The Power Of Holiday Advertising: The Gift Of What If?

Ever imagine the surprise of finding out you have relatives you never knew you had? Cynics say to be careful what you wish for, lest everyone from hillbillies to Hollywood moguls show up on your doorstep. But the way advertisers portray tempting the fates makes buying a key to unlock the mysteries of your past irresistible.

Holiday advertising has focused on family for centuries. Themes of reconciliation and peace are typical. But the explosion of genetic testing kits poses a question not previously explored: what if we have family out there we’ve never met? 

The poignant holiday ad for 23andMe shows an exhilarating outcome of genealogical discovery that dares you not to wonder. In this spot, set to a rousing version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” doors are flung open with points of view to reveal faces of joyful strangers meeting for the first time as relatives. Not only is the message here as hopeful as wishing on a star, but it’s hard to find a more thought-provoking product in the clutter of holiday gifts.



Home for the holidays, as they say, has new meaning.

The digital marketing campaign for National Geographic DNA kits packages its trademark photography to vividly imagine exotic personal histories in faraway lands. Its product, Geno 2.0, invites us to “Find out what migratory routes your ancestors took and how they left their mark on your DNA” and offers 30% off for the holidays.

If David Ogilvy and double-helix discovering scientists Watson and Crick would have been told DNA is the hottest-selling thing since Tickle Me Elmo, they would have scoffed. But its allure is natural. It’s the prefect product to marry science and marketing. And, boy, does it sell.

According to the DNA-testing company’s corporate website, “During the four-day Black Friday to Cyber Monday holiday weekend, the company more than tripled the number of kits sold during the same period in 2016, its prior record sales period.” Between now and New Year’s Day, the company projects similar results. Its holiday campaign focuses on a series of ethnically gift-wrapped boxes being opened and says, “It’s not what’s in the box, it’s what’s inside the person who opens it.” How’s that for a heart-grabber?

There’s a simplicity to the DNA kit ads perhaps because their very function is so complex. In the Stone Age-analogue-past, one would have trudged miles to find records and written tomes in stamped envelopes to further the quest for lost lineage. That’s been automated with companies like AncestryDNA boasting six million people in their database, and competitors’ numbers are climbing. DNA kit marketers have harnessed consumers’ thirst for personalization and speed through blogs and subscriptions.

The companies promoting these kits touch upon our deepest curiosity and quest for love. During a time of year that’s ripe with reflection, isn’t it profound to wonder if you have relations somewhere in the world? As a gift, let’s face it, giving someone the key to their past is far more interesting than anything else they might get this year.

In a noisy holiday ad landscape, it’s difficult to resist the pitch to give the gift of “what if?” This time next year, family dinner tables may expand to accommodate new faces and chapters in people’s life stories. Isn’t that worth the average $60-$150 price tag?

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