5 Hidden Lessons for Marketers from Holiday Movies

December 10, 2015

Classic holiday films, such as “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” contain many lessons. These films deliver the morals of the season, such as the transformative power of giving and goodwill toward man. But there are also heart-warming lessons for marketers lurking beneath the surface of these films and other holiday classics. You just have to know where to look.

“A Christmas Story”

Arguably the greatest of all holiday movies, “A Christmas Story” follows the misadventures of young Ralphie and his friends during the holiday season in a mid-20th century Midwestern town. One of Ralphie’s friends, Flick, learns the hard way that you shouldn’t lick a frozen flagpole, because your tongue will stick to it. After another friend “triple dog dares” him to place his tongue on the flagpole, Flick could not back down without losing face on the playground. When Flick’s tongue does indeed stick to the flagpole, he learns a painful lesson that peer pressure can be a powerful and destructive thing.

The lesson here for marketers: Don’t succumb to peer pressure, and don’t do something just because other marketers are doing it. Every business – and every industry – is different, and marketers should focus on what delivers the best results for their company.

  • Christmas Story


The character of Buddy, a human raised as an elf, is the role Will Ferrell was born to play. The main plot of this comedy follows Buddy as he makes the jarring discovery that he’s not an elf, journeys from the North Pole to find his real father in New York City, and ultimately saves Christmas. The lesson for marketers, however, lives in the subplot about Buddy’s father, who is an embattled children’s book editor, looking for his next hit book. It turns out that the story he needs was right under his nose the whole time: It’s the story of Buddy.

The takeaway for marketers is that your company’s story – the one with the emotional impact to sway your prospects to become customers – may be hiding in plain sight.

  • Elf

“It’s a Wonderful Life”

Due to a clerical error in 1974, “It’s a Wonderful Life” saw its copyright lapse and became part of the public domain – which is why it seemed to be on television every day during the holiday season during the 1980s. And which is one lesson from the film for marketers: Do your paperwork. But the film itself also carries another message for marketers. The film’s plot follows George Bailey, played by the great Jimmy Stewart, who reaches a crisis point when, through no fault of his own, faces financial ruin. The crisis is averted when all of the people he has helped in his life come through to cover the shortfall. Clarence, the angel who shows Bailey all the good he has done in the world, delivers the film’s moral: “No main is a failure who has friends.”

For marketers, the lesson is only slightly different: “No blog is a failure that has friends.” Marketers should focus on building their blog’s subscriber base – that is, friends of the blog. Additionally, industry “friends” can contribute guest posts, which will expand the reach of your wonderful blog.

  • It's a Wonderful Life

“A Christmas Carol”

In the 1951 version of this Christmas perennial, Scrooge is played by Alastair Sim who is the Ebenezer prototype for all the actors who have followed in the role. Everyone knows the story of Charles Dickens’ classic: Scrooge is a miser who loves money over all else and believes the holiday spirit is so much humbug. It takes four ghosts – the specter of his dead partner Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come – to shock Scrooge into changing his ways.

Here’s where the lesson for marketers appears. You would think it would only take one ghostly visitor for Scrooge (or anyone else) to change his ways, but Scrooge is a hard case. So are many of your prospects. Marketers must embrace frequency. Ghosts or not ghosts, it takes more than one impression for a marketing message to sink in with your audience.

  • A Christmas Carol

“The Polar Express”

“The Polar Express” was a perfect children’s book before it became a pretty good movie. The film relates the story of a young boy who travels on a magical train to the North Pole, where he’s lucky enough to meet Santa Claus and travel back home with a bell from the jolly old elf’s sleigh. On Christmas morning, it turns out that only true believers can hear the bell’s sweet chimes.

The lesson here for marketers, especially B2B marketers, is don’t broadcast your message to the masses. A recent survey revealed that 41% of overall respondents say they would consider ending a brand relationship because of irrelevant promotions, and an additional 22% say they would definitely defect from the brand. The message to marketers is clear: Only put your content in front of the audiences that will hear it, truly hear it – the ones who will be open to your message in the first place.

  • The Polar Bear Express

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