12/26/2014 03:25 pm ET Updated Feb 25, 2015

'Twas The Day After Christmas

If you celebrate Christmas, forgot to buy decorations and festive products (if you're so inclined), and somehow slept through yesterday, you're in luck.

Anything with a candy cane, jingle bell, or Christmas tree on it will likely be deeply discounted today and in the days to come. As will likely be anything that is flavored with pumpkin spice, gingerbread, or eggnog.

As coveted and as powerful as these seasonal cues are leading up to the big day, once the clock ticks they depreciate severely.

Dec 26th, Jan 2nd, Feb 15th, July 5th, Nov 1st.

The "day after" represents an interesting challenge for brands.

What makes holidays, and therefore certain branded products, such a rich territory of celebration and delight is that they only come once a year and occur within a limited window of time. There's a ramp up of anticipation that accompanies the renewed availability of products that define a fleeting time of year.

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes
Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark Chocolate
McDonald's Shamrock Shakes

These brands have created a reservoir of relevancy directly tied to the holidays, and we look forward to them because we know they'll disappear. For that reason, there's an inherent tension to want to stretch a supremely joyous and celebratory period of time to the limits of and beyond a prescribed window. We're all implicated in wanting that - consumers, brands, retailers, everyone - we all want to extend the excitement of a season.

And therein, for consumers and brands alike, lies the dilemma.

The scarcity principle -- that we have a tendency to desire that which doesn't occur frequently -- is at play: scarcity of the season makes it exciting when it does arrive and makes us lust for more of it, however increasing the frequency of what it offers can dilute its fervor and appeal.

Holidays are hard dates and once the day after arrives it's game over. So the flex is on the front end -- create a longer runway of relevancy and foster consumer engagement earlier.

It's a common emerging theme -- unleashing products for a holiday in an accelerated non-sequential order (with so much Christmas stimuli in stores in November I often found myself wondering what happened to Thanksgiving) -- but who is causing and reinforcing this trend?

A basic economics question, is the culprit supply, the brand, or demand, the consumer?

What's the most curious to me is the demand side of the equation and implications to supply down the road, specifically the degrees of permission brands are allowed by consumers.

Consumers have become, now more than ever, the co-authors of a brand's identity and a key determinant of a brand's establishment during key periods. Products that become traditions and classics become so because consumers decide to assign importance to their presence in defining that time.

I saw a commercial on the Hallmark channel on Christmas Eve promoting their lineup of original movies slated for Valentine's Day. Huh. Makes sense I suppose. Large viewership tuning in, might as well pump an ancillary (but related?) message to a receptive audience that is an obvious buyer of your content. But, really. Valentine's Day messaging on Christmas Eve?

We the people have the ultimate power in deciding what makes it first and faster into our shopping carts.


Back to School commercials airing in early July tell me I need to put down the beach bag and buy the book bag. Advertisements announcing sales starting at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day tell me I need to plan to get out the door to take advantage of the discounts. Seasonal aisles set up weeks in advance of a certain holiday tell me I had better stock up. Announcements on a targeted channel tell me to set my DVR to tune in months down the road for a holiday that hasn't yet hit my radar.

Brands still wield powerful stewardship in redefining consumer behavior.

As brand builders, who are also consumers, it's not only interesting but imperative for us to reflect on that premise.


Shruti received her MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA degree in Economics from Harvard College. She currently works at General Mills in Consumer Insights, having held previous positions at PBS, CBS News, & Merrill Lynch and was a feature writer, editor and on the Board of Directors of The Harbus. All opinions are her own.