Hallmark holiday movies are the best. There is no better way to get into the holiday spirit every December 1 than to mix up a crockpot of homemade Gluhwein, start a fire, and decorate for Christmas with the sweet sights and sounds of Hallmark holiday bliss on the telly. Stop, don’t go – I know I’m not alone here, and Hallmark’s holiday movie ratings prove it…
That’s right. Keep reading.
We all have our guilty holiday pleasures. And for pros in the marketing industry there are many valuable lessons to be learned from those cheesy Hallmark Christmas flicks. So grab a glass of that Gluhwein or some noggy and I’ll share…
Wait, Haven’t I Seen This Before?
We all know 99% of Hallmark holiday movies are cheesy romantic chick flicks (tastefully appropriate for the whole family, of course) where the female winds up falling love and getting swept off her feet, whether she meant to or not. Of course, the time of year is always Christmas, and the setting of these flicks is usually something like “A Christmas-Obsessed Small Town.” How different can one Christmas-obsessed-small-town be from another? They can’t, they’re all the same. The same good, clean Christmas fun happens in these movies too – same, same, samey, same Americana Christmas. Hallmark holiday movies are proof that the message can stay the same, as long as the delivery changes a little.
I know what you’re thinking – “Good for Hallmark! But if my content stays the same everyone will laugh at me!” Well, not if you do it right, pal. Think about your most basic, fundamental content, the “really good” stuff you put together that you especially want new members to your audience and prospects to see. The posts where you share testimonials, client results, your brand, your company mission, etc. If you are starting from scratch every time you write these, then you’re wasting a lot of time, my friend.
Don’t be afraid to up-cycle content you’ve shared in the past, because as your audience grows there are plenty of fresh eyes to see it! And for those veteran followers – if they’re still hanging around I guarantee they won’t mind. So give a “really good” old blog post a facelift – change out the graphics, create a new graphic, or change the way you’re sharing it. A blog post can re-purposed for a Facebook ad campaign, a photo gallery on your site, a downloadable infographic, etc. Hey it works for Hallmark, and I’m pretty sure the only thing that changes in Hallmark movies is people’s names.
Top Left: She fell in love with an elf; Top Right: She got caught under the mistletoe with Santa; Bottom Left: She bagged herself a Prince; Bottom Right: She’s getting married to…Joey Lawrence(?!?)…they can’t all be winners.
Hallmark produces more than 20 brand new holiday films every year. Hallmark. The same company with storefronts that make their day selling chocolates with the little white beads on top to your grandma. Some Hallmark holiday movies cost less than my salary in highschool working at Cinnabon. So not very much. The fact that these films are so low budget may be part of the reason they all use the same script, but that doesn’t stop them from being successful.
The marketing lesson? Do not let a small budget convince you that you can’t be successful. Get creative. You can pull off a basic, targeted, digital ad campaign for less than $20. You can build your following on Instagram using the thumbs already attached to your hands, and some strategic thinking (which is free). Putting your expert thoughts in a blog post doesn’t cost anything, and neither does hitting the “Publish” button. Elbow grease is free, and so is hustle. So budget for some coffee and get to work.
One of these Hallmark holiday movies had a seven figure budget, the other had a five figure budget, and no one could tell the difference!
It’s All Relative
I was cruising around the interwebs the other day and noticed some side bar ads for Hallmark holiday video collections in my browser. Typical cookies – advertising something I’ve been searching often (for this article, not for purchasing, of course…ahem). One sidebar rectangle advertised the ‘Holiday Romance Pack’ of four movies for $16.99, the other was trying to sell me the ‘Faith and Family Collection,’ also four movies, for $21.73. I know, right? Those sneaky so-and-so’s! Basically identical products – four Hallmark holiday movies in one package – and one was five bucks cheaper than the other! But it’s not really sneaky. It’s actually Hallmark knowing its audience, and pricing products accordingly. Do some research on your target audience, and get to know its demographics and psychographics. Pricing can change as audience segments shift, and that’s just the way it is.
I’ve Seen This Before…But It Wasn’t Christmas
How many Hallmark holiday movies have I seen, and how many of them have I had to pause so I could contemplate whether I’d seen the movie before. The answer is usually no, I haven’t seen it. I think what happens is that I’ve most likely seen the movie that inspired the Hallmark movie I’m guiltlessly watching at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday. Case in point: Hallmark’s The Mistletoe Promise – If Pretty Woman and The Wedding Date had a Christmas baby she would be named The Mistletoe Promise. I would bet money The Mistletoe Promise was inspired by these two big screen blockbusters, which teaches us that inspiration can be found anywhere! As long as you’re not plagiarizing, it’s ok to take a great idea or concept that you see and turn it into something that fits your brand and message.
It’s a Girl! Meet little Mistletoe Promise!
Crunchy Christmas with Hallmark
Well, well, well, it seems Hallmark is trying to appeal to the crunchy-vibed among us. The brand announced earlier this year it has entered into a multi-year partnership with the National Parks Foundation to “enrich, support, and grow awareness of the country’s extensive system of national parks.” To contribute its sizable holiday following to this effort Hallmark will host the “National Christmas Tree Lighting” held annually in Washington D.C. at President’s Park, and will be the exclusive television home of the event. Notably one of the nation’s oldest and most revered holiday tree lighting traditions, a tip of the cap is due to ol’ Hallmark for showing us two really old things can come together and create something fresh…and that an entity seemingly stuck in its own Groundhog Day can shake loose to appeal to new audiences, while also sharing a worthwhile and positive message. The millennials you seek will like this, Hallmark.
Say it with me: “Ooooh, Aaaah!”
Photo credit: 2015 National Christmas Tree Lighting at President’s Park/Paul Morigi for the National Park Foundation
Movies Equal Ornaments
July in North America is exactly the opposite of Christmas. So what did the Hallmark brass do? Well, they decided that during this summer “slow time” for their TV network and stores they would inject some holiday spirit to coincide with the annual launch of their ornaments (which have always launched in July). They cleverly dubbed the new promo “Christmas in July,” designed a catchy ad campaign, scheduled a 10-day run of the very best-rated Christmas movies of all time, filmed a brand new original holiday movie to premiere in July, and made an overall spectacle of ornament launch day in their nationwide fleet of brick and mortar stores. And they killed it! Hallmark used the success of its holiday movies to capitalize on advertising dollars and ratings for the network during its off-season.The company also succeeded in attracting flocks of new ornament collectors to stores (customers for life!); and probably earned a few more nickels on those bead-covered chocolates.
The lesson? Strategically plan a promo for down time in your business. Think of a successful promotion you have run for your business in the past. How can you repackage it to be relevant at a different time of year, or to be attractive to a new audience segment? With ‘Christmas in July’ Hallmark capitalized on an audience it already had, with a product its audience already liked. The only thing different? The word at the top of the calendar.
Hallmark starts building anticipation for the holiday season with the release of its annual Dream Book in April to showcase its collection of ornaments for that year…so that you know well in advance where to find that Clark Griswold adornment for your tree.
Don’t Hate the Players…Or the Game
Hallmark is not without its holiday-time competitors in the movie marketplace. Lifetime, Ion, and Freeform (or, the network formerly known as ABC Family) are main competition for viewers and ratings. While Lifetime and Ion are not even in the same stratosphere, both with quality of movie, and number of movies aired, Freeform is definitely in the same league. The networks appeal to the same broad down-home, good clean fun-loving audience. However, they each have a different strategy, with Freeform airing mainstream holiday favorites like Elf and Home Alone, in addition to independent films, versus Hallmark relying only on its juggernaut of independent movies to attract viewers.
The good news for both networks: It’s working! Whatever you’re doing, it’s working. The lesson? Competition is not something to be afraid of – it simply means there is demand for your product. Be true to yourself, find your voice, and blast it to your target audience. Don’t worry about the competition. Focus on you…Unless you’re one of the networks being left in the dust. Yeah, I’m looking at you Lifetime. Step ya game up!
Hanukkah is Still A Thing, Right?
We can take a lesson from something Hallmark doesn’t do well in appealing to a potential audience too. There is exactly one…ONE…Hallmark movie with Hanukkah as a focus – and that’s only because the “she” is Jewish, and the “he” celebrates Christmas in this star-crossed love story. It’s not that surprising, considering introducing a whole new religion into the mix would require a major overhaul to the script template. But, c’mon man! We’re well into the millennium.
In case you were wondering, even though I’m sure you weren’t, there are also zero Hallmark Kwanzaa, Eid Al-Fitr, or Diwali movies. The one and only religious holiday observed and recognized by Hallmark in its movies is…Christmas! Just to put into perspective exactly how big an audience Hallmark is potentially missing…around 6 million Americans observe Eid Al-Fitr, nearly 3 million Americans celebrate Diwali in the US, and almost 9 million Americans celebrate Hanukkah every year. To bring the perspective-sharing full circle, the overwhelming majority of Americans celebrate Christmas – 90%, in fact – but surely the millions who recognize a different celebration-maker throughout the winter months deserve a little Hallmark movie magic, too? I will say there are some seriously tasty-looking recipes for latkes on the Hallmark website – it’s not a movie, but it’s something!
In spite of their alarming corniness and unapologetic predictability Hallmark Holiday movies, and the marketing plan behind them, are a surprising source for strategic direction that can be replicated to scale by just about any business. So take an idea or two that inspired you and get to work!
If you squint some of these actors look like actual celebrities you’ve seen in real movies.
Oh, and a Happy Chrismahanakwanzawaleid!