Many of us had low-key festive seasons last year. Whether the abstinence was forced or chosen, our collective frugality may turn as nasty as a wet gremlin this year. Retailers are relying on a very strong – and very unconscious – bias that we all have called the Licensing Effect. It’s the idea we have of deserving a bit of a reward after a period of abstinence or ‘being good’ (whatever that means for you).
Be good – then binge.
A 2019 review of research findings proposes (rather cryptically) that ‘exercising self control is phenomenologically aversive…and increases reward responsivity’. Which is academic speak for ‘we don’t like to do it – and think we need a treat when we do’. This Licensing Effect is a well recognised cognitive shortcut – and often exploited by marketers.
You can see it already with Marks and Spencer urging you to ‘Make this season anything but ordinary’. The message subtly nudges you to think about last year’s celebrations in a negative way (and then go out and make up for it by buying more). Argos’ ad campaign ‘Baubles to last year, Christmas is On!’ unashamedly refers to the perceived disappointments of 2020 – driving you to think that even if you had enjoyed yourself, others did not.
Stock market reports and earnings guidance illustrate that many companies are working hard to ‘rebound’ their sales this year to match pre-Covid levels – and they are terrified that they will not manage to achieve targets. So they are pushing the boat out in their advertising campaigns, hoping that you will open your hearts and wallets to their suggestions.
Go large – with the smallest things.
If you find yourself planning a bigger splurge this year – stop yourself for a moment. Do you really need to make up for last year? Chances are, you don’t. Ask your family, ask your friends – what do they want for Christmas? The most precious thing this year will be human contact. Kind words. Hugs. Kisses. Running around inside and outside, together. Doing jobs and errands for people. Babysitting kids so parents can afford a night out together. Holding hands.
To quote the lovely diva Mariah Carey: ‘All I want for Christmas is yoooooooooooooou!’.
Hell, yeah baby.
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