4 Marketing Lessons Learned from A Christmas Story

CM-Christmas-Story-900x450Ralphie has one goal this Christmas: to get a Red Ryder BB Gun. A Christmas Story highlights the many requests and ultimate success of a child’s holiday wish. This movie is chock full of instantly classic moments: from the triple dog dare that Flick’s tongue would not stick to the light pole to Ralphie shooting his glasses right off his face (after countless warnings that he would “shoot his eye out”). While the movie is most definitely a holiday classic and extremely entertaining, there are a few key takeaways that actually can teach you a little about marketing. Here are 4 marketing lessons that you can learn from A Christmas Story.

Don’t Trick Your Audience

(no matter how young or old)

Little Orphan Annie’s decoder pin! Ralphie was so excited when his package finally came in the mail. However, Little Orphan Annie pulled one over on Ralphie when, after he saved up and sent away for his limited addition decoder pin, what he received was more than disappointing. Ralphie receives his pin in the mail feeling like he is finally a part of this exclusive community, “honors and benefits, already at the age of nine”. He prepares to take part in the secret messages he hears at the end of Annie’s radio adventures! Yet, what he decodes is: “Be Sure to Drink Your Ovaltine!” What was that about? Ralphie was so disappointed with the secret message reveal, that he lost all interest in Little Orphan Annie, her adventures and most definitely her decoder pin.

Now, what marketing tactic could be learned from this epic fail? Ralphie wasn’t interested in being served up an Ovaltine ad rather he wanted to be part of an exclusive community. He felt tricked by advertisers and while it may not have been as creative as our current native advertising, it was most definitely pretty sneaky. However, Ralphie was now lost as a customer. I’m sure he could care less about drinking his Ovaltine and he probably wasn’t going to tune into that radio station again. If they had only been a bit smarter with their messaging, Ralphie would have continued to listen, decode messages and then maybe be served up an ad to drink his Ovaltine. If the decoder ring had followed the simple rule of being authentic, then they would have had the opportunity to keep a customer, which always makes more sense (cents) than losing one. If a customer feels tricked, they will not trust you. “The Brandmentalist” says, “trust is the most valuable currency that never fluctuates in value.”

Speak to Your Audience

Ralphie knows every detail of the Red Ryder story. Every spec of the gun, the bad guy “Black Bart” and his posse, Ralphie even has a nickname for his gun before he gets it. Ralphie has already created his own unique story, much like other kids his age, the Red Ryder audience. The Red Ryder BB Gun company knows that the Ralphies of the world are their target audience and they’ve designed a story that speaks to them very well. Bad guys vs good guys, saving the day; all themes that speak to the imagination of the audience. The Red Ryder company knows that it’s the “Ralphies” who are going to be asking for and begging for their product. Handcrafting a story that resonates with your target audience is crucial to developing relationships with your target audience and creating brand ambassadors for your product. It is important that you understand your story or message and that it speaks to the right people.

Ralphie shooting black bart

Your story matters

The Official Red Ryder carbon action 200 shot range model air rifle has an impressive name and story to back it up. That is why Ralphie fell in love and why he can’t stop himself from asking for and fantasizing about this wonderful product. Not to mention, Black Bart is what drives this whole story. Ralphie has to keep his family safe and with Old Blue he knows he can do it without a doubt. He is now a part of the culture of the Red Ryder BB Gun. The story plays to his imagination and now he is in the story. If you have a Red Ryder BB Gun than you are a good guy.  Make your story and your culture mean something to the people using the product you create. When you do, that is when you and your product will matter to your customers.

Lastly –

Improve your Customer Experience

“Fa Ra Ra Ra Rahh Rah Rah Rah Rahh.” Think back to the scene where the family is trying to enjoy their Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The staff goes above and beyond to try and give Ralphie’s family a traditional Christmas, despite the unusual setting. They saw that the customer was hoping for a certain experience (Chinese food on Christmas day) and they understood that could create and experience that would cater to the family and add a festive element to their dinner. While, the carols didn’t come out the best and the Chinese turkey (roast duck) had to be decapitated at the table, overall it turned out to be a Christmas that they would never forget. You could say that they were trying to provide an extraordinary experience for the customer, which I recommend every business try to establish as a pillar of their business. To take a line from another cult classic, Waiting, “the only difference between ordinary and extraordinary, is that little extra.”


This family Christmas classic can teach a lot about how a family can work to make the best out of the holidays, even when things didn’t go according to plan. Or maybe that when you ask your parents, teachers and anyone who will listen for the one thing you want for Christmas, then just maybe your dad will hide it behind the couch for you to find as a great last gift. Either way, next time you watch A Christmas Story, I’m sure you won’t help but think about what other marketing messages are sprinkled throughout the movie. What did you wish for Santa to bring you this year? If it is a new marketing plan, skip Santa and let us grant your Christmas wish and give us a call.