Trash-Talking Santa


Trash-Talking Santa
by Michael Goodell

I’m a great student of advertising, especially that found on television. More than just about any other medium, advertising can provide an accurate picture of contemporary society. Now, this is not a foolproof device by any means. For example, just the other day I remarked to my wife that the economy must be improving. When she asked why I told her I had been seeing a lot more jewelry, champagne and luxury car ads. It was clearly an indication that more people had more disposable income, and fewer concerns about their economic future.

“No, you idiot,” she replied sweetly. “It’s the holidays.”

Holiday ads do offer a snapshot on our society, though sometimes we might not want to look at the picture. Take the series of Best Buy ads, running under the slogan, “Game on, Santa.” These ads feature a woman gleefully stuffing her cart with incredibly affordable electronics. One of the Best Buy employees says, “Santa better watch out,” followed by a scene in which Santa Claus himself is trying to leave presents in a room and under a tree already heavily laden with gifts.

He sees the woman, sipping tea (though not offering him any), and rudely, contemptuously saying things like, “Oh, I didn’t leave any room in those stocking for your gifts, did I? Oh, awkward.” or “Daddy don’t want no cologne.”

Clearly, whoever came up with this campaign was going for humor, but it failed miserably. Why on earth would anyone think it would be funny to be cruel to Santa? Now, what is also clear, and this I have known for at least the past five years, is Santa Claus doesn’t really exist. Yet Santa represents niceness, kindness, generosity and love. Not a negative thing about him.

So what does it say about someone who comes up with an ad like this, let alone the executive who, laughing, signed off on it, or the marketing expert who thought it would resonate with a substantial portion of the consumer electronic purchasing public? In other words, isn’t it disturbing to think that decision makers have such a negative, cynical and bleak view of our society?


General Motors is running an ad right now featuring one of the special safety features on one of their Cadillacs. Not sure what it is, maybe an battery fire early detection system or something. Anyway, the ad shows a couple driving a Cadillac on a dark, snowy road when suddenly they manage to stop before hitting a team of reindeer standing in the road. There’s no sign of Santa, though he is definitely the implied pilot of this herd (no doubt he ‘s inside getting mocked and ridiculed by a Best Buy customer). The ad implies that without Cadillac’s special safety features the driver might have run over the reindeer. Thus, in addition to getting a good buy, you “Might save the holidays.”

Sorry, but in this case the holiday the prudent driver would be saving is Christmas. Yes, there are many different religious and faux-religious holidays around the Winter Solstice, but in only one of them do eight tiny reindeer feature prominently, and that is Christmas. Thus the driver is saving Christmas, not Hanukkah, not Kwanza, not Slip On a Suicide Vest and Blow Up a School Bus Day, nor any other holiday celebrated by any of the world’s major religions not listed above. Santa equals Christmas. Go ahead, say the word. Nothing really bad will happen to you.