The Psychology of Christmas Marketing

19 December 2019. Thoughts in Industry by

People generally associate the festive season with family, friendship and childhood memories. It is that time of the year when the nostalgia of Christmas lunches, braais and family get-togethers fills the air, beckoning people to get all their shopping done in time. Psychology plays a crucial role in consumers’ purchasing decisions and marketers have found interesting ways to appeal to the “buyer brain”, which is most active around this time of the year. 

‘Tis the season to be shopping! 

The run-up to festive shopping starts as early as October. Besides the subtle store decorations, music, online advertisements and traditional media such as radio and television, consumers are enticed by factors such as Black Friday, which kick-starts the Christmas shopping frenzy. In fact, research has revealed that most consumers tick off most of the items on their Christmas shopping lists by November (Resnick, 2019). 

Around this time of the year, marketers work hard to appeal to the “buyer brain”, which is a term that refers to “the unique, mostly subconscious cues that affect your decision-making process while shopping,” says Troy Osinoff, founder of Juice, a New York-based digital marketing agency credited by Facebook as being a top 1 per cent agency and the fastest growing in New York. Shopping increases the dopamine levels in our brains; when we shop, we get a rush of happiness and are therefore inclined to keep shopping. The buyer brain is most active in the months leading up to and even during the festive season because people want to buy gifts for their loved ones and make sure that they have all the things they need to make the holidays as memorable as possible.

Nostalgia is a powerful marketing force; brands are fully aware of people’s sentiments regarding the festive season and Christmas, they set up campaigns to convince consumers that their products are what they need to have a fulfilling festive season. In order for you to gain the consumer’s attention during the festive season, you have to appeal to the memories and emotions that are associated with the time of year. 

There’s a method to the madness

A study conducted in 2005 by Guiseppe Attanasi and Rosemarie Nagel, Actions, Beliefs and Feelings: an experimental study on Psychological Game Theory, found that using certain words can elicit feelings that result in trust and cooperation. You will notice that around the festive season, brands often use words such as sale, limited edition, collectable, must-have, and in-demand in their marketing campaigns; this is very strategic tactic called scarcity marketing. 

To effectively communicate to consumers, particularly during the festive season, some marketers also employ a strategy called psycholinguistics. Psycholinguistics is the practice of “combining psychology with neurobiology to examine the components of language. In marketing, these studies are then applied to retail markets and consumers as a whole” (DecodedScience, 2019). Language is effectively used to invoke emotions that influence buyers’ purchasing decisions. 

As noted in an article on Psychology Today, we are often oblivious to “the powerful influence that our senses have on our moods, desires and willingness to spend money — retailers are not.” Consumers are under the influence of a sensory campaign by brands the world over and this campaign is pursued even more aggressively a few months before and during the festive season. There is a strategy behind the music you hear at the shops and the colours you see as you wander up and down the aisles, looking for the ideal holiday gift or ornament to create a festive atmosphere in your home. As noted by Troy, “Playing holiday music or even using the colours red and green in your marketing materials creates a nostalgic link between the season and your product that encourages buying.” Red has been found to stimulate and energise our spending and green is an optimistic colour that is associated with luck and wealth (Yarrow, 2012). In addition to appealing to our sight, marketers appeal to our sense of touch, smell, and hearing. For instance, many stores play Christmas songs in store to get and keep you in the holiday spending spirit; this is also another way to evoke festive season nostalgia. The sense of touch is appealed to with the use of tactile displays, making it easy for customers to touch and feel the products on display, further enticing them to make a purchase. 

Is Christmas marketing still effective?

Having an understanding of the buyer brain and the factors that influence purchasing decisions is key to driving a successful and effective festive season marketing campaign. Christmas and holiday marketing have always been effective because marketers understand how the buyer brain operates and when it is most stimulated. The effectiveness of Christmas marketing hasn’t changed; what has changed is the approach. Brands are now focused on developing strategies that are targeted at digital platforms. With the rise of online shopping, consumers are making most of their purchases on platforms such as Amazon and Online retailers in the US realised the prominence of online shopping and are finding ways to leverage it. “The hype of Black Friday encourages consumers to visit physical stores. But online retailers did not want to be left behind, so they created Cyber Monday” (Biz Community, 2019). 

Christmas marketing will always be effective because the sentimental value of the festive season will never cease to exist. What is changing is where and how marketers meet and communicate with consumers. Since “online shopping is only set to increase, as smartphones and apps continue to capture more of the market” (Biz Community, 2019), Christmas marketing campaigns are predicted to occur a lot more in the digital space, especially on social media platforms. Holiday marketing isn’t losing its efficacy, it’s just evolving with consumers’ needs and shopping preferences. 


DecodedScience. (2019). Holiday shopping exposes consumers to psychology-based marketing. Retrieved from 

Esterhuizen, E. (2019). Festive Season Retail Is All About Timing. Retrieved from

Resnick, N. (2019). The Psychology of the ‘Buyer Brain’ and How to Appeal to It Over the Holidays. Retrieved from 

Yarrow, K. (2012). This Is Your Brain On Holiday Shopping. Retrieved from 


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