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It's OK to veto Valentine's Day and pay little heed to Halloween, but when it comes to Christmas most of us aren't willing to suffer the backlash of crushing convention to help the climate.

Deakin Business School consumer behaviour expert, Dr Paul Harrison, says that Christmas is the hardest holiday to veto.

"Even though many of us accept and believe the warnings of the scientific community on the need for people to consume less in the context of a changing climate, there seems to be an exception around Christmas," Dr Harrison said.

"The acknowledgement of Christmas and rituals of gift giving at this time are fairly consistent across our cultural messaging in the Western world, making it a very difficult social event to veto without seeming like a so-called Grinch."

Dr Harrison's research into how biology and the environment interacts to influence consumer behaviour and how people make decisions while shopping suggests that Christmas is the most difficult holiday for individuals to challenge when it comes to gift giving.

"For anyone challenging this norm, there can be an unpleasant backlash," he said.

"One norm of behaviour that has evolved over time, partly through clever conditioning of consumers by skilled marketers, is to equate the amount of money we spend on a gift to how much we value or love the recipient. That notion, inadvertently, is not great for consumption and the environment."

Dr Harrison said it's possible to change our gifting culture from revolving around material items, but this shift will take time.

"Christmas and the purchase of products don't have to go hand in hand. We hear it said again and again that material things don't make us happy and when it comes to gifts, research shows this adage to be true," Dr Harrison said.

"However, that doesn't mean that people are able to let go of the idea of a Christmas tree crowded with gifts, or stockings billowing with toys from Santa anytime soon because society has fallen prey to the illusion created by marketers who work to tap into people's vulnerabilities and emotions."

According to Dr Harrison's research, the gifts that make their receivers happiest for the longest time are:

  1. Gifts that show that thought and effort went into selecting the item;
  2. Something personal, that directly connects to the relationship of the giver and receiver of the gift;
  3. The gift of an experience has been shown to give the recipient longer joy and satisfaction than a material item.

"But these take some effort, and skilled marketers know this. Making something, for example, can take a lot more time and energy than heading to the local huge chain store and buying a stack of presents," Dr Harrison said.

"Those in charge of selling things know this, and sell convenience too. Marketers capitalise on key vulnerabilities - how time poor the general population feels, and the notion that the more you spend, the more you show love."

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Originally published on Deakin Media.

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