Is Your Social Media Just a Crummy Commercial?

a christmas story movie poster Each December brings the enjoyment of all the holiday classic movies. And there’s a fun little marketing and advertising lesson in A Christmas Story, one of our seasonal favorites.

No doubt you’ve seen the quirky and endearing 1983 comedy about an Indiana schoolboy—Ralphie (Peter Billingsley)—who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. The film is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and is probably the most popular Christmas movie since It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

The teaching point for communications professionals is when Ralphie has, after many weeks, received his Little Orphan Annie decoder pin. In the tension-filled scene, the radio program concludes with a coded secret message.(The fate of the planet might hang in the balance.)

Ralphie feverishly works through the vital cipher, only to find it’s a sponsor message. “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.” It’s an eye opening, and greatly disappointing, lesson about advertising.

“Ovaltine?” Ralphie is totally deflated. “A crummy commercial? Son of a b_____.”

Now fast forward from the 1940’s era of radio drama ads to the social media of this moment. The lesson: Your social media can’t be “a crummy commercial.”

Social media messages can’t be just commerce. Suspense? Perhaps. Enticing? Sure. But the fully decoded message in social media must be interesting and engaging…with a meaningful payoff that doesn’t disappoint, disillusion or alienate.

Here’s the decoder pin scene—less than three minutes—from A Christmas Story. Watch (and relate to) young Ralph Parker’s excitement and anticipation…and ultimately, his grand letdown. CLICK TO WATCH

Kids hands holding two gold coins and a pencil over notepad

The “crummy commercial” was a playful invention of the film script. In reality, (and in defense of Ovaltine) “secret messages” of the time were often sneak preview notes about the next radio program episode…thus affording a special benefit to society members. (Hint: Use Social Media to add value and insight.)

A Christmas Story can be seen on the TBS network on Christmas eve. And for a post about surprise and delight, read: “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition” – a Surprising Lesson for Doctor Marketing.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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