Americans might want more natural ingredients in the stuff they put into and onto their bodies, but this prevailing attitude apparently doesn't extend to the market for Christmas trees. Indeed, 80% of Americans who have a Christmas tree report that they have an artificial one. Driven primarily by convenience (no need to dispose or to re-buy every year) and price (re-buying every year costs lots of money), the artificial tree industry is now more than $1 billion and growing at a healthy 4% annual clip.
Obviously, the growth of a category of market substitutes is bad news for the tree growers who sell Christmas trees since the artificial category growth is largely at the expense of natural trees. Growing Christmas trees isn't easy. Not only must they forecast demand up to 10 years out due to the seed-to-consumer growing cycle, but tree farmers are often at the mercy of unfavorable environmental conditions. Artificial trees, on the other hand, enjoy a major advantage. These trees used to look pretty lame, but most contemporary fakes are not only excellent facsimiles of real evergreen trees, but also feature all manners of technological bells and whistles. What's a tree farmer to do?
Join forces. Milk marketers over the last four decades have banded together and produced advertising with celebrities reminding us that drinking milk is still cool for adults. The beef industry has done the same thing. In marketing, this is called addressing "primary demand", that is demand for an entire product category, which is different from "secondary demand", which is demand for a particular brand. And since consumers are largely unaware of any Christmas tree brands, a cooperative approach among farmers to increase primary demand for real trees is probably the best way to approach waning demand for the category.
And so the Christmas Tree Promotion Board, an organization that probably isn't exactly flush with cash to launch a major advertising campaign, instead has been running an inexpensive social media-based communications effort called "It's Christmas. Keep It Real!". The primary target is Millennials, a group of young adults many of whom are in the beginning stages of emancipating themselves from their parents and starting families. Generally speaking, marketers believe that young adulthood is a good time to reach consumers because they are forming habits that might be different from those of their parents and could last a lifetime.
Will it work? Probably not. Clearly, social media is a limited platform for marketing activities due to the level of fragmentation and the existence of tons of clutter. The campaign would clearly benefit from a more integrated approach to marketing communications that includes multiple media; but this is an expensive proposition, and it is unlikely that the industry can afford to do what the milk and beef folks have done. Time will tell, but right now, those who want to keep it real at Christmas are dealing with a shrinking market.
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