As Halloween frenzy was approaching a fever pitch – which it seems to me nowadays starts somewhere in the middle of September – a South African friend of mine who lives here was shaking her head.
“I was in my favorite grocery store today,” she said, “and I saw pumpkin bread mix, pumpkin toaster pastries, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin Greek yogurt, pumpkin soup, pumpkin cream cheese muffins, pumpkin body butter, pumpkin flavored dog treats, pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin bar baking mix, pumpkin ale, pumpkin biscotti, pumpkin spice chai, pumpkin spice rooibos (that should be illegal), pumpkin butter, pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin pancake mix. So what is this obsession with pumpkin here in the USA?”
Quite right. Whatever the season, we seem to be obsessed with something. If no major holiday is available, we create a minor one to fill in. That, I think, is the only explanation for Valentine’s Day. To fill the drought between Christmas and Easter. And, I think, just to annoy us parents who are finally, finally, breathing a big sigh of relief because by mid-February all the Halloween candy is gone from the pantry, just to see the empty spot immediately usurped by another almost identical trove of carefully labeled goody bags, just changed in hue from orange and rusty colors to pinks and reds.
In fact, I think I may have given my kids leftover Halloween candy to stick onto their Valentine’s cards. Please don’t judge me too harshly.
The object of our obsession is not really pumpkins. Nor is it holidays in general or even decorating, though I do have to say an urge to decorate seems to be bred into almost every American woman (unfortunately often coupled with the gene for poor taste). No, the real obsession here is money. Good old-fashioned capitalism keeping the American retail industry on a never-ending quest to find new markets. It’s Marketing 101 as we learned it from one of my favorite teachers in graduate school, Professor Klompmaker. You either create new products to sell to your existing customers (i.e. pumpkin-flavored EVERYTHING), or you find new customers for your existing products (i.e. dogs). So far so good. You have that in every country. But I think the reason the occasion marketing works so well in the United States is that we have a particularly short attention span. What’s the rage today and what absolutely has to be had, instantly, is forgotten tomorrow, because we have moved on to the next fad. This isn’t just true for stuff you can buy. Most recently, people here were in a frenzy over IOS 7 and couldn’t wait to upgrade, but it almost seems forgotten now. Just different looking icons from before (and perhaps a slower phone). Or remember that Joseph Kony video that got millions of views in just a week? The world was up in arms about it and everyone shared it left and right, and the next week it was all but over. Oh, and does anyone remember sillybandz?
Maybe that’s why I liked it so much in South Africa. Less obsession with fads (or maybe they just arrive there later). Definitely less obsession with decorating, and less obsession with holidays in general. Ask the average South African why he is at home on a particular day and not at work, he probably won’t even know which holiday it is. And the only decorating he’ll be interested in is decorating his braai with a roll of Boerewors.
But just wait, South Africa! Finding new customers overseas is another tenet of Marketing 101. We’ve successfully brought you Halloween, and the pumpkin flavored Biltong is not far behind.