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The Gift That Keeps on Giving: To Yourself

Dec 8, 2011

Leave it to marketing professionals to come up with this one. Buying yourself that little “I’ve earned it” pick-me-up has a new name: self-gifting.

Just in time for the peak of holiday season giving and receiving, evidence suggests that 60 percent of all shoppers will add themselves to their holiday lists, spending an average of $130, a 16 percent increase from last year. In the short term, many are quick to call this yet another strong indication that the still-weak US and global economy is taking its vitamins and getting stronger all the time. Deep discounts and the relaxing of recession-era belt tightening seems to have left customers in the buying mood.

But is it me, or does anyone else see a bit of a problem with this “I, Me, Mine” relapse? I remember reading somewhere that Americans’ gluttonous consumerism and anemic savings rate was supposedly at the root of our current economic troubles?

Ellen Davis, Vice President of the National Retail Federation, who was quoted in an Advertising Age post that addressed the phenomenon, rightly points out the pragmatic downside to such an aggressive self-indulgent holiday marketing campaign. If the holiday season becomes overly connected with adding oneself to their annual guest list, as people patiently wait for the end-of-year price slashing, how will retailers attract business during the other 10 months of the calendar, she asks?

Davis’ concerns, however, aren’t even number one on my list, shopping or otherwise.

The bigger question is this: what happens when the over-terming of trends and excessive labeling, waters down the meaning behind such actions? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with an occasional spur-of-the-moment purchase. Such actions send your brain’s pleasure center into the stratosphere, washed over with the neurotransmitter dopamine. And like that coveted end-of-day piece of chocolate, provides your body with warm and fuzzy feel good feelings. But when impulse buys are turned into a self-promoting season of “You’ve Earned It” and “Gift Yourself” tag lines, as is being done by J. Crew, hasn’t the meaning behind the purchases been lost?

Instead, what once felt good has morphed into another transparent attempt to get consumers to open their wallets?

As a public relations professional, and one who is keenly aware of properly calibrating messages for clients, marketers this holiday season would be wise to consider the pitfalls of overly promoting the self-gifting fad. Otherwise self-gifts could rapidly become self-returns.

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