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Let Me Apologize for Saying This:  Happy Holidays.

January 20, 2016   Posted By Joel Goldstein

Extending a Happy Holidays greeting to someone doesn’t seem to be too “edgy” or a wild idea.  At least I didn’t think so.  But perhaps I’ve always been wrong, or perhaps the national narrative lately has changed how we behave toward each other, and how we interpret another person’s agenda.  Here’s what I mean.ChristmasTree.jpg

One of our clients sent a lovely little email to their customers a few weeks back, wishing them a Happy Holidays.  Nothing odd about it, and nothing I haven’t seen thousands of times and shared thousands of times myself over the years.

But then our marketing director client got an email.  Angry.  Really angry.  But it was one email, so she ignored it.  Until she got another.  And another.  And another.  It was just a handful, but they were all united in their outrage, in their conviction that our client had treated them wrongly, shabbily, even immorally.

“How dare you wish me a Happy Holiday” instead of “Merry Christmas,” the emails said.  They were hurt, offended, shocked that our client would do such a thing.  And several went further, saying they’d never buy from our client any longer, and that we should immediately remove them from all communication lists we keep. 

So, let’s think of this not from a religious perspective, or a political perspective, but as marketers.  Were they wrong to wish people Happy Holidays?  Was that too politically correct, or now do we have to extend political correctness to the point of saying Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas, extending both greetings so we’re not angering a faction of America who believes that they’re being excluded by a Happy Holidays message?

I’ll admit to feeling it’s much ado about nothing, and feeling that the few who wrote represent a tiny portion of the market.  But it’s interesting that this is the first time I’ve seen this happen, where people reacted angrily to the Happy Holiday greeting and demanded to be sent Merry Christmas tidings.  It’s new to me for an email like that to generate multiple reactions, and I wonder if it will grow or fade.  Is it because of Donald Trump’s declaration that when he’s president we’ll all be able to say Merry Christmas again?  Did he politicize Christmas greetings in a way that carries over to marketers in some new way that will just expand in scope? 

How ridiculous.  From a personal perspective, I never take offense when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, even though I don’t celebrate it.  I’ve wished others Merry Christmas, even though I didn’t know for certain whether they celebrated it or not.  Scandalous, I know, but at this point we ought to take people to heart for their intent.

At the end of the day, we all have to give each other the benefit of the doubt.  We have to realize that we live in an environment where no matter what we do it may offend someone, even something as harmless and innocuous as a Happy Holiday greeting.  Look at the trouble Starbucks had by using a red coffee cup this year, which some thought wasn’t showing the requisite respect to Christmas.  The world’s more complicated today, more nuanced, particularly for our clients who deal with multiple cultures as multinationals. 

At our agency, of course, we’re in the advice business, so what advice should we give to a client next year about how to phrase their holiday greetings?  Or is it safer to send no greetings at all now?

We think brands should lead on this issue--demonstrate leadership by showing kindness. It humanizes the company and takes a stand against boorish behavior. It is NOT ok to send a mean email to anyone who wishes you well. I think as a society we all need to stand firm on that and not pander to those who think that’s acceptable behavior.

Maybe I’ll wish you a happy birthday, but it was last week.  Maybe I’ll tell you to have fun on St. Patrick’s Day, even though you weren’t planning on going to the bar to welcome it in that morning.  I understand Christmas is a religious celebration for many, far more serious than a birthday or a beer company-sponsored holiday.  But I think if someone expresses good wishes to another, that’s nice.  And it’s nice to be nice.  The world needs more people being nice to each other, more than it needs people who are easily offended at imaginary slights.

So, to all my marketing friends, order your Happy Holiday cards for 2016, regardless of who it offends, who wins the White House, and who might get nervous about such a risky communication coming from your company.  Because, really, being nice is never wrong.  We know that, because we learned it in kindergarten.

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