With just under two weeks still to go in the marketing “silly season”, pharmacy chain My Chemist is already well clear of the field in the race for the least appropriate Christmas promotion of 2007.

The cover of a sales flyer distributed to thousands of Melbourne homes over the past week depicts Santa Claus exposing himself to two leering female “Santa’s helpers” who are apparently naked except for high-heeled shoes, a classic “p-rn look”.

The wafer-thin premise for the use of this disturbing visual is a boxed “Warning” that the catalogue “contains obscene prices that may offend” their competitors. Remarkably, the marketing people at My Chemist don’t seem to have considered that this promotion might also offend consumers, especially given that pharmacy is such a family-focused business.

In the first place, there is nothing remotely festive about a message that says “our prices are obscenely low” – it’s just opportunistic to try to tie this in some way to Christmas. But My Chemist have compounded that opportunism by showing Santa in an undeniably s-xual situation on the front of a publication that will be seen by thousands of children.

Leaving aside any question of taste or morality, it’s just plain bad marketing, because it shows a complete lack of empathy with the customer. The customer demographics of retail pharmacy skew strongly female and family. Not surprisingly, the catalogue is full of ads for beauty products, cosmetics and perfumes and sunscreen for the kiddies. So who at My Chemist or their agency chose a visual that would be more suitable – if no less offensive – for an auto accessories store (young, male)?

A promotion like this could easily damage the My Chemist brand. Mothers whose children ask: “Mummy, what’s Santa doing?” are likely to regard the brand as “Definitely NOT My Chemist”.

Consumers undoubtedly respond positively when retailers and other service businesses demonstrate genuine Christmas spirit and goodwill at this time of the year. What they don’t appreciate is tacky, exploitative promotions that cheapen the Christmas experience, especially for children.

My seasonal advice to advertisers is simple: if you have nothing special to say at Christmas time, then say nothing.

Footnote: I‘m sure My Chemist won’t be the only perpetrator of gratuitous and tasteless Christmas advertising this festive season. Perhaps Crikey readers have seen some other crimes against Christmas perpetrated in the name of marketing? If so, email us at [email protected]

Dr Stephen Downes lectures in the postgraduate advertising program in the School of Applied Communication at RMIT University and is principal of market research and brand strategy firm QBrand Consulting Pty Ltd