Let’s be honest.  People have been lamenting the over-commercialisation of Christmas for decades.  Indeed, this season’s dialogue is spearheaded by an apparent consumer fatigue towards highly contagious cross-continental retail behaviours such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

But let us contextualise these feelings somewhat with a quote, from Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments, published in 1795: “How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility?” 

Considering that St. Nick’s first recorded impact on popular culture in the US surfaced in 1773, it appears to have taken just 22 short years for mainstream observations and concerns relating to over-commercialisation to take hold.

DI hooked up with Brandwatch to determine the true patterns of consumer Christmas conversations in 2016.  We looked at where people were talking, when they were talking, who was talking and what they were talking about.

We uncovered some fascinating insights.  For example, it’d be kinder on consumers if retailers promoted Christmas from the end of the first week in December.  The premature preoccupation with Christmas is a trend that is significantly higher in the UK compared to the US.  Packaging ‘thoughtfulness’ will prime female consumers, whereas the promotion of luxury and product attributes will appeal to male gift buyers.

Read on for more and, from all at Disruptive Insight and Brandwatch, we wish you a peaceful (stress free) Christmas.



After looking at where people were talking about Christmas, we looked at what they were talking about. The Christmas Topic Cloud below can be clearly rearranged into 5 key categories: –

WORDS: in order of volume, people were talking about gifts, shopping, presents, cards, jumpers and carols.

PEOPLE: mentions of gift recipients focused primarily around moms, kids/children and sisters.

EMOTIONS: with Christmas comes happiness and this is reflected in the emotions expressed through Christmas mentions including the words excited, amazing and wonderful.

VERBS: surprisingly, and very pleasantly, ‘give’ was used more frequently than the verbs of buying or spending, although here people may have simply been replacing buy and spend with ‘what to give’.  Further analysis would tell us this, but, being optimists we’ll just stick for now with the headline that giving outweighs spending within this dataset.

MONEY: there were however also mentions around the words broke and money indicating that spending intent and budgetary considerations are also front of mind.


THE PSYCHOLOGY: Consumer spending patterns demonstrate that people are more willing to spend during the beginning of the month when they receive their pay checks. HOWEVER, this early spending is subject to a core consumer conflict – that of big bill payments.  At Christmas this likely translates into a purchase pain which actively deters people from spending lavishly early in the month.

So, while Christmas promotions such as Black Friday are well timed for retailers, their prematurity will undoubtedly be causing stress and piling pressure onto conflicted consumers.  Payment pain subsides over time making people bounce back to the spirit of spending. Therefore, the ‘humane’ retail promotional cycle would actually kick in at the end of the first week of  December rather than the end of November.




The global conversation heat chart below shows volumes of Christmas-related social chatter for the 7 days spanning 29 Nov to 5 Dec.  Mentions of Christmas were highest in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands.

However, this is where it gets interesting.  The actual volumes contributing to the conversation over this period (below) show us that 58% (282,450) came via the US while 27% (133,079) came via the UK.

A quick population calculation courtesy of tells us that, per capita, 0.2% of the entire UK population were mentioning Christmas in the last 7 days, compared to just 0.08% of the US population.  Wow.  This represents a staggering difference between both countries’ levels of involvement with Christmas.  Why?



UK vs US – The significant difference in the number of conversations originating from both the countries in relation to the total population can be attributed to a number of factors. For example, the month of November in the US was punctuated by significant political and cultural milestones such as the presidential elections and Thanksgiving.  These are likely to have distracted Americans’ minds from focusing on Christmas.

Whereas in the UK, although certain phenomenal events like the Supermoon (and the US election results to an extent) did generate some conversation, they were not impactful enough to divert our thoughts from the coming of Christmas.

The psychology: While the US markets were busy shifting their focus from Thanksgiving to Black Friday to (finally) Christmas, the UK markets were able to grab hold of and leverage the Christmas spirit right after Halloween. This meant that people were primed for a longer time by the super early Christmas-related marketing campaigns, creative advertisements (Buster the Boxer!) and stores with Christmas jingles in the background compared to their American counterparts. This may have ultimately led to a larger number of conversations from the UK pertaining to a much deeper involvement.

Market behaviours are highly contagious.  Given the geographical proximity of cities within the UK, the combined impacts of seasonal campaigns and retail behaviours such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday are likely to be more potent for Brits.  Additionally, the rise in Christmas Markets and Fairs in UK towns and cities may also be contributing to the UK’s early-onset obsessions with Christmas.  These immersive events heavily influence and prime us for the season ahead and, of course, social media sharing fuels the peer-networked visibility of these experiences.

Conversely, market experiences are more geographically disparate and State-specific in the US. Christmas Fairs are not ‘a thing’. And the purely practical considerations associated with travelling to various cities in the US for events such as Thanksgiving result in a population that are poorer of time when it comes to considering Christmas.



While the male-female patterns of conversation are almost identical, there are consistently around 61% more females engaging in online conversation compared to males at any given time within the last 7 days, of which at least 12% are parents and 16% are students.

THE PSYCHOLOGY:  A number of psychological studies looking at the gender differences in expression reveal that males and females behave differently when it comes to (emotional) display rules. For example, women tend to display positive emotions more and supress negative emotions whereas men tend to simulate negative emotions and supress positive emotions.

A further Brandwatch study revealed that women tend to be more expressive and willing to share personal information online whereas men use social networks mainly to gather information to build resources.

‘12 Days of Christmas’ or ‘the Greatest Gift of All’? – With women discussing and sharing more content about Christmas than men, one may wonder if men are the Mr Scrooge(s) of Christmas.  The answer is, not exactly. When it comes to Christmas gifts, men appear to be more extravagant than their female counterparts. Women tend to scrutinize sales and offers from various stores before the end decision, whereas men tend to engage less in this behaviour.

Many studies (including one from Australia) demonstrate that men spend on average a third more than females when buying presents. While males tend to buy the first expensive-looking gift during their search, women like to put a lot of thought into their gifts and also like to make sure that this message is communicated to the receiver.

Hence, women end up buying a higher number of gifts (spending less per item) than men and their key purchase value is THOUGHTFULNESS. Whereas for men, fewer big ticket purchases take place around their key purchase values of IMPULSIVENESS and IMPRESSING.

THE PSYCHOLOGY: Behavioural Economics has demonstrated that the desire to make quicker decisions makes us susceptible to acting by rules of thumbs (heuristics) and contextual influences. Consumers often behave on the principle of consonance where they strive to achieve compatibility with their opinions and action, failure of which results in cognitive dissonance, commonly termed as “buyer’s remorse”.

In this case, targeting luxury and physical attributes to men will sell, whereas reflecting the thoughtfulness of an item or ‘gift pack’ of goods will appeal directly to the buying behaviours of women.

Thank you for reading.

This blog was written by Disruptive Insight, powered by data in partnership with Brandwatch.  Fusing digital data analysis with behavioural science produces powerful actionable insights.  Known as Digital Behavioural Intelligence, DI are pioneers in the field.

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Merry Christmas xx

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