Sunday, December 23, 2001

Christmas in a bottle

        FROM: Benson Burner, vice president for research and development, Double-Secret Experimental Station, Proctoid & Grumble.

        TO: Rich Suits, president of New and Improved! Products Division.

        RE: Christmas Project.

        It has been a good year. New and Improved! Clam Chowder Pringles did not meet expectations in the Cincinnati test market, but losses were offset by surprisingly strong sales in our California Division, where they were marketed as Fat-Free Sushi Rice Cakes.

        I am sorry to report, however, that our efforts to reproduce a synthetic Christmas Spirit have been disappointing.

        Our experiment with powdered mistletoe, red tights, artificial snow and genetically improved pine sap did produce a remarkably lifelike department-store Santa, but she scared the children. Our marketing team believes it may be decades before children and shoppers are ready for a lingerie model in a white beard who shakes like a bowl full of jelly.

        Our experiment with flying reindeer has been indefinitely postponed to sort out the litigation and liability issues from that unfortunate incident near the airport.

        It may be small consolation, but our analysis of our competitors indicates that our research, flawed as it is, remains at the frontier of efforts to find a substance that accelerates buying behavior and duplicates December sales levels over a 12-month period (code named “Christmas in a Can”).

        Hollywood had success with It's a Wonderful Life in 1946, but the best and brightest producers, actors and writers have not been able to duplicate it since then. Not even Bruce Willis.

        Book publishers have had even less success. They have not produced a credible source of genuine Christmas Spirit since 1843, when Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol.

        The newspaper industry gave up years ago when it discovered that the fragile essence of Christmas cannot coexist in an atmosphere of concentrated cynicism.

        Much to their dismay, advertisers have invested billions only to find that their best efforts often extinguish naturally occuring seasonal cheer and leave a bitter aftertaste of avarice. This tends to support our own hypothesis that undiluted commercialization may be incompatible with the warm feelings of generosity and kindness that generally accompany spontaneous Christmas joy.

        And compared to our results, the broadcasting industry has suffered devastating setbacks in its attempts to fabricate surrogate family Christmas gatherings on sitcoms and other programming (see videotapes of North Pole Survivor, King of Queens in Bethlehem, Buffy The Snowman Slayer and Jerry Springer: Too Hot for the Holidays).

        On a positive note, our field research involving scientifically controlled observations of behavior in our targeted demographics indicates measureable increases in Christmas spirit near Salvation Army kettles and in proximity to any child who believes in Santa Claus. We recorded high levels near some churches year round, and we're investigating claims that the source of pure Christmas Spirit may be linked to the birth of Christ in a manger 2,000 years ago.

        Unfortunately, there is no consensus on the ingredients of Christmas spirit even within families, much less for a national market (see attachment “Focus Group Violently Disagrees on Colored Lights vs. White, Blinking vs. Non-blinking, Elvis vs. Handel, Artificial Trees, etc.”).

        Our conclusion: A synthetic version of Christmas Spirit will never substitute for traditional family recipes.

        E-mail: Past columns at


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