How Dripping Candles Inspired Product Innovation

And Other Reasons to Say 'Happy Jewish New Year'

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Rochelle Newman-Carrasco Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
As some of you may recall, I was on a roll when it came to holiday blogging for quite a while. An advertising colleague of mine asked if I was going to blog about the Jewish New Year. Honestly, I had not thought about doing so. In that same conversation, she mentioned that she had created a new product called MenorahMate. She was thinking of creating a version for the Latino Jewish community in the U.S. and abroad. I was smitten. For me, this simple but powerful innovation that takes over where aluminum foil leaves off was a cultural stroke of brilliance. Basically, it's a place mat that goes under a candelabra for Sabbath candles or Chanukah candles and it includes the appropriate prayers in Hebrew (which are spelled out phonetically).

To quote her website: "Dealing with melting candles is one thing; having the blessings handy is another. Face it -- it's not always easy to remember them -- especially the Chanukah blessings since we only say them for eight days each year. And how many times have you searched through the house for a Jewish holiday book or called someone who would know the blessings or downloaded them from the Internet?"

This is a great example of using cultural connection to find new product opportunities that are simple in nature but untapped. Product development should be mining cultural insights, be they Latino, Asian-American, African-American or other. Not only do food products benefit from the incorporation of tastes and ingredients with a culturally specific root, but there are a number of other categories of opportunity including fashion, gift items, educational items, toys, games -- the list goes on.

I don't even light candles, and yet the power of cultural connection can immediately elicit an emotional and meaningful reaction. I suggest to anyone who doubts the power of culture as a marketing tool that they put themselves in a situation where they can be connected to and emotionally moved by something from their own cultural history. Culture is about belonging. Brand selection is about belonging. Creating a sense of brand belonging through the use of culture will tie people powerfully together with your brand.

And now back to Jewish New Year and the holiday blogging I set out to do.

A few years ago, an article appeared in, written by David Kraemer about Rosh Hashana. My brother sent it to me today to send a New Year greeting. We grew up very close to the Forward building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was the newspaper that best focused on the cultural realities of immigrant Jews, much in the same way that the Spanish-language news media do for Latinos in the U.S. today.

Because I am often asked by friends and colleagues about the High Holy Days and whether to say "Happy Yom Kippur" and the like, I thought I would take a moment to share some cultural insight. Indeed Jews, at least in the U.S., do view Rosh Hashana as a joyous occasion. We say "Happy New Year" in English or "Shanah Tovah" in Hebrew or "Gut yontif" in Yiddish (or sometimes all three). As the article explains, Rosh Hashana is, in effect, a day of "judgment." It leads up to Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. It is properly translated as "new year" (literally, the head of the year), which is probably why it is greeted as other new-year occasions, with joy and celebration. This is a cultural borrowing. Jewish culture and other ancient cultures look to the new year with a spirit of regeneration and purification. Rosh Hashana is our time to seek forgiveness for sins and await judgment. Yom Kippur is the day of divine forgiveness. So perhaps, looking at it that way, the former is more solemn than the latter.

Whatever. The point is that a well-intended "Happy New Year" and even a "Happy Yom Kippur" is always appreciated by the Jewish community inside of the world of advertising and beyond.
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