In the olden days companies sent out Christmas cards. These were folded pieces of cardboard on which there was often a picture of a snowflake or holly. In the absence of mantelpieces to put them on, they were threaded on string and dangled from office ceilings. It was a bizarre and slightly ugly custom, but that was what people did.

Then the internet came along and companies sent out “e-cards” instead. These were the same images of snowflakes etc, though with a declaration that the pennies saved on postage and paper had been given to charity. This was better in some ways, as the cards didn’t have to be festooned about the place, but worse in others, as it was even more joyless.

A few years ago the e-cards started to move. This has the further disadvantage that it takes time to watch them. Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s latest offering features the Taj Mahal gradually morphing into a group of children walking in snowy woods, thus “celebrating all that connects us”. Fiat’s “card” is even less seasonal, slowly building little car cut-outs into a pattern that becomes the company’s name. I don’t mind these cards being unfestive; I don’t even mind them being commercially crass. What I do mind is that they require you to invest so much time for so little return.

Yet moving cards are becoming old-hat: the latest greetings are interactive, and require still more effort from recipients. Publicis, the French advertising agency, has come up with something called “The more the merrier”, which requires a webcam – jolly inconvenient if you don’t happen to have one and have to track down someone who has. You then see Maurice Lévy, the agency’s CEO, sitting at his desk telling you about his company’s merger with Omnicom. The clever bit is that the more colleagues you can gather in front of the camera, the sillier the scene around Levy’s desk becomes, with streamers, balloons and weird animals.

Publicis appears to have been hoping that this cumbersome greeting would go down huge, as it was the first company ever (as far as I know) to send out a Christmas “card” under embargo. Alas, it made the elementary error of thinking that because it is Christmas, people find unfunny things funny. Only they don’t: embarrassing remains embarrassing 365 days a year.

By contrast, the company that got it right is WestJet. More than 30m people have watched the Canadian airline’s video showing passengers being asked as they boarded a flight by a virtual Father Christmas what they wanted for Christmas. By the time they got to the other end, the gifts were wrapped and waiting. It is not hard to work out why everyone loves this cheesy stunt. At Christmas we crave to see that expression of wonder, which invariably fails to materialise on the faces of our own children, and yet here it was on the faces of the surprised passengers:
the real thing.

The only other seasonal greeting to have gone viral this year did so for different reasons. When Jamie Dimon invited a photographer into his elegant sitting room to take a picture of him with his wife, dog and three daughters frolicking with tennis balls, the JPMorgan boss did not know his personal card would end up online. Or that the Quartz website would say it looked like an ad for Ralph Lauren. Yet that’s not the half of it: for me, the ostentation wasn’t in the ludicrously wealthy interior, nor in the gorgeous slim figures in their casually ripped jeans. It wasn’t in the fabulous dentistry of Dimon’s womenfolk as they roar with laughter playing a riotous game of indoor tennis, blithely oblivious of the priceless pottery vases, and the huge canvas that looks like a Jackson Pollock.

I don’t mind bankers being really rich. So much money is vulgar and undeserved, but it does not upset me. It is this gratuitous (and probably phoney) display of over-the-top happiness that sets my less than perfect teeth on edge.

It is, of course, unfortunate to produce graven images of your own children at a time when one major world religion is focusing on the birth of another child. But worse than that, it is tactless to parade quite so much joy. The holiday season is the traditional time of year for incendiary family rows and to send out a picture of your domestic bliss not only tempts providence but is unkind to friends preparing for their annual domestic Armageddon.

Love is all you need, says the inscription on the back of the card. If that is true, it’s a pity the silver fox has spent his adult life shoulder to the wheel at the bank, when he and his family could have passed the decades loving each other in, say, a stable, joyful yet penniless and larking around with some cattle.

lucy.kellaway@ft.com
Twitter: @lucykellaway

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