-time. Coke was trading on family, the concerns of a mother – like natural, wholesome food and economical value.
1970s. Can you imagine? Coke was actually stating that soda is wholesome and natural! That's a far cry from where the company is today when it finds itself rapidly adding new categories like fruit juice, bottled water and energy beverages because consumers are backing away from soda for health reasons!
This spot from the 1970s looks about as dated as a lava lamp! I keep expecting to see Jan and Marsha Brady at any moment! By now, America had been to Vietnam, the Flower Power movement was in full swing, the kids were older now, and America, obsessed with youth, shows only young adults in the ad.
1980s. The fourth example is from the 1980s. To tell the truth, there isn’t much difference from this spot and the ‘70’s spot, perhaps a bit more contemporary for the times. However, by bringing back this well- known theme, Coke is playing off the nostalgia its own advertising created among people old enough to remember the original 1970s ad.
1990s. The 1990s ad was the first time Coke introduced the Polar Bears in a tv spot format. The Polar Bears had originally been created in France for Coke as a poster image during the 1920s. The world was beginning to wake up to Climate Change (the initial UN report had been published in 1987). Besides a very subtle message about the environment, the ad relies on family and the ‘magic’ that Coke introduces to any gathering (even a gathering of polar bears).
2015. The 2015 spot is a departure from the polar bears and the focus is partly on Santa. I should point out that in the early 1900s, Coke played a key role in shaping our culture’s mental image of who Santa is and what he looks like. The ad also injects a huge dose of nostalgia by using Jimmy Durante’s version of “Make Someone Happy”. Jimmy Durante died in 1980, thirty-five years before 20% of our country’s population was even born, so a large portion of the audience had no direct association with him. Yet, the whole sound of that recording carries the warmth and love our culture associates with earlier, better times. In an era when we’re beset with regular reports of mass shootings, ISIS, climate change and recession, everyone’s looking for the shelter and safety of Grandma’s kitchen again. Especially at this time of year.
Lessons for Small Businesses
Here's what owners and leaders of small businesses can take away from this history lesson: We each have within us our own memories and stories, our own part in the larger American story. We share many of these feelings with our customers, colleagues and vendors. But it's up to us to be authentic and vulnerable to get the ball rolling. We don't need huge budgets for CGI animation or broadcast media time. We have everything we need at our finger tips; its as simple as a click, a mouse roll-over, a tweet or an e-mail. But it does take a bit of courage, being transparent always takes some courage. Luckily, we're entrepreneurs! We've got courage covered. And it does take some creativity, but then again, didn't we each start our businesses from nothing? What more creativity do we need? So let's invest these strengths in our blogs, social media posts, e-newsletters, talking-head videos. Let's tell our stories, share the good vibes and grow our businesses!
Happy Holidays everyone!
Still have a thirst for Coca-Cola's Polar Bears? Check out this great animated story from 2012, produced by Ridley Scott for Coke. Have a Coke and a Smile!