We’re smack in the middle of the Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa seasons, and holiday movies are filling our TVs and Netflix queues. We all have our favorites, but there are some holiday movies that can be especially inspiring and motivating to marketers.
So fire up your Netflix and Hulu apps, pop some popcorn in the office microwave, and tell your boss you’re doing some “marketing research” for a couple hours. Here are five holiday movies that have important lessons to teach marketers everywhere.
1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Clark Griswold just wants a fun, old-fashioned family Christmas, even if it means having parents and cousins in the house. And he’s waiting for his annual bonus check to arrive — the same one he’s gotten for 17 years — because he’s buying an in-ground pool for the family.
But when this year’s bonus turns out to be a membership in the Jelly Of The Month Club, Clark loses his mind, spouts off about his boss, and Cousin Eddie kidnaps Mr. Shirley and brings him to Clark’s house, where Mr. Shirley learns that while decisions may look good on paper, they don’t mean much if they hurt people. Mr. Shirley reinstates the bonuses, and the day is saved.
Lesson learned? Be good to your employees, be clear in your communication, and don’t squander your employees’ morale just to save a buck. Your staff will work for you and do what they need to, as long as you recognize and reward their efforts.
2. A Christmas Story
What’s the name of the gun Ralph wanted? We all know it by heart. We heard it over and over.
“I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time!” (A watch, Ralph. The thing that tells time is a watch.)
And despite repeated warnings about shooting his eye out, Ralph was undeterred. He told his parents. He wrote it in a theme. He even asked Santa Claus. And just when all seemed lost, and the best he was going to get was a giant pink bunny suit, the Old Man came through and gave him what he wanted.
Of course, he did almost shoot his eye out.
Lesson learned? Branding may be important, but repetition is key. You have to repeat a message over and over and over before it will stick. In marketing, this is called The Rule of 7, and it refers to the number of times a customer needs to see a message before they buy. The number is in some dispute now, but it has only gone up, not down. Just remember, repetition is key.
3. Die Hard
There’s a huge debate on social media about whether this is a Christmas movie or not. It takes place during Christmas, and the hostages are captured during Nakatomi Corporation’s annual Christmas party. John McLean even writes “Ho Ho Ho” on a dead guy’s shirt and puts him in a Santa hat, but sure, whatever, this isn’t a Christmas movie.
Impeccably-dressed Hans Gruber has planned his heist down to the last detail, including the FBI shutting off the power to the entire city block. What he doesn’t plan on is a New York City police officer gumming up the works and bringing down the entire operation. But tank tops and bare feet beat custom suits in the end, and McLean saves the day.
Lesson learned? Every marketing team needs to be agile, in case something goes wrong. Plan for every contingency, plan for every possible failure, but be flexible enough to deal with it.
For example, you can plan and script and schedule a year’s worth of social media updates, but have to scrap the entire year by the second week of January because of some big change to your industry. If you were fluid and flexible, you would instead create editorial guidelines rather than plotting out every single detail. That way, if there’s a hiccup, you can quickly adapt and reorganize.
4. An American Tail
Okay, this is a Hanukkah movie in the same way Die Hard is a Christmas movie. It’s more Hanukkah-adjacent, since the opening scene sees Fievel’s dad, Papa, giving him Fievel’s signature blue hat as a Hanukkah present, which has been in their family for three generations. But the message of family and standing up for the (literal) little guy rings true.
Fievel and his family escape to the United States, although his family believes he died along the way. After a series of adventures, meeting other mice and pigeons, Fievel and his new friends organize to fight the cats. They defeat the cats, using a giant mechanical mouse inspired by tales Papa told Fievel, and the Mousekowitzes are reunited.
Lesson learned? We can get a few lessons from this. First, family is everything. Make sure you spend time with your family. Take some time off during the holidays and enjoy their company. Second, stand up for what you believe in. If your company has guiding principles, don’t sacrifice them. And third, you can’t go it alone. You need a strong support system to achieve your goals, whether that’s a tactical email campaign or a new go-to-market strategy, you need as many people as possible around you to make it work.
5. A Charlie Brown Christmas
It’s Christmas time, and although it’s the season to be jolly, Charlie Brown is anything but. Despondent at the crass commercialism around him, and the way everyone is getting suckered into the pomp and pageantry of the silly season, he just gets more and more depressed.
He tries bigger and better things. He helps his sister write a letter to Santa. He gets roped into directing the Christmas play. And when he runs out of ideas, he buys a Christmas tree.
But rather than buying one of the big, shiny aluminum trees, Charlie Brown buys the saddest, scraggliest tree on the whole lot, and he’s laughed out of the rehearsal space. In the end, his friends realize they’ve been hard on him and they help save the tree and turn it into the best Christmas tree ever.
Lesson learned? There are a lot of religious overtones in this movie, but we’ll avoid all those and just say, “Even in the face of enormous pressure, don’t get swept up in the most popular movements and trends. Stick with what you know, be true to who you are, and fight for the underdog.” This show was an underdog in its own right, but by following its own advice, it has become one of the most endearing and long-lived holiday movies of them all.
What are some of your favorite holiday movies? What kinds of lessons can we learn from them? Share your ideas with us in the comments below. And whatever you’re celebrating, we hope you and your loved ones can make it great.