Now that your halls are decked with boughs of holly and you've reached the recommended levels of being jolly, ‘tis also the season for your cash registers to sing—by golly. If your register's humming a melancholy tune this holiday season, don't huff. Pour yourself some mulled wine and visions of sugarplums will dance in your head soon enough. Here are a few tales of yore to warm your heart—and some hints, clues and holiday magic to set your business apart.
Truth: Coca-Cola Santa Claus
The holidays have always been filled with as many misers as there are jolly ol' souls, think the Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge for instance, the perpetrators of this particular tale would definitely fall into the former category. It is believed by some that the modern-day version of Santa Claus we're all accustomed to, is nothing more than a marketing ploy by Coca-Cola. In fact, these holiday humbugs even believe Coke's corporate colors of red and white were created to be part of St. Nick's traditional uniform.
Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth. The first Coke advertisement with the image of the current Santa Claus first appeared in 1931. However, the first images of Santa Claus (certainly a derivation of St. Nicholas and other myths) with a full white beard, red suit and full cheeks appeared as early as 1906. Sometime in the 1920s, pictures of Santa Claus that share a remarkable resemblance to today's Big Red Guy were already wildly circulated. It's obviously a nice problem for Coca-Cola to have when your brand is so indelibly linked to one of the most beloved characters in pop culture that the comparison is made. Oh, and it also happens to be a reminder of one of the most joyous times of the year. (Cue pop and fizz of a soda can opening.)
Consequence: Put Santa to Work for You
Generating repeat holiday business from your existing customers is a major key to success. Use the ruse of reindeer and red-clad ringleaders to lure them back over and over again during the holiday season. Secret Santa specials featuring secret sales, sneak previews and free shipping are all great ways to entice your best customers in from the icy weather. They'll appreciate the sentiment and know how much their business actually means to you.
Truth: Montgomery Ward Rudolph
Back in the ‘30s, Montgomery Ward gave away coloring books to children every Christmas. As generous as the gift was, it was affecting their bottom line. An executive had an idea to create a lovable holiday character loosely based on Ferdinand the Bull. And to be honest, creating their own book was a way for them to save money, too. Robert L. May, an employee of the store created Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer over the next calendar year in time for Christmas. He did it in the form of a song, the book was just a fringe benefit. Montgomery Ward distributed 2.4 million copies that Christmas and the rest went down in history.
A few misconceptions related to reindeer and Rudolph still persist. Although May's wife tragically died of cancer during the creation of the beloved reindeer, May's daughter's sadness was not the inspiration for the tale (as circulated on the Internet). Although his daughter was one of the story's first critics, May was commissioned for the role long before his wife died. And, it is true that two of Santa's reindeer are indeed named Dunder and Blixem, as stated in earlier versions of the poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” but over the years their names have been changed to a more commonly acceptable Donner and Blitzen. Impress your friends at the holiday party with that one.
Consequence: Host a Holiday House
Take a cue from Montgomery Ward and make the holidays your own. Plan a holiday-house event in mid-November. Create an open house for your best customers to showcase what your store or business will be doing for the holiday season. Show off your menu if you're a restaurant or your merchandise if you're a store. Offer free eggnog and cider, and maybe even have the local high school's glee club sing carols. Be sure to throw in a special offer that can be redeemed anytime during the holiday season.
Truth: Christmas Card Origins
Holiday cards as we now recognize them began in Victorian-era England, but the thought behind the holiday card predates even that. Engravers produced prints from wood with religious themes way back in the Middle Ages. However, the first commercially created holiday card was printed in London in 1843. Sir Henry Cole, the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, commissioned a local painter to create them. Cole suggested a specially designed Christmas greeting to send to all of his friends. Anyone who's fretted over what to write in his or her holiday letter now knows whom to blame.
A limited edition of 1,000 cards were printed and placed on sale. That was the beginning of the long-standing tradition. But bear in mind, change is never greeted with open arms from everyone. The temperance league bah-humbugged their use, fearing the cards would encourage drunkenness.
Consequence: 12 Days of Holiday Products
Take your cue from long-ago Englanders and create some holiday buzz around your store with the 12 days of holiday products. Market a product or service every day during the holidays, counting down to Christmas Eve. Be sure to highlight tried-and-true products, as well as newer items customers might not know about. Remember, it's all about generating buzz. If you really want to dazzle, tie your product list into your own version of the famous song. Don't forget to get the word out about your themed promotion on your website, social media, posters and flyers.
Truth: Woolworth Christmas Pickle
Last and most certainly least, the tradition of the Christmas Pickle is one of the strangest Christmas customs we've ever come across. And the best part, no one really knows how or why it exists at all. One thing is for sure, there seems to be a single culprit that brought the tradition stateside. In the 1880s, the Woolworth stores sold glass ornaments from Germany featuring various shapes of fruits and vegetables—and a pickle happened to be among the choices.
Right around this time, rumors started circulating that the Christmas Pickle was an old German tradition. It was said that the pickle ornament was the last to be hung on the tree and the child that found it got an extra present. This of course, is nothing but bunk. After all, we're talking about a pickle here. However, that didn't stop Woolworth's from selling them.
Consequence: Create Your Unique Stamp
If a holiday pickle can leave its mark on the culture, imagine what other harebrained marketing gimmicks are left to be mined—the Hanukkah pet rock, anyone? The point is, never let your creativity be diminished by the outrageousness of the idea. After all, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” somehow became an enduring holiday hit, despite its rather odd subject matter.
If you ever have doubts about your business during the holiday season again—reread this list. Some outlandish marketing ideas are now some of our most beloved traditions. Some of them are permanently linked with cultural icons. And some of them are just so plain crazy, they couldn't help but work. Remember a few of these notions during your holiday season and you'll be sure to be singing “Joy to the World” in no time.