The Most Famous Reindeer of All Originated as a Piece of Content Marketing
The Origins of Rudolph, and Marketers Share Their Favorite Holiday Songs
December 19, 2016
Yes, Virginia, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” — the song, the holiday special, and all that goes with them — originally began as a piece of content marketing. Seriously.
Here’s the story.
Montgomery Ward, a Chicago-based department store, used to give away coloring books as a Christmas promotion. The company believed it could save money by creating its own coloring book. In 1939, Montgomery Ward assigned copywriter Robert Lewis May to create an original tale for a coloring book.
The result was “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” a poem written about a little reindeer shunned because of his glowing red nose — until, of course, that same nose guides Santa’s sleigh through a foggy night.
The book was a hit: Montgomery Ward distributed 2.4 million copies in its first year. The tale of Rudolph had legs. In 1948, Lewis’ brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, turned the tale into the song, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which became a hit (and a classic) for Gene Autry. Marks also composed the score for the Rankin/Bass Christmas special about Rudolph as well as “Run Rudolph Run” for Chuck Berry.
The story of Rudolph’s origin should be inspirational to any content marketer. It’s a tale that proves the power of a good story to create long-term connections.
We asked some of our favorite content marketers to share the holiday song that connects them most closely to the season. Read on for their favorites.
Matt Heinz, President, Heinz Marketing
I’m a huge fan of Christmas music. I usually start listening in late October (to myself, usually on planes, so I don’t annoy others too much at that point in the fall). And I legitimately have a playlist in iTunes called “Sappy Christmas.” It’s a bunch of great original and cover music (some classic, some contemporary songs) that get me in the holiday spirit. “Our Prayer” by Wilson Philips is just a few years old, and it’s a short piece, but it’s just the three sisters doing a cappella. They are supremely talented vocalists, and this strips down to just them – no instruments, no drums, probably a little auto-tune, but that’s okay.
Ashley Zeckman, Director of Agency Marketing, TopRank Marketing
Ok, please don't laugh. My favorite Christmas song is, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.” And the why is much more important than the actual song. In the movie “Home Alone” (have you heard of it?), Kevin McCallister fools the dim-witted robbers into believing there is a hopping Christmas party going on in his empty house by using a life-size cutout of Michael Jordan, numerous hand props and that song. Every time I hear "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," I think of that scene and the child (and adult) in me smiles.
Meagen Eisenberg, CMO, MongoDB
My pick would be "I Believe in Santa Claus" from Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. My mother used to play the album and this song in particular to wake us up Christmas morning. And now I do it for my own girls. It makes me happy every time I hear it.
Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder, Orbit Media Studios
“Fairy Tale of New York,” by the Pogues. An Irish drinking Christmas song? It's a winner. It's a classic. From the opening lines "It was Christmas Eve in the drunk tank" to the final chorus, this one has it all. So pour a Guinness and spill it on a close relative while swaying and singing at the top of your lungs.
Jane Fleming, Digital Marcoms Manager, LinkedIn
My Christmas song has to be “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. It may be about lost youth and broken dreams but somehow it's become the Christmas song for me. Once you hear it played, you always know the festive season is nigh. It's just not Christmas until you hear everyone roaring "The boys of the NYPD choir still singing ‘Galway Bay’..." at the top of their lungs.
Jason Miller, Group Manager, LinkedIn
Twisted Sister, “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” Because there are clearly not enough heavy metal Christmas songs, and Twisted Sister did a brilliant job reworking this classic to the tune of the first record I ever bought, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Speaking of Twisted Sister, have you listened to my latest Sophisticated Marketer's Podcast interview with founding member Jay Jay French? Don’t miss these heavy metal marketing lessons folks.
Heidi Cohen, Chief Content Officer, Actionable Marketing Guide
While we didn’t celebrate Christmas, my mother took us to see a local production of the Nutcracker when we were young. To my mom, it was classical music and dance her children would enjoy. Hearing The Nutcracker music during the holidays brings back memories collected over time:
- Fidgeting through my sister’s second grade dance recital of The Nutcracker, I still remember her Chinese hat falling off.
- Sitting amidst college students in a cheap nose-bleed seat at the Opera Garnier in Paris, I was blown away by the amazing costumes.
- Almost missing the early 6:00pm children-friendly start of The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, a friend and I were as awestruck as the kids when the sleigh descended from the sky.
- Joining my parents, my husband and I loved Mark Morris’s “The Hard Nut,” a modern interpretation of the Nutcracker.
One more thing: As a chick-flick fan, I’m a sap for the scene in "Love Actually" of Hugh Grant singing “Good King Wenceslas” to three gleeful little girls in his quest to find Natalie.
Sean Callahan, Senior Manager, Content Marketing, LinkedIn
My favorite holiday song is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by the Pretenders. Chrissie Hynde is one of my favorite singers, and her phrasing on this song is impeccable. Her take on the lines “Through the years we all will be together/If the fates allow” will break your heart.
Marine Lucas, Senior Marketing Manager, France, LinkedIn
I would have said Handel’s “Messiah,” but who am I kidding? My favorite holiday song is “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey. It also brings to mind one of the greatest romantic movies ever, “Love Actually,” where the song is performed in a memorable scene (which you can see below). It is definitely a song to fall in love with… Christmas.
Christina O’Connor, Associate Marketing Manager, LinkedIn
Every time I hear “Last Christmas” by Wham!, this song it makes me happy and instantly gets me into the festive spirit. I decorate our family Christmas tree with my dad every year and this is always the first song I play. I love the music video too! It is so cheesy and over the top. George Michael at his best.
Randy Frisch, COO, Uberflip
Perhaps you can think of me as the jealous Jewish boy who secretly wanted a connection with Santa. Problem was although I got eight days of presents and lights (yes fun), Chanukah never went mainstream .... until Adam Sandler brought us the The Chanukah Song. The good news is nowadays I get to live the real Christmas experience, too, as we fully embrace the holiday spirit here at Uberflip. From our holiday festivities to fun marketing campaigns pulling in some music and tales like the one on Day 12 of our Holiday Hub.
Steve Kearns, Social Media and Content Marketing Coordinator, LinkedIn
“Silver Bells,” by Bing Crosby. I grew up in a town right outside of New York City where the holidays were a pretty big deal. Every year, my mom would take me into Manhattan to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Sometimes we’d even go shopping for presents in the city, too. Every time I hear this timeless song on the radio, I remember how excited I was to celebrate the holidays with my loved ones among the lights of the big city.