Monday, December 1, 2014

Merry Christmas and the Failure of New Coke

     April 23, 1985 was the date of what has been called by many, “the greatest marketing blunder of all time.” It was on this date that Cola-Cola announced a change in the formula of their flagship brand. The new formula was advertised as being “smoother” than the original formula and was preferred by consumers in blind taste tests. The public response was overwhelming, immediate and hostile. Consumers formed groups to protest the change, bombarded the Atlanta headquarters with complaints and even filed lawsuits to force Coca-Cola to bring back the original formula. It is safe to say that no one expected such visceral public response. By July of that same year the company announced that the original formula would be returning as Coca-Cola Classic.

    So, what went wrong? If the new formula was preferred in taste tests, why was it rejected in the marketplace? Corporate executives learned a valuable lesson through this marketing failure. What they learned was, for millions of Americans, Coca-Cola was more than just a soft drink. It was inseparably woven into their memories, traditions and culture. The unique bottle and familiar script had become icons of the American way of life. For many, to change the century old soft drink was to change America – and that’s just un-American.

     Christmas in America has become a lot like Coca-Cola. It is woven into our collective consciousness. The sights, sounds and tradition of Christmas are a part of our heritage. There is a certain comfort in seeing the Christmas lights go up around town, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas for the 30th time, putting up the Christmas tree and hearing the clerk at grocery store tell us “Merry Christmas.” All of these things bring back wonderful memories and even give us a little hope for tomorrow.

     Over the last decade or so there has been a definite push to change many of these traditions. Local municipalities have forbidden nativity scenes on publicly owned property and many retailers have instructed their employees to stop saying “Merry Christmas,” opting instead for the more inclusive “Happy Holidays.” These changes have understandably caused great concern among devout Christians, but what is surprising is the vocal outrage expressed by many who would be never identified as Christian. Countless Americans who rarely (if ever) attend church and whose very lives deny the deity Christ are nonetheless upset that “Merry Christmas” is being replaced. 

     Why would they care? Why would people who don’t seem to acknowledge Christ the other eleven months of the year care if He is not recognized in the twelfth month? The same reason they didn’t want Coca-Cola to change the original formula – tradition. It’s the same reason that so many young girls envision a grand wedding in a beautiful column fronted church. It’s part of the American dream; it’s a part of our ethos. The unfortunate truth is that for many, the words “Merry Christmas” have lost any significant meaning. They really are no different than “Happy Holidays.” 

     In the end, the Coca-Cola Company really doesn’t care why people buy their soft drink as long as they are buying it. Tradition or taste, it’s all the same. Christmas is different. The motivation behind the celebration is of utmost importance. Christmas can only rightly be observed as a remembrance of the earthly birth of our Savior. Anything else is pointless. Sadly, this fact often gets lost in the noise of the season. The Savior’s birth often is relegated to lapel pins and yard signs.

     While there is nothing wrong with “Jesus is the reason for the Season” pins, we must keep in mind that He is not just the reason for this season. He is the reason for every season. Colossians 1:16-17 states that …all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. If we will remember this January through November then it will be apparent in December. As Christians we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by Santa Clause, elves, Christmas pageants and parades or Black Friday Sales. We cannot allow this celebration to be reduced to nothing more than another cultural tradition. 

     Until next year, “Happy Holli…,” no wait “Merry Christ…” how about, “Have a joyous celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

In His Service,