When I left for Yangon in early December of this year, the cloyingly sweet sounds of Christmas music had already chased me from my favorite coffee joint, through my weekly food shop, and all the way up the airplane ramp.
I was granted a stay of merciful peace whilst in Myanmar, but while there I couldn’t help but note the growing insanity of Christmas in South East Asia, and wondered if Europe and the United States could ever return to a state of calm joy and unobligated cheer, forgoing their need to extend and export Christmas ever longer and ever further afield.
As I disembarked at London Heathrow last week, however, it became exceedingly clear that no, Christmas will not back down any time soon. Following yet another lively exchange with UK border control – penance, I know, for my own country’s treatment of travellers – I entered the arrivals terminal only to be hit with a wave of tinsel-covered consumerism.
Last year I celebrated the holiday with glee; I sawed down a tree, made fudge for the neighbors, arranged a ‘Friend’s Christmas’ weekend for a group of expat aid workers on leave from places like Yemen, Pakistan, and South Sudan. I even went so far as to make and then fill my friends’ Christmas stockings with oral rehydration salts and Paracetamol – we were so festive it was actually painful.
One thing we did not do, however, was exchange gifts. The holiday was an excuse to spend time with old friends, not a reason to buy. Experiences, not goods, topped our list of priorities; chatting and drinking lots of very good Scotch.
In fact, despite some research that suggests Millennials are the least frustrated by Christmas creep, Generation X have started to show a growing dissatisfaction and even annoyance with the trend. More and more Generation X families are signing on to the idea of a ‘gift-less Christmas’, and many in my social network actively boycott holiday spending.
There is an importance to this that cannot be overstated – the people who are most excited by an ever-lengthening Consumer Christmas calendar, are those who cannot afford to indulge in it. Millennial are some of the most likely to set tight budgets for holiday shopping, that is, if they buy gifts for anyone but themselves. Parents, many of whom are struggling to keep on top of basics, often have limited disposable income even when they are keen to give their kids a magical Christmas.
There is, however, a hidden demographic left out of most Christmas marketing – Childless-by-Choice Consumers in their 30s and early 40s. Not just Generation X, but Generation X with disposable income. Childless-by-Choice Consumers are often overlooked in the rush to secure mercurial millennials and the parents of young children of whom it is assumed Christmas shopping will be of premier importance. Though normally Childless-by-Choice Consumers go about buying and enjoying their considerable retail power, despite a dearth of targeted marketing, in the case of Christmas, these powerful consumers may be actively put off by simpering appeals to tradition or embarrassing attempts at ‘cool’.
And this is a missed opportunity for brands that anyway struggle to work out how to shoehorn Christmas into their product or service. Childless-by-choice Consumers may not be convinced, and more importantly, they may be turned off. And these are consumers that have stable jobs, they are often out of our nearly out of school debt, are new homeowners or comfortable renters. Most importantly, they have the cash, and the leisure time, to enjoy their financial comfort and social flexibility.
So where are our Christmas ads and marketing campaigns?
As a card carrying member of the childless-by-choice consumer group, I can say this much – next Christmas I plan spend on experiences, relaxation, maybe a bit of gluttony. Family-oriented ads say nothing like that to me. Appeals to my need to keep up with trends don’t do much for me either; if I want it, I already have it – I don’t need an excuse to buy it.
Instead, I want brands to offer me relief from the holiday-induced stress, the agitation of insane shoppers, the endless, horrible regurgitations of Christmas jingles, the pressures of family and work obligations.
The first brand to do that will have won a life long customer, and that’s no small thing. Peak Millennial buying power is still decades away, and it costs approximately 13,000 pounds sterling per year to raise a child.
Brands that win a few Childless-by-Choice Consumers over will find it can pay to be a bit of a humbug.