Consumer survey results from the 2011-2012 “Make It a Real Michigan Christmas” campaign

MSU researchers find the campaign achieved a modest level of awareness among Michiganders. However, consumer attitudes about real Christmas trees and poinsettias haven’t changed much over the years.

In 2011 and 2012, the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, Michigan Floriculture Growers Council and Michigan Floral Association obtained grants from the United States Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant program to initiate a marketing campaign, “Make it a Real Michigan Christmas,” to stimulate sales of Christmas trees and poinsettias. An online survey of consumers was developed to evaluate the success of the educational media campaign. The surveys were administered four separate times (October 2011, January 2012, October 2012 and January 2013) to collect measures of awareness and knowledge both before and after each year’s media campaign. To participate in the survey, consumers must have been 18 years or older and decorated their house in any way for the previous Christmas holiday.

Nearly a third (29 percent) of the 1,712 respondents purchased a Christmas tree the previous holiday. More live trees (18.6 percent) were purchased than artificial trees (10.3 percent) and most were cut trees (16.4 percent). Roughly a third (35 percent) of respondents purchased live poinsettias the previous holiday, averaging 1.99 purchases per respondent. Nearly half of the poinsettias were purchased at mass merchants or supermarkets while roughly 20 percent were purchased at garden centers. Poinsettias were nearly always purchased for the participant’s own enjoyment (86.9 percent) and red was the preferred bract color (75 percent).

Few attitudinal changes about Christmas trees and poinsettias were observed over the study period and compared to prior studies indicating that the use of poinsettias and live trees in holiday traditions change slowly. A majority (56.2 percent to 70.7 percent; statements 2, 10, 11, and 15 in Table 1) believed live trees are difficult while 28.1 percent to 56.3 percent believe they are worth the effort or a part of their family tradition (statements 1, 13, 16 in Table 1).

This points to a challenge for marketers to help persuade those who believe trees are worth the effort to continue while facing a daunting challenge of convincing the majority otherwise. According to Michigan State University Extension, growers might choose to communicate the needle retention rate or offer easy clean-up bags for recycling or disposal widely within their market area. In addition, producers might focus on Christmas tree traditions and how worthwhile the effort is for family traditions, including the real tree.

 Table 1. Percentage of survey participants who agree or strongly agree with each attitudinal statement in the Make It a Real Michigan Christmas consumer surveys.

Statement

%

 1. Our family has a tradition of decorating a Christmas tree together.

56.3

 2. Live Christmas trees are harder to carry home than artificial trees.

56.2

 3. Poinsettia plants are an appropriate gift for more people.

41.4

 4. Live Christmas trees are better than artificial trees.

39.3

 5. Poinsettias are poisonous plants.

50.4

 6. Purchasing a live Christmas tree is environmentally friendly.

27.6

 7. Poinsettias are safe to display in homes with animals or children.

26.8

 8. Cutting a tree for Christmas decoration is not environmentally responsible.

26.9

 9. Live Christmas trees are harder to decorate than artificial trees.

27.3

10. Live Christmas trees are more dangerous because they can catch on fire.

45.7

11. Live Christmas trees are messy.

70.7

12. Live Christmas trees are more expensive than artificial trees.

41.1

13. Our family has a tradition of selecting our Christmas tree together.

28.1

14. Buying a live Christmas tree supports Michigan businesses and farmers.

70.5

15. Live Christmas trees are harder to take down than artificial trees.

43.0

16. Live Christmas trees are worth the effort of putting up and taking down.

40.6

17. Purchasing a real poinsettia supports Michigan businesses and farmers.

57.4

18. Purchasing an artificial tree is environmentally responsible.

41.8

Fifty percent of our sample agreed or strongly agreed that poinsettias are poisonous and 73 percent said poinsettias are not safe to display in homes with animals or children (Table 1). This points to the persistence of this myth despite evidence to the contrary and likely stymies growth potential for this product as a gift. Since nearly all poinsettia purchases were for personal enjoyment, this may identify a theme that might be used in subsequent educational campaigns. In addition, more advertising to dispel the myth of the poisonous poinsettia may stimulate sales.

Over half (57.4 to 70.5 percent) of the respondents indicated that purchasing a live Christmas tree or poinsettia supports Michigan businesses and farmers (statements 14 and 17 in Table 1). These values are consistent with other consumer trends where buying local is increasing for many reasons, one of which is to support local producers. Perhaps this message will resonate more with Christmas tree and poinsettia consumers over time and could be a marketing message for retailers.

Roughly 4 percent of the respondents had heard of the Make It a Real Michigan Christmas marketing campaign. If this number is extrapolated to the population of Michigan (9.883 million), the campaign reached approximately 395,320 residents after only two seasons in operation. With a two-year investment of $150,000, these results show that the Make it a Real Michigan Christmas campaign cost $0.38 to reach those consumers.