Holiday Analysis: Cheer vs. Prosperity

Seasonal greeting cards are a well-established tradition of tidings and salutations. Typically, these pithy aphorisms do not generate a great deal of discussion and analysis. However, around the Illuminas offices, seemingly mundane topics can reveal a groundswell of unexpectedly strong opinions. The annual creation of our holiday greeting card elicited such a response.

“Seasons Greetings” was deemed insufficiently vague to truly convey our sentiments towards our partners and clients. Year-end holidays are a time for celebration, reflection and renewal; our staff determined that “cheer” and “prosperity” captured the two primary aspirations we hope to share across our business ecosystem.

It quickly became apparent that these dimensions would wade into a crowded media environment. Amidst a barrage of commercials, movies, and animated holiday classics, would our message be drowned out by the existing market of well-wishing? Some argued that our attribute combinations were already owned by beloved media characters. Others felt that the market was defined only by archetypes, leaving ample sentimental opportunity to be captured.

Thus was borne the need for an objective assessment of the seasonal sentiment perceptual space:


In assessing the end-of-year holiday marketplace, we initially had dreams of comprehensive quantitative surveys dancing in our head. The interviews were scoped and quotas constructed with care, in the hopes that semantic differential scales could yield ratings that were fair.

Faced with the realities of a tight budget and short timeline, the time spent designing a quantitative assessment of holiday characters and attributes might put the campaign at risk. We instead opted to qualitatively assess the market, putting our faith in powerful text analytics and our skilled moderator to parse the media landscape from a semi-structured discussion guide.

We also put our faith in free beer and queso, provided at a Friday afternoon happy hour that happily coincided with our recruit. The group was extremely well attended, and resulted in what can only be described as “rich” feedback from the participants.

After initial conversations about the meaning of “cheer” and “prosperity” (and some impromptu collaging with congealed queso), the group moved into a collaborative exercise in which participants took turns placing characters on a whiteboard. Based on input from the group, the leader would serve as a human Ouija board, moving characters to more or less cheerful and prosperous positions.

As more characters were plotted, the group was able to better identify relative placement (e.g. Little Drummer Boy is not as cheerful as Cousin Eddie, but is definitely more cheerful than Ralphie), furthering the accuracy of the map. After 2 hours of increasingly boisterous participation, the group finally consented upon a final perceptual map of seasonal character positions.

Once all characters were plotted, it became clear that – with the exception of Santa – no single individual had successfully maximized both prosperity and cheer. And even Santa’s position of prosperity was challenged, with two opposing views:

  • Santa’s prosperity is derived from elf labor, and therefore not of his own accord; or
  • Santa’s prosperity is created from magic and not representative of actual wealth.

In either case, it was agreed that the Santa’s archetype was not a barrier to entry for others seeking to maximize cheerfulness and prosperity.

We certainly hope this is the case for you and yours in the coming year.


Abominable Snowman
Some say he doesn’t even exist. This guy just can’t get a break, but who can blame the judgment? With all the sneaking around uninhabited mountaintops and less-than-cheerful demeanor (or so they say), this “dirty” snowman is the last thing we want to see.

© 2003 A. Markfield

Buddy the Elf
It’s a tall task for just one elf to revive the Christmas Spirit, but with all the heart and cheer Buddy has it’s no surprise that he can save the day.

Charlie Brown
Good grief. Talk about someone with a rollercoaster emotional life. The lovable yet woefully insecure child plays jump rope with Holiday cheer but remains steadfastly hopeful.

Clark Griswold
Nothing can break this guy’s spirit of the season, not even hypothermia, in-laws, snobby neighbors or a surprise subscription to the ‘Jelly of the Month’ club. No, Clark won’t let first world problems keep him from having the perfect Christmas Vacation.

Cousin Eddie
You would be hard-pressed to find a less prosperous yet more cheerful individual this Holiday season than Cousin Eddie, the good-hearted, bathrobe-wearing, RV-living, boss-stealing and laughter-generating zany in-law.

Edward Scissorhands
“The story of an uncommonly gentle man. Innocence is what he knows. Beauty is what she sees.” The copywriters for the theatrical release poster must have been feeling a similar dearth of cheer when they crafted this winner.

These cheery small people work tirelessly in mass production to ensure the happiness of children around the globe. They work for room and board, have no union, and never complain.

Frosty the Snowman
There must have been some magic in that old silk hat those kids found because it’s not every day you see a snowman with no legs running around town and stopping for traffic cops.

George Bailey
George puts the people around him before himself every time but then suddenly decides he wants to be selfish. Good ol’ guarding angel Clarence tells him to pump the brakes, shows him the error in his thought process and ultimately changes his mind in this classic film.

Gingerbread Man
Not my gumdrop buttons!

John McClane

“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…” John sarcastically repeats under his breath. Boy, did those terrorists pick the wrong holiday party to crash. The Cowboy makes sure that Hans and his cronies die hard but maybe he should posthumously thank them for getting him back together with his wife.

Kevin McCallister
As a little MacGyver, this kiddo makes two would-be thieves look like fools by crafting homemade booby traps to prevent them from committing a felony. His cheer comes from causing pain and humiliation. Good kid.

Little Drummer Boy
What do you do when invited to meet baby Jesus but have no money for a gift? Play a drum to the best of your ability and make sure the animals keep time.

While not the most spirited child and certainly not from a wealthy family, this kid still maintains a healthy dose of child-like cheer even when the world- including Santa- seems to be against him and his dreams of a Red Ryder B.B. gun.

Apparently you help Santa out one time then suddenly get in the good graces of your fellow reindeer. We’re sure this reindeer is thinking, “you know you guys were just making fun of me, right? You wouldn’t even let me play in any reindeer games. Now I’m the lead ‘deer and I call the shots. I’ve got tons of cheer and you better respect the nose”.

He takes the words cheer, prosperity and efficiency to the next level. He also has impeccable style.


Miserly, rude and crotchety, Scrooge likens Christmas to being pick-pocketed. His lack of empathy and obsessive personality constantly push him from society & into a lonely life. He then goes crazy, starts seeing ghosts, and ultimately has a life-altering revelation that changes his demeanor.

The Grinch
Living in an isolated mountainside cave and having a tiny heart would make anyone bitter. The story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas reminds us that misunderstandings can be brutally awkward for everyone, just like bad acting.

Virginia O’Hanlon
Usually asking if Santa Claus exists ends in tears and a lifetime of bitter resentment, but in this case an eloquent writer with a penchant for elaboration answered the loaded question. You’re darn right he exists.