Beauty, fashion, gardening, gastronomy, automotive, jewellery, crafts, culture, toys, design... The advent calendar craze has spread to every market sector — or just about. Instead of running out of steam, the phenomenon seems to grow from year to year, inspiring extravagant projects and versions, as well as some exorbitant prices.

Now an ubiquitous product

The time of children receiving an Advent calendar with religious images to help them await Christmas seems to be part of a long-gone past. Early in the 20th century, the Germanic tradition gave way to the first retail versions, still in the form of pictures but more playful than pious, inviting children to express their creativity with colourful drawings. Then the pictures gave way to chocolates and, gradually, to many other things, including: toys, jewellery, cosmetics, perfumes, beers, wine, tea, coffee, festive foods, miniature cars, candles, books, sex toys, etc.

A wide range of variations is available to meet the tastes and desires of customers, including personalized or customizable versions, or even DIY kits. There is also a wide variety on the budget side: from ultra-accessible to ultra-luxurious, when it comes to advent calendars, anything goes.

In fact these small-sized gifts packed into a countdown format inspire such enthusiasm that Britain’s Beauty Pie recently created a contest wherein one lucky Advent calendar fan could get paid in exchange for reviewing several of them.

Prices soar, criticism pours in

Brands often see these colourful boxes as a profitable pre-Christmas operation. They help “deseasonalize” the end-of-year period. Since they are marketed in October, they represent for consumers a Christmas purchase before Christmas comes, and an additional source of revenue for both brands and retailers.

From a marketing point of view, they also give the brand a privileged moment to introduce itself to consumers, inviting them to explore and try several of its products. A privileged opportunity to potentially spark curiosity, desire, and even passion for one or more products.

However, as competition increases, appealing to today’s consumers involves more and more creative efforts and margin compression: samples or special edition goodies thus tend to be replaced by true retail products.

As a result, prices can easily soar — US$300 euros, US$500, even up to several thousand dollars for the extreme luxury versions — making the disappointment even greater when the contents don’t meet expectations.

Something that a major luxury house experienced fallout from last year, when it became the subject of a controversy on social networks. The cause? Its Advent calendar, retailing for US$825, was criticized by an influencer who did not appreciate the contents. If it contained miniature versions of collector perfumes, lipsticks, and creams, the luxury-priced box also contained, according to the young woman, pins, stickers, pouches, and decorative tree baubles that the label would generally offer free of charge to its customers upon the purchase of a product. A bit disappointing considering the amount of money spent. Fortunately, it’s always possible to know the contents of an advent calendar before going to the checkout, allowing consumers to make perfectly informed choices.

A packaging nightmare?

It remains to answer the big question of the moment! From the packaging to the content of the products, can Advent calendars be environmentally friendly?

A part of the answer inevitably lies in the commitments made by the brand. A company that claims to be ethical, sustainably-oriented must offer products in line with its commitments, as a latter of logic and consistency. Packaging is increasingly made from sustainable or recycled materials, and tend to avoid plastics.