tradition

freedom from wantI am a staunch traditionalist.

There’s a reason things have been done the same way for a long time. It’s because those things work. Ain’t broke, don’t fix.

Every year around this time, magazines and TV shows start to wear on my traditionalist vein.

“New and exciting recipes for Thanksgiving” is the call of the headline. The magazine’s test kitchen or the celebrity chefs are rolling out alternatives as they reinvent the traditional bird and sides.

And I ask why.

How often does the average American roast an entire turkey EXCEPT in November or December? Do people not crave the holiday feast since it’s such a rarity? People cook this meal so infrequently that there’s a hotline to help them with questions.

And yet, turn on the TV or open the magazine to find someone telling you that you should prepare “Fruit-Loop encrusted turkey drumsticks for a new and exciting taste”. “Forget the whole bird and impress your guests with roadside turkey sliders with a Sriracha cranberry sauce!”

Even as I write this, my wife is planning to abandon a traditional pumpkin pie for something called Black Bottom Pumpkin Pie which sounds like a November mashup concert between Queen and AC/DC. Doesn’t bother me though as I deem any sort of pumpkin pie as a cooled jiggly inedible jack-o-lantern leftover. That recipe came straight out of the pages of this month’s Southern Living magazine. Southern Living used to be a good barometer of the traditional South, but now has been taken over by hipster editors and writers who overly rely on tales of grits and football to fake true Southern credentials.

It’s not just food. “Traditions” are now created to sell things like Elf on the Shelf. The masses are hooked into a faux tradition that was only conjured in 2005 to sell a book. The value of holiday traditions have been replaced with marauding crowds and the economic effects of Black Friday.

Change is inevitable. We wouldn’t pick out the stuff on a Thanksgiving table even 100 years ago and certainly not the original feast with Squanto and Company. Change will happen to us like frogs in the boiling pot. One day, there will be questions of why more people don’t eat the traditional Fruit-Loop encrusted turkey drumsticks anymore. The folks who ask that question will be accused of being square and out of touch.

Who’s responsible? As with most things, I blame the media. The media’s daily job is to convince millions of people to abandon what they know from experience to be true/right only to be replaced with an idea created by a few fresh-out-of-college 20-somethings looking for a hip story or trend.

So I ask you to join the rebellion this year. This Thanksgiving and Christmas, try something truly daring and off the wall. Ignore the hipster media kids. Do everything that way it would have been done in your childhood. Tell your friends to have a Merry Christmas.

Tradition is the new black.

A Country Christmas at Gaylord Opryland

It’s a holiday tradition for many people in this area to head down I-65 for a day of Christmas shopping and fun in Nashville. For many, the day is capped by a visit to Gaylord Opryland for their Christmas light displays. And while that’s an enjoyable few hours, there’s more than enough going on at the mega-resort to make a full weekend getaway.

This is the 28th year for “A Country Christmas”. While perennial favorites like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring The Rockettes and Louise Mandrell’s Christmas Dinner return this year, there’s lots of other things going on throughout the entire holiday season from November 18 to January 3.

New this year is Holly Jolly Town Square, a step back to a nostalgic 1950s town square, complete with all the shops from main street, a holiday kids’ train, live entertainment and more. You can check people off your gift list by stopping by the Treasures for the Holidays craft and gift show which runs from Nov 18 to Dec 18. The craft show is a free event that features more than 40 merchants from across the country.

This Christmas is the kickoff of a long-term alliance between Gaylord Hotels and DreamWorks Animation. All four Gaylord hotels, including Opryland, now feature the DreamWorks Experience. Characters from such films as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar are now featured in interactive experiences that will continue even after Christmas is over.

However, the DreamWorks Experience does take a holiday turn from now to January with events such as ShrekFeast character meals, character meet and greets, Gingy’s Gingerbread Decorating, Holiday Shrektacular – a street party with characters, music and dancing, and a DreamWorks themed Scavenger Hunt.

My family has enjoyed previous years’ ice displays from Charlie Brown and the Grinch. This year’s ICE! continues the connection to TV specials while bringing in the DreamWorks Experience with ‘Merry Madagascar’. The vividly colorful ice displays will depict scenes from the TV holiday special that featured Santa and his reindeer crash-landing on the island of Madagascar and being assisted by the animals from the movie.

While you’re staying busy with all these festivities and more at Gaylord Opryland, don’t forget to slow down and enjoy over 2 million Christmas lights across the property. And take a long pause at their impressive outdoor Nativity display to remember why this is a special time of year.

For more information about this year’s events at Gaylord Opryland, visit www.ChristmasatGaylordOpryland.com.

DISCLAIMER: Gaylord Opryland provided a room at the inn (Christmas joke!) for two nights and tickets for my family to attend many of these events. We were amazed and delighted at the level of service and hospitality that the Gaylord staff provided. A version of this review was printed and published in the Amplifier in Bowling Green, Ky.

the jolly old brand

I had been thinking about writing a Christmas post, but couldn’t come up with an idea. Then I realized I’d already written the post; it was just ensconced in a book. What follows is an excerpt (pages 53-56) from Chapter 7 (Brands are Driven by the Message) of my 2010 book, Brand Zeitgeist where I used Santa Claus as a “case study” on using media and marketing to maintain brand consistency over the (very) long term…

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Page 55 of Brand ZeitgeistBrands are a long-term proposition. Just a few ads or a couple of PR mentions won’t have much effect over the short term. When you step back to look at brands that have used media and advertising over the long term, the power of a brand zeitgeist can clearly been seen.

The modern day image that most people have of Santa Claus, with the plump belly, red coat, and white beard has largely been shaped by media and advertising. For centuries, Santa Claus was portrayed as everything from a gnarled elf to a tall gaunt woodsman.

One of the first major steps to creating a unified Santa brand in the mind of the zeitgeist occurred with Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (commonly called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Moore’s poem was published annually in numerous newspapers and periodicals and helped define the basic physical characteristics of Santa in the public’s mind:

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;

In the latter part of the 19th century, cartoonist Thomas Nast built on the foundation of Moore’s poem. He depicted Santa Claus as a plump man in a red suit and further cemented other aspects of the Santa brand in the zeitgeist with things such as a North Pole residency in his drawings for Harper’s Weekly magazine.

The modern day image of Santa was firmly established starting in 1931 when Coca-Cola commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblomto develop advertising images using Santa Claus. Sundblom further built on established canon by Moore and Nast and drew Santa as a warm and friendly human character. The Coca-Cola Santa was placed heavily in the company’s annual Christmas ads in national magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, The New Yorker and others.

Santa Claus is a brand that reaches almost every section of the zeitgeist. Stop almost anyone on the street and they could recite a checklist of all of Santa’s characteristics that have been established in the zeitgeist. If Santa is portrayed in the “wrong way,” consumers will reject it — i.e. skinny in a blue suit. He’s the ultimate example of a successful brand zeitgeist because everyone is on the same page as to what the brand represents.

However, there’s no way you can replicate his success with your brand. For one thing, the media atmosphere is much different today. The entire populace isn’t focused on a few big magazines and three television networks. You don’t have Coca-Cola’s media budget. You don’t have two centuries to wait for your brand strategy to kick in. Finally, let’s face it, you’re not Santa Claus.

But you can learn branding lessons from Santa on how to use media and messaging to establish your brand in the zeitgeist. Firstly, Santa has stayed true to a set of core brand assets and never drastically rebranded to keep up with trends and fads. During his busy season, he is everywhere. He’s at the mall, in parades, on TV, in magazine ads, and in your house. The brand image is inescapable. The image is consistent, clear, and repeated to the point of that the brand image of Santa Claus has been seared into mind’s eye of the public.

The Santa Claus brand was spread in the zeitgeist over the long term by using traditional media and word-of-mouth. While it might be impossible to build a similar juggernaut brand using those same methods, there’s now a new variable in the brand messaging and media equation. Until recently, Santa didn’t have to deal with the Internet.

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And that was an oh-so-clever segue into the “messaging in the digital zeitgeist” section of the chapter. If you’re interesting in reading the rest of the book, you can find Brand Zeitgeist on Amazon. Or you can become a fan of Brand Zeitgeist on Facebook.

ICE and Rockettes at Opryland in Nashville

For years, many people in this area have made the short trip down to Nashville to enjoy the lights at the Opryland Hotel. For lots of those people, the holiday tradition may stretch back to the days of the Christmas in the Park events before the theme park was razed. But if you’re just going for the lights, you’re missing some of the entertainment that the mega-complex offers. On Thanksgiving weekend, my family and I had the opportunity to experience two events in “A Country Christmas”.

The first was ICE! featuring A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles Schulz. This exhibit had previously featured the Grinch story from Dr. Seuss and this is the inaugural year for the Charlie Brown version. ICE! is impressive. You walk through familiar scenes from the perennial Christmas TV special that have been carved from over 2 million pounds of colored ice. And at about the halfway point, there are several ice slides to play on. And there’s a very pretty crystal ice version of the Nativity at the end.

Obviously, you would expect something called ICE! to be cold, but you have no idea how cold until you are in the Gaslight Theater. In order to keep the ice from melting, they keep the temperature at 9 degrees. The length of the display is exactly right. I was ready to exit and warm up when it was over. They provide a warm hooded parka when you enter, but I suggest you also bring your gloves and hat as well.

We also enjoyed the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes at the Opry House. I’ve never been a Broadway showtune kind of guy, but this is a very good performance for everyone. Santa serves as a sort of emcee through 11 exciting and diverse scenes ranging from a very clever stuffed animal version of the Nutcracker to a crisis at the North Pole.

The Rockettes do what they do best. They dance. You can’t help but be impressed by their talent especially in the precision they demonstrate during the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers and their unique dance interpretation of the 12 Days of Christmas. The two hour show ends with a very moving and heartfelt Living Nativity with extravagant costumes and actual live camels, sheep, and other animals.

Other events at A Country Christmas include Louise Mandrell’s ‘Joy to the World’ Christmas Dinner & Show as well as a cruise on the General Jackson showboat. And don’t forget to look at the lights. Most of the shows run until the end of December. And if you can go during the week, there’s a slight discount in ticket prices. For information and tickets, call 1-888-999-OPRY or visit www.ChristmasatGaylordOpryland.com.

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DISCLAIMER: Gaylord Resorts provided free tickets to me and my family to attend these two events. This review was also posted and printed in the Amplifier in Bowling Green, Ky.