Rituals – the underestimated brand capital of Christmas markets
More and more communities are renaming their Christmas markets to “winter markets” and increasing their duration. This can be very dangerous for brands, because it destroys the ritual, a crucial element of their brand core.
Rituals are pure gold for brands: They create a feeling of belonging and meaning, they charge activities with emotion, and are a welcome break from the humdrum of everyday life.
Christmas is still a few weeks away – but in many cities and shopping streets, there have been jingling, bell-ringing, and lights since the end-of-summer sales wrapped up. The custom of announcing significant moments long in advance with much fanfare is now to be introduced for Christmas markets in many places: More and more communities are breaking the unwritten law that Christmas markets cannot open until after the last Sunday before Advent. The justification: pressure from retailers and hoteliers.
The church is resisting this trend. But brand experts also caution urgently against prematurely and frivolously dispensing with rituals. They are, in many cases, the strongest drivers of brand attractiveness.
Marketing experts in Berlin figure they are the cleverest: Because they want to avoid the discussion about the proper time to open the many Christmas markets, they seek salvation in renaming them "winter markets". Their argumentation: This frees the markets from the religious association, and they could therefore set the start and end dates without fear of criticism.
Even the official church has recognized the commercial justification of having the markets around the Christmas holiday: "The church is not principally opposed to commercial interests", says the Praeses of the Protestant Church of the Rhineland, Manfred Rekowski. But: "If these markets only about commerce, they would soon be nothing but a footnote in the annals of the community. People are looking or more than consumption and commerce." What they want most of all is the ritual, and the reason behind it.
Christmas markets are the representation of a culture
Christmas markets have become reliable crowd magnets for crisis-stricken inner cities. More than that: The "German Christmas Market" as a brand has become a top worldwide export. Modeled on the famous markets in Nuremberg, Aachen, or Munich, similar concepts are emerging in many cities in Southern and Eastern Europe an even overseas. The imitators are looking primarily to the German Christmas tradition, with its special moments of coziness, festive moods, and attentiveness. The topic of "winter" plays a completely subordinate role.
This is the brand core of a Christmas market:
- Ritual: its limited duration, always during the same time of the year
- Nostalgia: its range of offers harking back to old traditions
- Community: its immediate power of bringing people together.
It is a culture that is not found anywhere else in the world. If you reduce one of these core elements, the brand will suffer damage.
Rituals are pure gold for brands: They create a feeling of belonging and meaning, they charge activities with emotion, and are a welcome break from the humdrum of everyday life. Most of all, they reduce complexity and give clear orientation.
Rituals give security: The "Peace of Mind" effect
The US brand Oreo knows this better than anyone. It was probably more coincidence than strategy that created the cookie ritual "Twist, Lick, Dunk"; it gave the otherwise rather ordinary cookie a special value. Social media provided the perfect platform for disseminating this community behavior: With its "Twist, Lick, Dunk" campaign, Oreo gained over 35 million Facebook fans in 2013.
Or how about the wonderful idea of the "Summer break Mon Chéri," which Ferrero uses every year to take the pralines from the store shelves – because of the lessened desire for chocolate in the summer. The "Piedmont cherry" won't be back until the fall.
The Mexican Corona beer is enjoyed with a slice of lemon – anything else would be a style break. The ritual persists even though these days nobody has to fear that their bottle cap might be rusted on, which was the original reason for the ritual. But getting rid of it now would be a capital mistake. In an ever more complex world filled with uncertainty, the mind yearns for moments of calm and serenity. Christmas and the markets during the pre-Christmas season create that effect: "Peace of Mind" or "You can rest assured: Everything is as it always was."
Rituals: The royal discipline for brand loyalty
Munich's Oktoberfest would gain nothing if its duration were extended. No Vienna Opera Ball could survive a second edition; no New-York Marathon needs a second start. Shortage and repetition address the great life scarcities called longing and security. People like to be taken in by great social habits.
Even Christmas markets like the "Christkindlesmarkt" (Nuremberg) or the "Christkindlmarkt" (Munich) draw their greatest brand power from the ever returning and safe ritual of their duration and selection. They would be watering down their brand if they got lost in the generic idea of winter; they would become a simple conglomeration of booths in the fall and winter season.
The discussion currently being held on the start date and name change of Christmas markets would be off the table in powerful brand companies like Ferrero (Mon Chéri), Mondelez (Oreo), and Modelo (Corona) with a single comment: "Our brand ritual is inviolable!" The makers of Christmas markets should not seek their success elsewhere.