In a long, snowy driveway in front of a ginormous suburban home sits a brand new car with a giant red bow. An intensely cheerful, surprisingly young couple with two adorable children in matching jammies run outside to gawk at the shiny new member of the family. Everyone is attractive, happy, and rich.
This is how most car commercials play out from October to December. But unlike a similarly unrealistic ABC Family Christmas movie, these giant bow car commercials don’t leave me with the warm fuzzies; they leave me baffled.
Most recognizable from the Lexus marketing campaign December to Remember, which started in 1998, a bow on a car seems like something that would only exist in an idyllic commercial. Do people actually spring gifts on their loved ones so expensive that they’ll likely have to be paid off for years to come? And does anyone actually buy that big-ass bow?
When Malisa Eakins’s husband surprised her with a Porsche in 2009, she told him, “The only thing that could make this better is a bow.” She had seen the giant red ones in the Lexus commercials and loved the way they looked.
So when Eakins and her husband decided to buy a Lincoln Navigator in 2015, he made sure to put a bow on it. Unlike the Porsche, the Lincoln wasn’t a complete surprise. Malisa says they had been looking at Fords but her husband convinced her it was okay to spring for the more expensive Lincoln.
Even so, the bow made it so much more special. When Eakins pulled up to the dealership to take home her new car, she was stunned. “I was completely surprised to see this red bow on my car,” she says. She hugged the salesperson, thinking it was their doing, before realizing “it was my husband, which is even better.”
To her, putting a bow on it made the whole experience feel less transactional and like a unique present. “I don’t know if it is the car, or if I didn’t think I could afford it, or it was out of my league, but I treat this car differently,” she says. “It truly does feel like a gift.”
Part of Eakins’s positive experience is no doubt due to her husband’s thoughtfulness, but also because, psychologically, we love wrapped gifts. A 1992 study by Southern Methodist University marketing professor Daniel Howard tested whether wrapping paper influences present satisfaction and found that it absolutely did.
Participants in the study all received the same gift, half of them wrapped, half not. Those who received the wrapped gifts rated their satisfaction higher than those who were handed presents unwrapped.
“Gift wrapping, through repeated pairing with joyous events in people’s lives, has utility in cueing a happy mood which, in turn, positively biases attitudes,” Howard noted in his study. We have been conditioned to respond better to wrapped items because we receive them on special occasions — even expected gifts benefit from wrapping.
And because Eakins is a realtor, she has gotten plenty of use out of the bow since, using it to adorn recently sold homes. Now she orders them regularly. “I’ve kind of gotten a little bit of notoriety for using bows in my local market with other agents,” she says.
There are lots of companies that cater to bow-seekers like Eakins. You can find giant bows on Carbowz.com, displays2go.com and, of course, Amazon. But Eakins bought hers at the California-based company King Size Bows.
King Size Bows, now owned by Amber Kingaard-Hughes, was founded by Lynda King in 2001. After designing a giant bow for her daughter’s 16th birthday gift — a new car — King started making and selling big bows full time. Kingaard-Hughes bought a King Size Bow for her son’s Christmas gift car, and then bought the company itself with her mother Jan in 2015 when Lynda was getting ready to retire.
From 2001 to today, the business has grown; now the company sells bows to dealerships, realtors, health awareness walks, and even TV shows like The Price Is Right and The Ellen Show. (In fact, Channing Tatum popped out of a box with a King Size Bow on it for Ellen’s 60th birthday.)
King Size Bows is headquartered about one hour outside Los Angeles; Kingaard-Hughes describes it as being “conveniently located.” The company is also responsible for the Lexus ad campaign that familiarized America with giant car bows. Since 2003, King Size Bows has supplied all Lexus’s bows in commercials as well as dealerships.
Kingaard-Hughes says the company sells thousands of car bows a year to customers all over the world. “We have shipped to Guam and Australia,” she says. “Canada uses a lot of our bows, and we just sent a bunch of Lexus bows down to Kenya.”
Original, in-stock bows start at $49.99, come in eight colors, and are 30 inches wide by 41 inches long. “Those are the bows Lynda started with and she wanted to make them affordable for everybody,” Kingaard-Hughes says. But if you want something more personal, custom bows start at a couple hundred dollars and go up from there.
Kingaard-Hughes helps clients decide color, sheen, size, and number of loops — all sorts of details one may not immediately think of when dreaming of a large bow. “Some people think they need the biggest possible bow, and to them a giant bow is 2 feet, but to us, a giant bow is 15 feet,” she says. She asks how soon they’ll need it and what color the car is, and offers more options than just the traditional red. “A silver bow makes the chrome pop out on the car.”
Customers usually make the purchase with a spouse or child in mind, but some buy giant bows for themselves. “There’s a good amount of people who are buying a dream car for themself and have wanted to have a big bow on it,” Kingaard-Hughes says. “Even though they knew it was coming, it was fun for them.”
Other than individuals, many of King Size Bows’ customers are car dealerships who use giant bows in their showrooms and commercials.
Maxine Linihan is the financial director and “mom” of the Mercedes-Benz car dealership Fletcher Jones Imports in Las Vegas, and a customer of King Size Bows. She says she took it upon herself to order bows for the showroom — “It has nothing to do with my job, really” — after seeing how good they looked in the Lexus commercials. The Mercedes-Benz is “ridiculously beautiful in itself,” she tells me, but the bows make them even more appealing.
“It looks so pretty,” she says. “When I send you the picture [of the showroom], you’ll be like, ‘Are you kidding me.’”
For Fletcher Jones Imports, Linihan orders 40 Christmas and Hanukkah bows around the holiday time. By the end of the season, they will have all been purchased. She says most bows are bought for a spouse gifting their unsuspecting loved one with a car, and about 15 percent of all purchases at the dealership during the last quarter of the year are surprise presents.
“Clients love the bow,” she says. “I don’t know how to describe it any more than that.”
Linihan keeps bows in stock during the offseason as well, in case anyone wants to buy them for birthdays. She also puts pinks bows on the cars during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and gold bows to celebrate the Vegas Golden Knights, the city’s hockey team.
“I know it’s just a bow, but I really see a difference in people and it makes them feel good,” she says. “I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve seen it.”
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