The Conversation: Matariki arrives during a quiet retail season – but businesses should be wary of cashing in

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June 24th is the first new Matariki public holiday in New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images

Aotearoa New Zealand celebrates a new official holiday on 24 June marking the country of Matariki – the start of the Māori New Year. But with that comes the temptation for businesses to seize the day to increase sales.

Some Māori have already expressed concern that companies would be able to market themselves as Matariki as a shopping event.

Marama Luminate Light Trail, Matariki Hungama Nui Ki Te Wanganui-e-Orotu, Napier Celebrate Matariki. photo/file

Behind these concerns, Skye Kimura, chief executive of Māori cultural marketing and communications agency Tatou, launched a campaign entitled “Matariki is not for sale”. “Nobody wants to see Matariki Big Mac,” he argued.

But those trying to save Matariki from mass commercialization may be fighting an uphill battle.

Some public holidays, both in New Zealand and elsewhere, have been immune to commercial interests. In the United States, for example, companies are being criticized for trying to make money on June 16, a holiday celebrating slave emancipation.

human propensity to mark change

One of the difficulties that critics of the commercialization of holidays face is that they must fight deep habits that stem from capitalism and human nature.

Many of our special occasions are structured around different seasons and changes in life patterns. Early pagan rituals were about the changing of the seasons and marking what differed from one period of life to another.

From a social and possibly evolutionary perspective, we are already being drawn to something else from our day-to-day activities to mark the significant changes we are observing around us.

When we have these seasonal celebrations, it doesn’t take long for retailers to say, hey, people want to mark the shift, and shopping is a great way to force that transition between the two phases. – With a “Out with the old one”, with the message “New”.

Holidays are often used by retailers to cash in. photo/getty

We shop to celebrate

Each year is already punctuated by a number of cultural festivals, which in time become shopping events. The most classic example is the commercialization of Christmas.

Although there is a Christian tradition of the Magi giving gifts at Christ’s birth and establishing the ritual of giving, the three months leading up to December 25th are all about selling and spending opportunities.

Easter, Valentine’s Day, the Queen’s birthday weekend and even Labor Day have all become selling events for retailers.

Matariki is also entering a quieter time of year for retail – in the middle of winter and the big shopping weekend of the Queen’s Birthday and Labor Day.

Possibility of setback to retailers

But when companies commercialize something, there’s always the question of whether they have the right to do so or whether they’re diluting the event for commercial reasons.

Companies looking to capitalize on Matariki are likely to suffer a significant setback. And all they have to do is look at Anzac Day as an example of commemoration far from the bounds of blatant commercialization.

Yes, it’s okay to sell poppies or set up a donation box at your point of sale. It’s also okay to advertise with a “Thank you for your service” banner. But when a company is explicitly trying to make money on Anzac Day, people start to get a little upset.

That doesn’t mean companies aren’t trying to revolve around public sentiment. Every year there is an element of the “Anzac Washing” where companies try to show they support veterans even when they have done nothing to support former and current military personnel.

It’s likely that our handling of Anzac Day provides a basis for critics evaluating companies trying to use Matariki as a way to increase sales.

Businesses can be judged on whether they have Matariki sales or whether there is some sort of attempt to “matariki-wash” their other commercial offerings.

The Stardome Observatory and Planetarium kicks off its Matariki Festival with a massive light and sound installation taking place June 19-25. photo/file

Businessmen must tread carefully

This is an area full of potential landmines that have no clear advantage at this stage.

Not only is the commercialization of the holiday bothersome to some, but there is also a debate about cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation.

Businesses need to recognize the potential for setbacks and controversy amplified by other, more established holidays. There are those who fret over yet another public holiday increasing labor costs for businesses. And there are those who are opposed to the so-called “awakening” of Matariki celebrations.

At the very least, companies determined to use Matariki as part of their sales pitch need to understand what the celebration really is and what meaning it has within the community.

It will be interesting to see if anyone is willing to risk the minefield for the sale coming from the extra three day weekend or wait and see what happens to the first risk takers.

Mike Lee, Associate Professor of Marketing, University of Auckland

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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