The little trick or treaters had barely been nestled into their beds when I heard it.
The first jingle of the holiday sales season.
Marketers so focused on one of the three big kid holidays of the year quickly shifted gears and ads went from orange and black to green and red. Pumpkins into snowmen. Autumn leaves into snow flakes. Red ribbons on boxes and that silvery sparkle everywhere.
The seasonal queues not so subtly slide into place.
This brings me to the topic of Christmas stalking. Really, Christmas stock, as in stock photography. I just like to create that visual of the holiday lurking and haunting us as it does. Part of the ability of the advertising world to be able to send us those little hints of the impending demands of this time of year comes from their access to seasonal stock photography. By that I mean the photographs that are used just about everywhere you look, if you know that you’re looking at them.
It’s the sparkly Christmas tree branches, the smiling kids with snowballs in their hands, the happy family in new pajamas sitting by the fire, the pretty boxes stacked up in an unnerving tower being carried by a smartly dressed woman who appears to have it all under control.
Seasonal. Holiday. Christmas. Those are the keywords that click.
Other themes that permeate the senses: family, giving, gathering, food, joy, tradition.
The dark underbelly of themes: stress, frantic, last minute, sale, shopping, requirements, commitments, obligations, tradition.
So I have to admit that it was months ago when I started thinking about holiday stock. I bought a few props at the dollar store and created scenarios to photograph for stock. This image is pretty simple: a cup, some fake holly berries, and the idea that it would imply a relaxing tea in a busy time.
Last year as I began to put away the ornaments, I found the contrast of the freshly fallen snow and the brightly colored Christmas balls impossible to resist. I tossed them out to see where they’d land. With a tangle of red raffia, they disbursed into these images.
The decorative pine cone on the snow. (I shot this sometime in March.)
The carefully and colorfully wrapped presents. (I wrapped these in September.)
The smiling little girl hugging her presents. (ok, this was shot in December, a few weeks before Christmas, and the presents are fake and she’s a good actress.)
The point is that the images you’re seeing everywhere are often shot by people like me. And people like me think about stock photos all year round. I’ve become accustomed to the potential for any combination of items to, at certain times of the year, evoke certain emotional responses.
In order for the advertising folks to be able to access the images they need for any particular holiday or time of year, the stock photographer has to be thinking ahead.
At the end of the school year, take a few photos of the buses and kids with book packs so the shots are up on stock sites by the time back-to-school advertising begins, say somewhere around the middle of July. A big fan of the summer months, it really bugs me that the flip flops and swimsuits leave the store racks so soon. But that’s when the power of economic psychology begins its work on the mass market.
Something else to keep in mind is that certain images – or shapes or colors – take on different powers at different times of the year.
Take a look at the photo near the top of the page: same cup, but set on a different back ground, replacing the red mat with a wooden one and the berries with the pens and pad and you’ve got a different feeling.
Another switch and it’s a relaxing chi, finding balance, stress reducing breath of air.
The point is that the seasonal queues that surround us at this time of year are part of a bigger message. Somewhere back in time someone decided that red and green would be good symbols of the season. And the Hallmark folks ran with this. So did the gift wrap people and the tree ornaments and now we find ourselves awash in the “colors of the season” when if you look outside my office window, it’s frosted green grass, brown leave blowing around, and that bright blue sky of a nice day in November. The season’s early arrival isn’t an accident. There’s a board room somewhere that someone rose up in the corporate ranks by suggesting that they begin their holiday shopping campaign before Thanksgiving. It was determined that the slow (or not so slow) influx of Christmas colors, suggestive twinkling lights, and the thoughts of the coming holidays would prompt people to start spending early – to “get their Christmas shopping done” – to stay ahead of the game – to have the feeling of accomplishment. The marketers are brilliant in this concept. They know that you’ll have difficulty resisting to buy “a little something” else for your niece, even after you’ve check off her name on your list as DONE.
We seem doomed to mental battle with the forces of the media’s marketing monster. I’m just as vulnerable. And I know better. Sort of. I know that the jingle I heard on Halloween night was heard by zillions of people who didn’t think “oh god, they are starting with the bells already?” They thought “hmm, maybe my dad would like that scarf.”
Despite my feelings about winter and the rushing of the season, I benefit from it. People who create these ads, somewhere in their air conditioned offices back in August was developing a Christmas ad campaign to sell whatever it is and started looking for “holiday ornaments” or “twinkling lights” or even “relaxing cup of tea with holly berries” and click, selected my image from the stock photography website, and click, I benefited from the holiday rush and the commercialism of Christmas.
In turn, like a circle of life thing, I took the pennies I made on the sale of that photo and added it to the pennies I made on the sale of “holiday ornaments in the snow” and “pinecone” and went shopping.
Maybe my dad would like that scarf . . .