Topic: Miller College of Business

December 14, 2007

Marketers associated with Columbus Day and Presidents Day could learn a thing or two from St. Nick when it comes to branding.

When it comes to highly cherished holidays and the symbols associated with them, the majority of young adults rank Christmas at No. 1 — far outdistancing Thanksgiving and Independence Day — in a study of holiday branding by Ball State University.

The findings are not surprising because only a few holidays are intensely marketed by entities, such as apparel and food retailers as well as by the general media, and have such deeply personal symbols, said James Lowry, a retired Ball State marketing professor.

A survey of 362 college juniors and seniors found that 70.5 percent of these young adults regard Christmas as their top holiday from among 16 selections. Thanksgiving was second at 11.3 percent and Independence Day was third at 5.5 percent while Halloween was ranked fourth at 5 percent and New Year's Eve fifth at 2.2 percent.

"The manner in which a holiday is celebrated is the result of collective branding that communicates the meaning of a particular day to the public," said Lowry, who conducted the study with Thomas Charles, a senior research analyst for the university's Bureau of Business Research.

"With the rich family and religious traditions and abundant spending by marketers to publicize their goods during the Christmas season, we can easily see why young adults cherish the holiday," Lowry said. "Thanksgiving is second because respondents associate family visits, lots of good food and, for many, a four-day holiday."

At the bottom of the rankings are Labor Day, Columbus Day, Presidents Day and Veterans Day.

The study found that college students have at least three symbols associated with their favorite holidays, such as a decorated tree, presents and Santa Claus for Christmas or turkey, dinner and family for Thanksgiving.

But when it comes to less popular holidays, college students have a hard time associating one or two symbols.

"The image of a particular holiday is frequently framed by the promotions of marketers and by human interest stories in the media that focus on the holiday," Lowry said. "Depending on the holiday, other entities such as religious groups, labor and government may play a major role in creating its identity.

"This collective branding creates a perception of the holiday that is distinct and enduring," he said. "The effect is that whenever the holiday is mentioned, a set of mental pictures are activated by the consumer. Retailers and other enterprises can capitalize on the image projected by the holidays, providing consumers with explicit offerings that are consistent with the event."

Lowry points out that while many marketers have promoted a relationship between their product and a symbol that characterizes a less popular holiday, additional associations could be developed to improve brand awareness.