3 Marketing Lessons from Classic Holiday Films

Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for old movies. Even when the dialogues reach absurd levels of cheesiness and the plot lines are tied up nicely in completely irrational (albeit feel-good) bows, I can’t help watching them over and over again. Furthermore, I’m currently in the middle of a full-on holiday movie binge — yes, perhaps to the point of slightly losing my grasp on reality. The ‘feel-good’ has taken over. You’ve been warned.

But even through my fog of holiday cheer, I’ve started to pick up on some consistent messages throughout these films — ones that are extremely relevant to today’s marketers, particularly in this season where commercialism and goodwill are closely intertwined. Let’s take a look.

Miracle on 34th Street: Be ‘the helpful store.’


When the department store’s hired Santa Claus starts advising customers to go to other stores where they can get the toys Macy’s doesn’t stock (“the only important thing is to make the children happy”), Mr. Macy calls an emergency staff meeting and hits the nail on the head — about 65 years ahead of his time:

Gentlemen, you cannot argue with success. Look at this: telegrams, messages, telephone calls. The governor’s wife, the mayor’s wife, over-thankful parents—expressing undying gratitude to Macy’s. Never in my entire career have I seen such a tremendous and immediate response to a merchandising policy. And I’m positive, if we expand our policy, we’ll expand our results as well. Therefore, from now on not only will our Santa Claus continue in this manner, but I want every salesperson in this store to do precisely the same thing. If we haven’t got exactly what the customer wants, we’ll send him where he can get it. No high pressuring and forcing a customer to take something he doesn’t really want. We’ll be known as the helpful store, the store with a heart, the store that places public service ahead of profits. And, consequently, we’ll make more profits than ever before.

Marketing lesson: It’s no secret anymore: helpful brands win. Helpful business practices breed lifelong customers, and lifelong customers breed sustainable revenue growth and brand advocacy. Throughout your sales cycle, with your marketing messages, content, and customer interactions, make sure you’re being helpful and assisting your prospects and clients in solving problems.

White Christmas: Give your audience a cause to rally around.


Everyone loves a business with a charitable side. In this holiday classic, two successful television producers discover that their old army general has fallen on hard times after purchasing a resort that’s receiving no visitors (ski resort, no snow…you start to understand the title). They decide to perform a live version of their show at the lodge, and make a televised appeal to all the veterans in their division to show up and surprise the General — assuring viewers that the show will not profit from the performance, and resulting in a packed house for the lodge.

Marketing lesson: Don’t be afraid to show off your human side! Particularly at this time of year, few marketing messages are going to resonate as deeply as one with a cause. Show your customers that you care about doing good with your brand, and they’ll feel good about buying from your brand.

It’s a Wonderful Life: Have your customers’ backs…and they may return the favor.

its a wonderful life

It’s a classic source (and one of my absolute favorite sources) of inspiration: a story about a man who falls into crisis and loses perspective, only to realize just how much the small acts of kindness in his life have impacted the world around him. After starting an affordable housing project in his community, George misplaces a large sum of the business’ funds— a mistake that will both throw him into bankruptcy and land him in jail. But when the community learns of his predicament, they rally around him, and all of the people he’s helped over the years show up to contribute to his cause.

Marketing lesson: Be good to your customers, and they’ll be good to you. Listen to their problems, offer solutions, and show them your gratitude for their business. You never know how they might reward you: with their continued business, by recommending you to a friend, or even by stepping in and defending your brand in the face of criticism.

Want to read more about customer-centric (or, let’s be honest, ‘feel-good’) marketing? Check out our free eBook, 20 Tips for the Customer-Centric Marketer. And a very happy holiday season from all of us at Pardot!

customer centric marketing