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'Tis the Season

  |  December 24, 2002   |  Comments

Is your Web site merry and bright for the holidays?

I'm a Jewish girl with a soft spot for the Christmas holiday season. Although you'd have never seen a twinkling Christmas light dangling from my childhood home, one of my favorite nights of the year was always Christmas Eve.

My dad would pack us into the Chrysler -- heater on full throttle -- for the annual neighborhood Christmas light critique. From the comfort of the car's backseat, my older sister and I rated the decorating talents of our Christian neighbors. Usually, by the time we returned to our unlit home, we declared that all the houses -- except for ours -- should get a 10-plus for their holiday spirit.

Many years later, I still revel in critiquing decorations, measuring them for just the right amount of holiday spirit. This year, however, I'll shift my critical eye from the exterior of neighbors' houses to the home pages of Web sites.

For the retailer or consumer goods maker, posting a holiday message is usually critical. Every retailer from Gap to Amazon (which keeps reminding me how late I am in sending my gifts) to Pepsi seems to be promoting a holiday deal. For Pepsi, it's the "Get Everything Under the Tree" sweepstakes. You, too, have a chance to nab Santa's big bag of Hasbro toys this year.

But what of the sites that aren't relying on holiday sales to make it a very merry season? What about those companies or organizations that have the option of posting a holiday message simply because it's a nice thing to do?

Obviously, it's your choice whether to post a yuletide message. But there are compelling reasons for acknowledging the season. First, a holiday message shows you've actually updated content since that "here's to summer!" piece posted in July. More important, it's a chance to connect with people, say thanks, and even remind folks of the season's human dimension.

Some of the most interesting holiday messages found on Web sites this year come from the politicians. In most cases, we can credit them with getting into the spirit of things, although the execution of the message doesn't always hit the mark:

  • California Representative Loretta Sanchez puts her holiday card front and center on her site, which declares, "The holidays do not officially start until everyone receives the annual card from Rep. Loretta Sanchez." It's not exactly the soul-warming holiday message constituents may yearn for, but at least it's in the spirit of things.

  • Ohio Representative John Boehner sends his holiday message along with a somewhat incongruous update on tax reform. There's an odd transition from "Happy holidays" to "Sometime shortly after the new year begins, just as we begin to pay off our holiday bills, many of us open the mailbox to find our W-2 forms." Hmm. That imagery is enough to extinguish thoughts of chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

  • From the Oval Office, there's a video of Barney the terrier scurrying through an elaborately decorated White House, pondering his reflection in the Christmas ornaments. The piece is set to holiday music and lasts an extraordinarily long five minutes. I'm not sure who would watch the whole thing through. It builds up anticipation of Barney barking out, "Jingle Bells," but the First Dog just doesn't deliver.

  • For a more somber tone, check out the holiday messages from the U.S. Army. The Army recounts the story of George Washington and his Continental Army crossing the Delaware on Christmas night in 1776 and ends with a thank-you to present-day soldiers. Also, there's a video message from the three top-ranking officers in the Army brass.

Outside of all the .gov sites, most organizations didn't seem to feel compelled to sit down and craft a message of holiday cheer to either customers or employees this year. Instead, many went to extremes, trying to make inroads with the "special holiday deal." Typical of this approach is NetCreations's PostMasterDirect, which I can't fault for offering me consumer lists for just $0.02 per name during the last two weeks before Christmas. Simple greetings of the season would have sweetened the offer, though.

On that note, I hope this column's readers enjoy the very best of the season. I thank you for the emails -- the complimentary and the critical. Both are immensely helpful (really). To my editors at ClickZ, thank you, too. You keep me on my toes, and, for that, I'm most appreciative.

Granted, my seasonal message probably wouldn't have rated high for "holiday spirit" with the Solomon girls. Still, my gratitude is genuine. Merry Christmas to all.

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Susan Solomon

Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.

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