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3 Lessons Marketers Can Learn from Vintage Holiday Ads

Marketing has changed a lot since the first print ads appeared in American newspapers in the early 1700s. Gone are the days of catchy jingles and text-heavy magazine ads, but that doesn’t mean modern marketers can’t learn from great advertising of the past—especially when it comes to the holidays.

From candy hearts to Black Friday doorbusters, there’s much to be admired—and perhaps sometimes reviled—about the evolution of holiday marketing. But whether you roll your eyes or shed a sentimental tear when you see a holiday commercial (I admit I do the latter), you can still learn some important marketing lessons from advertisements throughout the ages. Let’s take a look at a few of my favorites.

1. Marketing can change a culture.

1937 Coca-Cola Christmas Ad with Santa Claus

You’ve probably heard that Coca-Cola invented the modern day Santa Claus. Now, that’s not strictly true—the image of Santa as a jolly man in a red suit existed long before the advent of Coke’s iconic Christmas ads in the 1930s—but there’s no doubt that Coca-Cola cemented this image in American culture.

Here’s an illustration of old Saint Nick before Coke gave him a permanent makeover:

Victorian Vintage Santa Claus

He sort of looks like the Kris Kringle we know and love, but he’s not plump with a little round belly, and he probably doesn’t shake when he laughs like a bowl full of jelly.

What can B2B marketers learn from Coke’s Santa success? I’m not suggesting you create a mascot for your commercial grade ovens or your consulting services, but it just goes to show that a solid marketing campaign can reposition an image, a product, or a company in the minds of an entire culture.

2. Offer something special.

Vintage 1920 New Year Wilson's Bacon Ad

You don’t have to reinvent an iconic figure to have an impact. Sometimes simply offering a freebie is enough to stand out. This New Year-themed Wilson’s bacon ad from 1920 offers a free, branded book to its customers. I’m willing to bet Wilson & Co. wasn’t dripping weekly snail mail to their customers’ homes, but they certainly realized the benefits of direct mail campaigns.

Fortunately it’s easy to emulate Wilson & Co. without printing thousands of paperbacks, and with marketing automation, it’s much easier to track ROI. These days, online freebies are the perfect lead gen opportunity. Digital marketers can offer free downloads of eBooks and other goodies in exchange for an email address, and prospects can be added to lead nurturing campaigns so your company stays top-of-mind. (Now if only we could figure out how to send piping hot bacon via email.)

3. Tell a story that elicits emotions.

This 1993 Hanukkah spot from Hallmark may not quite qualify as vintage, but it’s too good not to include. What makes it so poignant is that it manages to tell an emotional story with a beginning, a middle, and a pleasantly surprising end. This ad shows the benefit of a Hallmark card, but Hallmark isn’t the hero here—the customer is. 

Think your marketing can’t evoke emotion because your company is B2B? Think again. Take this commercial from GE, which tells the story of a woman’s job through the eyes of her young daughter. Even if you’re an SMB with a budget that doesn’t exactly allow for national TV spots, you can still take a page from Hallmark’s and GE’s books by using content marketing to tell compelling stories surrounding your brand. Both these commercials are well-crafted reminders that the stories you tell aren’t really about your company; they’re about what you can do for your customers.

On the surface, marketing looks completely different than it did 100 years ago, but the basic elements remain the same. Marketing is powerful; it can create relationships, tell meaningful stories, and even change the way people look at the world. For more tips on creating impactful marketing content, download our free Content Creation Guide. Then let us know: what classic ads, holiday-themed or otherwise, have inspired you in your marketing career? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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