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Learn 5 Marketing Lessons From Classic Holiday Characters

October 5, 2023

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2018 and was updated with additional information in October 2023.

For most people, the holiday season is filled with tradition. Whether it’s chopping down a real Christmas tree, going caroling, or feasting on a delicious turkey dinner, families all over the world look forward to the comfort and joy of their holiday traditions.

Many family holiday traditions include one or more Christmas movies. At the very least, if your family isn’t big on movies, you’ll catch Home Alone one out of the 500 times it airs on national TV in a primetime spot. There’s no escaping Kevin McCallister at Christmastime.

I’m particularly fond of A Charlie Brown ChristmasChristmas Vacation, and A Christmas Story, mainly because those are the movies I grew up watching around the holidays. There truly is no substitute for nostalgia; when I watch one of my family’s favorite holiday films, I’m transported instantly back to my childhood – and what a wonder that is in today’s fast-paced world.

Wherever you are and whatever your traditions, do yourself a favor and let nostalgia take the reins for just a moment this holiday season.

Marketing Lessons Businesses Can Learn From Classic Holiday Characters

With all those feelings aside, I was recently thinking we needed to publish a holiday-themed post, but couldn’t get beyond the familiar retreads you see popping up this time of year. Then it struck me: instead of doing an off-topic post about Christmas or a millionth post about how to reach your customers during the holidays, why not try to learn a thing or two?

The process of finding marketing lessons businesses can learn from holiday movies certainly opened my eyes to a few things, so I hope it’s just as helpful to your business as you celebrate the holidays and move into 2024.

I bet you never thought you’d learn anything from the Wet Bandits, but here are the 5 marketing lessons businesses can learn from classic holiday characters:

From Kevin McCallister: Planning Makes Perfect

Did you really think I would start the list off with anyone other than the bravest and most resourceful kid the 1990s ever knew? Wouldn’t dream of it!

Think about it, though: Kevin McCallister is a master planner, and it’s his meticulously planned home defense strategy that saves his life and protects his family’s home (it has nothing to do with the IQ of the Wet Bandits!). Whether we’re talking about the paint buckets, the blowtorch contraption, or a hot iron to the face, Kevin’s strategy trumps the Wet Bandits’ lack of planning at every turn. It was, and still is, a pleasure to watch the eight-year-old’s perfectly laid plans come to fruition.

The marketing lesson here is to be like Kevin McCallister, not the Wet Bandits (who wants to be like the Wet Bandits, anyway?) Just like Kevin brilliantly anticipated the burglars’ every move and devised creative traps to defend his home, effective marketing requires careful planning and strategic thinking. By taking a page from Kevin’s playbook—being prepared, resourceful, and adaptable—marketers can create effective campaigns that not only achieve their goals but also ensure long-term success in the ever-changing landscape of marketing. Whether it’s a small strategy or a full marketing automation campaign, a plan of action will go a long way to ensuring your success – and protecting your house!

From Clark Griswold: Don’t Spread Too Thin

Ah, good ol’ Sparky, such a classically lovable and goofy Christmas character. Clark wants to deliver the perfect Christmas to every person in his family, and he works so hard to make it happen. Unfortunately, a severely underwhelming Christmas bonus, a dried-out turkey, a rogue squirrel, and his Cousin Eddie’s existence undo all the time and effort Clark puts into the family’s holiday.

Clark tries to do everything you can possibly do at Christmas time, from cutting down a giant tree to having the most impressively decorated house to spending too much on a giant present for his family. It’s easy to see that in an effort to make Christmas perfect, Clark spreads himself way too thin and almost ruins everything.

In the business world, by all means, emulate Clark’s enthusiasm for creating something memorable. But don’t spread yourself too thin by trying to engage with every marketing tactic available to you. If you have a small team or a low budget, it’s much more productive to do one or two things really well than try to do it all and fail miserably. 

Remember that less, when done well, can often yield better results than spreading yourself too thin. Take the time to assess your team’s strengths, your budget constraints, and the preferences of your target audience. By carefully selecting and mastering a few key marketing tactics, you can create a more memorable and impactful presence in the business world while maintaining your sanity and achieving sustainable growth. 

From Ralphie Parker: Easy on the Selling

No, the lesson we can learn from Ralphie Parker and A Christmas Story is not, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Nor is it the hazards of sticking your tongue to a frozen flagpole, although that can and does happen, so, you know, don’t do it.

The marketing lesson businesses can learn from Ralphie is much more subtle: don’t make everything you do seem like a sale. Throughout the holiday season, Ralphie drinks Ovaltine after Ovaltine in order to receive his Orphan Annie Secret Society decoder pin in the mail. After finally getting the pin, Ralphie is disappointed when the first message he decodes is just a commercial, “Be Sure To Drink Your Ovaltine!”

Look, it’s 2023. Consumers are smart, and they don’t appreciate obvious and obnoxious marketing ploys. By all means, create engaging content, be social, and connect to your customers by email – just do it in such a way that doesn’t disrupt them and, hopefully, offers them value.

Ralphie’s Ovaltine experience from the classic holiday movie “A Christmas Story” serves as a timeless reminder for businesses: the most effective marketing doesn’t feel like marketing at all. By adopting a customer-centric, value-driven, and respectful approach to marketing, businesses can build stronger relationships with their audience and ultimately achieve greater success in the digital age.

From The Grinch: Compassion and Empathy Work Wonders

If you’ve seen How the Grinch Stole Christmas, then you know The Grinch is as unsavory and unlikeable as The Wet Bandits. But unlike the burglars from Home Alone, The Grinch has an actual heart, and when it comes down to it, he’s not an evil being.

Despite the fact that The Grinch steals Christmas from Whoville, at the end of the movie, the Whos invite The Grinch to sit at their table and feast with them. Why? Because they are compassionate and empathetic people, they realize The Grinch, simply because he was self-conscious about how he was different from those around him, was just sad and lonely.

The lesson here for marketers is that compassion and empathy work wonders. During the process of getting to know your target audience and potential customers, make sure you delve into their human elements. What makes the humans that use your products and services tick? What do they worry about? Show compassion and empathy in how you deal with your customers, and you will notice a big difference in your business.

Incorporating compassion and empathy into your marketing strategy isn’t just about making sales; it’s about building lasting relationships with your customers. When people feel understood, valued, and cared for, they are more likely to become brand advocates and loyal supporters. In the end, it’s not just about what you sell but also how you make your customers feel that can make all the difference in your business’s success.

From Ebenezer Scrooge: Happiness is Currency, Too

There are a great many lessons in Charles Dickens’ classic work, A Christmas Carol. The story itself is a series of lessons taught to and eventually learned by one Ebenezer Scrooge. The lesson I find applies very much to both business and life is Scrooge’s failure to realize happiness is a kind of currency.

The fact that Scrooge cares only about money and shuns everything else in life, including and especially Christmas, is the focal point of any mention of A Christmas Carol. But it’s Scrooge’s loss of the ability to see happiness as a currency that is the catalyst for his miserable life.

The scene in which The Ghost of Christmas Past transports Ebenezer to a holiday celebration hosted by his merry and merry boss, Mr. Fezziwig, is one that marketers can learn from. Old Scrooge watches Young Scrooge enjoy himself at the party, even dancing with Belle, the woman he gets engaged to but never marries. Old Scrooge, watching his younger self in a truly happy state, comments on the kind-hearted nature of Mr. Fezziwig in a seemingly positive manner – a stark contrast to his own nature.

The main lesson to learn from Ebenezer Scrooge is one we’ve talked about before: the domino effect of a great customer experience. In order to keep its brand promise and deliver a great experience, a business must treat its employees the way it wants its employees to treat customers. When employees feel valued, respected, and appreciated by their employer, they are more likely to extend those same positive feelings and behaviors to the customers they serve. In contrast, when employees are unhappy, disengaged, or mistreated, it can lead to a negative chain reaction that impacts the customer experience. 

And the main currency that drives and balances this customer experience equation? You guessed it: happiness. Happiness, then, becomes the central currency that drives and balances this customer experience equation. It is a two-way street: happy employees are more likely to create happy customers, and happy customers, in turn, are more likely to remain loyal, refer others, and contribute positively to a company’s reputation and bottom line.

Final Thoughts: Marketing Lessons We Learned from Classic Holiday Characters

We’ve journeyed through the timeless stories of classic holiday characters and uncovered some invaluable marketing lessons. These iconic figures have not only warmed our hearts but also illuminated the path to marketing success.

Incorporate these lessons into your marketing strategy, and you’ll be well on your way to spreading holiday cheer – and business success – all year round. Just as these beloved characters have left an indelible mark on our hearts, your brand can leave a lasting impression in the minds of your audience. So, as you embark on your marketing journey, remember the wisdom of these classic holiday icons and let their marketing lessons guide you toward a prosperous and joyful future.

About the Author

Rick spent 20 years in the insurance industry in finance, primarily developing reporting platforms for B & C stakeholders.   His ability to speak to consumers of data (managers and analysts) and translate their needs to programmers led him to start his own digital marketing agency in 2004 to develop data driven solutions for business owners. 

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