For 30 years wealth management company PNC has released its Christmas Price Index, a festive checkup on the economy that mirrors the Consumer Price Index based on the holiday tune “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Over the decades the Index has served as an educational tool to help middle school students understand the principles of economics with the assistance of the beloved holiday classic. But what happens when that classic isn’t so beloved anymore?
This is what PNC was forced to contemplate this year as “The 12 Days of Christmas” plummeted to #98 on Billboard’s top 100 Christmas chart. If kids these days don’t like–or even know of–this song, how can they make sense of the market forces that caused a 71.4% increase in the price of six geese a-laying?
“When we discovered that ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ was slipping into obscurity, it sparked both the creative idea and a sense of obligation to make the song important to people again,” says Kerry Keenan, chief creative officer at Deutsch NY, the agency behind PNC’s creative and interactive CPI projects for the last several years. “The success of the Christmas Price Index depends on the success of the song. If kids don’t relate to the song or have never heard it before, they are less likely to care about what the gifts cost and how those costs are affected by inflation.”
The solution came through music. If the song was losing its resonance, the 2014 Christmas Price Index would aim to make it popular once again. But with such disparate and diverse trends in music these days, the musical solution needed to be just as varied. With “The Great Carol Comeback,” Deutsch re-imagined each of the 12 gifts in a modern and musical context.
The first gift is conveyed as an interactive storybook wherein a solitary yet tech-savvy partridge goes in search of his lost gadgets after a storm sweeps away his pear tree, along with his sound system, his virtual reality gear and gaming equipment. Two turtledoves offer up a dubstep version of the carol, and the three French hens are imagined as a hair-raising hair metal band. On a more lo-fi tip, a high-pitch tune is spun out of five gold-rimmed glasses, and eight maids-a-milking create music through well-timed tugs of the teats because we all know that milk hitting a tin pail can be simply symphonic.
“Based on the way kids consume media today we didn’t see one straight message–‘Hey, pay attention to this classic carol’–as doing the trick,” says Keenan. “So we created 12 totally unique pieces of content, each born out of one of the 12 gifts in the song, and thus 12 opportunities to connect and bring the song back into the hearts and minds of people. At least one of the 12 will hook you, bring you in to explore the whole experience, and then get you to share it.”
Deutsch NY group creative director Jeremy Bernstein says the agency went through hundreds of content ideas to land on the final 12. Some of the ideas crystallized early on, like the children’s book about the partridge and the “Milk Bucket Music” concept. Others were late arrivals, like the “Bagpipe Pop-Up Parade” in which 11 pipers piping followed unsuspecting individuals in Central Park, giving them their own personal parade for one. “That was only shot a few weeks ago,” says Bernstein. “More than every other year, we really dug into the song itself and the 12 antiquated gifts and tried to find the most surprising and unexpected ways to bring them to life as possible.”
Also part of the creative strategy was to produce content that people would want to share. Because there’s no paid media for the campaign and it relies heavily on social sharing Bernstein says the focus was on creating bite-sized content. As a result, there is far less interactivity than in previous Christmas Prices Indexes created by Deutsch (previous efforts included a game-based illustration of the index, a fully interactive experience, and customizable toys), but far more creative executions. “A few of the 12 pieces do have interactivity, like ‘Dovestep,’ an interactive video where you can toggle between a traditional and dubstep version starring real live Turtle Dove DJs,” he says. “But we also see a lot of potential in the simple short films and animations we created to get people excited about and singing the song again.”
“The intention was to create as many diverse artifacts as time and budget would allow for,” adds Keenan, noting that partners such as Acne, Human and The Mill helped bring the many moving parts together.
As for the economics of the actual Christmas Price Index itself, it seems like a pretty stagnant year. The total cost of Christmas in 2014 according to the carol is $27,673.21–up a mere 1% from 2013’s price of $27,393.17, making it the smallest increase since 2002 when there was a 7.6% decline. In terms of the gifts, aside from the Lords-a-Leaping, which enjoyed at 2% wage increase, all paid laborers saw a 0% change from 2013. Even the many avian gifts weren’t as volatile as in previous years, with only the geese commanding a giant leap in price (71.4%), though the 10% increase in the price of French hens was the second-largest jump.
Still, the price of birds, owing largely to their upkeep, makes for costly gifts. “Despite the fact that the price did not increase, I continue to be surprised at how much a calling bird costs,” says Keenan. “And it is interesting that Lords received a wage increase while musicians, dancers, and unskilled laborers like milkmaids, did not. So much for the 99%.”
See the costs of other 12 Days gifts in the gallery above.