Now that the holidays and Christmas have come and gone, it's a good time to reevaluate our collective relationship to the gift-giving season. For the past few weeks, the Western world has been at peak Christmas - ruthless holiday cheer and unapologetic indulgence.
We are consuming stuff at an unprecedented rate: Americans spent up to $1.05 trillion on holiday gifts (a 4+ percent increase from last year and the most ever). What's more, December saw a dramatic spike in jovial missives wrapped in hymns, carols and pageants. Some even argue that holiday music is actually mentally draining.
Not only are we drowning ourselves in stuff and merriment, we have grown accustomed to spoiling ourselves generally as much as possible. Whether its expensive coffee, Netflix and Spotify subscriptions or Amazon Prime memberships, we, as a society, are grossly obsessed with having it all. We are fat with unlimited privilege, excess and extravagance. It's the American way. And as we've grown more and more indulgent, we've become increasingly immune to it. We're truly unaware of just how reliant we are on consumption. But, ultimately, it's not sustainable. At a time when we're so overwhelmed with the state of the world and politics at large, we've found ourselves coping by indulging in "the most wonderful time of the year." At some point, it will inevitably have to stop. Right? No?
In this age of love languages, aren't there alternative ways to show love during this time of year? Why can't we overindulge in words of affirmation, acts of service or quality time? Or how about physical touch?
In some ways the holidays are already shifting, becoming more mindful and less indulgent. From the rising popularity of Secret Santas as an alternative to traditional gift-giving to REI's outright rejection of Black Friday, shoppers and companies alike are picking up on the reality that everyone is (literally) spent. Could the Christmas bubble be bursting? Is there an impending change on what Christmas means for society and consumer behavior?If so, how can brands prepare for this inevitable detox?
Here are two ideas.
1. Stop making and selling things and start nurturing meaningful connections and experiences.
Brands should look beyond seeing the holidays as an opportunistic sales boom and instead find new ways to engage with consumers more meaningfully. There will be a moment when traditional gift spending will slow, and experiences will soar. People will need new ways to show that they care. Brands like Free People have already expanded beyond retail to selling wellness experience packages with FP Escapes, while Airbnb's #BelongAnywhere campaign exemplifies how purpose, experiences and connections drive brands. Will other brands be ready for the next gift-giving season?
2. Provide ways for consumers to give back rather than indulge in the superficiality inherent in materialism.
People are looking to exercise their dissatisfaction with holiday consumerism. They're looking to companies to provide alternatives to traditional gift-giving in order to make more powerful statements to themselves and their peers. Just look at brands like Public-Supply, which sells leather journals and donates 25 percent of profits to support art and creativity in America's public schools. Or FEED, a functional handbag brand that donates 50 school lunches to children in need around the world with every purchase. It's about experiences, subscriptions, charitable contributions, etc.
Every year we see a clear rise in potlucks, cookie swaps, recipe exchanges, volunteering opportunities, and the like. As people continue to look further beyond gifting to express themselves during the holidays, socially conscious brands will inevitably rise to the top.