Historically, religious tradition in the United States, based on Christianity and Judaism, has emphasized hard work, thrift and a simple lifestyle. Religious values and attitudes typically help shape the behavior and practices of institutions and members of cultures. They are the most challenging dimensions to which marketers must adjust.
These traditional religious values have evolved over time. However, many of our modern marketing activities would not exist if these values had persisted.
Thrift, for instance, presumes that a person will save hard-earned wages and use these savings for purchases later on.
Today, Americans take full advantage of the ample credit facilities that are available to them. Credit cards and PayPal are almost a vital part of the American lifestyle — and the American economy — that the concept of saving before buying seems almost archaic. Most Americans feel no guilt in driving a big SUV or generously heating a large house.
That attitude has even pervaded politics, in part prompting the creation of a federal consumers protection bureau and other laws and regulations designed to protect if not promote the practices of borrowing and buying on credit.
The political infighting over these laws, regulations and institutions is not so much concerned with the issue of whether buying-on-credit is appropriate as it is which side of that equation will be most protected — the buyer, or the seller.
Christmas is one Christian tradition that remains an important event for many consumer-goods industries in all Christian countries. Retailers have their largest sales around that time. However, Christmas is a good illustration of the substantial differences that still exist among predominantly Christian societies.
A large U.S.-based retailer of consumer electronics discovered these differences the hard way when it opened its first retail outlet in the Netherlands. The company planned the opening to coincide with the start of the Christmas selling season and bought advertising space accordingly for late November and December, as retailers do in the United States. The results proved less than satisfactory. Major gift-giving in Holland takes place, not around Dec. 25, Christmas Day, but on St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6. Therefore, the opening of the company’s retail operation was late and missed the major buying season.
From a marketing point of view, Christmas has increasingly become a global phenomenon. As a successfully advertised festival in China, Christmas is enjoyed and celebrated by many people, and retailers there have greatly benefited from Christmas sales. For many young Chinese, Christmas is not regarded as a religious holiday but simply represents “fun.”
It is also positioned as a “shopping festival” by many Chinese retailers. Fashionable bars charge up to $25 for entrance on Christmas Eve, and hotel restaurants charge $180 for a Christmas Eve function. Even apples are popular, because it is believed that if you eat an apple on Christmas Eve, you will be safe and sound in the coming year. The week around Christmas is the top grossing week for movie theaters in China, as young Chinese head out to theaters together instead of watching pirated DVDs at home.
Santa Claus is increasing in popularity in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country of Turkey. In Istanbul shopping centers, children line up to sit on Santa’s lap and ask for gifts; stores sell Santa suits and statues.
With billions of people celebrating Christmas and exchanging wishes of peace, perhaps we will see at least some of the inspired and faithful — perhaps, even political leaders — take personal steps which reduce the barbarities which humanity commits against itself in many ongoing conflicts. A time of remembrance of the difficult travels of Joseph and Mary, with Jesus soon to be born, might help all of us to soften our stance towards refugees and migrants in the world.
Christmas would be a great moment for us to care, not only for our families and friends, but for those who are suffering from wars, poverty and natural disasters. Remember, we all, but for the mercy of God, could be the ones looking for succor and support.
Michael Czinkota teaches international business and trade at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and the University of Kent. His key (with Ilkka Ronakainen) book is “International Marketing” (10th ed., CENGAGE).