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November 11, 2011
That 'Christmas Tree Tax' Short-Circuited
It's so hard sometimes for organizations to see things whole and focus on key realities. Take not only Penn State but the matter of the "Christmas tree tax," as reported by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic under the heading "Worst Public Relations Idea of the Year, or Ever?" The National Christmas Tree Association has been losing sales of fresh-cut trees to artificial ones. So let's have consumers give us a hand in figuring out what can be done about "adverse" consumer preferences. Smart? Not the way this 15-cent per tree charge played out.

The Heritage Foundation, the Drudge Report and then Thompson in The Atlantic picked up on a notice of the proposed "commodity checkoff" fee in the Federal Register, and Santa started a dive from the skies.  That's because, whatever the growers and the Agriculture Department intended, the fee translated into the Christmas tree lobby taxing people in the hope of  abating the growing popular preference for artificial trees. When the Drudge Report called the pending excise, in an all-cap headline, "OBAMA'S NEW 'CHRISTMAS TREE TAX," the fee went into abeyance. The White House, reports Advertising Age, started telling reporters the Department of Agriculture will "delay implementation and revisit this action."

No matter that other such pooled industry campaigns exist, like "Got Milk?" The National Christmas Tree Association," Thompson wrote, "is like so many of this economy's prognosticators and analysts: Looking for cheap marketing solutions to a problem that's all about market fundamentals."

So why don't we dig for, and focus on, fundamentals? Maybe because that sometimes hurts. But, you know, the hurt will get worse unless we deal responsively with reality, and maybe even then.

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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