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What Makes a Holiday Movie a Classic?

A classic movie is the perfect way to get in the holiday spirit, but what can it teach us about marketing?

The power of a strong lead

The value of a unique story

What problem do your products or services solve?

The importance of branding

Home Alone playing on a laptop in front of a Christmas tree

We all have a holiday comfort movie. It’s the one you put on when you really want to feel the spirit of the holiday season. For some, seeing Buddy experience life in New York in Elf is the right film. Others will take a walk back in time and tune in to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman to spark their holiday joy. Some seek a more unconventional holiday movie, like Die Hard or Gremlins

What do all of these films have in common? They’re considered to be some of the best holiday films of all time, they’re extremely popular, and they were all made before 2004. If you look through the most watched holiday movies of all time, the bulk of them came out before the turn of the century. So, what makes these movies classics, and how do they stand the test of time? (And how can you apply their rules to do the same for your business or organization?) 


The power of a strong lead

When it comes to a good holiday movie, you need someone to follow through the story. The greatest films have a strong lead that conveys the main themes. Think Kevin McAllister from Home Alone. He’s just a kid, but his main issue in life is his crazy family. All he wants is for them to disappear. When they do, he finds himself in a tough (yet funny) situation where he misses his family. Kevin’s journey shows the importance of family, even when they drive you a little crazy.

When it comes to your business or organization, having a strong voice is essential to share the importance of your work. Identifying what you want to say to your audience and the tone you want to convey will help you avoid confusion and mixed messaging.

Think about it this way: Kevin McAllister’s perspective and voice in Home Alone are completely different from that of the criminals, Marv and Harry. Pick a voice that you want to be at the forefront of your business or organization.


The value of a unique story

Every business or organization’s story is different, but it’s almost always valuable to your audience. People want to know the inspiration and purpose behind the work you do. It’s about the why, not necessarily the what

Every classic holiday movie has a different story, with various tropes, holiday characters, and tones. They could be funny, somber and serious, or highly educational, but the most important thing is that they’re memorable. When you think of your favorite film, what is the first thing you think of? It’s probably not the big lesson of the movie but is more likely a line or two that really spoke to you. 

When you’re communicating your business or organization’s story, consider what will stand out to your audience. Why should they choose your business or organization rather than your competitor’s?


What problem do your products or services solve?

The Grinch hates Christmas because of his childhood trauma surrounding the holiday. Therefore, he believes that no one in Whoville should celebrate it either, if only to preserve him from reliving his shame. 

It’s not until the Whos show him the true meaning of Christmas that his heart grows three sizes, their friendship and understanding being enough to improve his happiness. 

Great holiday movies solve a problem, and your business or organization should do the same. It’s important to address the valuable features of your product or service while also explaining the problem it will help your customer solve. Picture yourself as Cindy Lou Who, taking the Grinch (your customer) under your wing to show him true happiness (the solution) through the spirit of Christmas (your product or service). 


The importance of branding

The best holiday movies bring a warm vibe to your living room, the nostalgia being a big part of what makes them classics. The environment of these films is similar to what you would see in people’s homes in the 1990s and early 2000s. Unwrapping toys consisted of Lite Brites, new bikes, and Barbies. Decorations were often handmade, salt dough ornaments and paper snowflakes hanging among your parent’s vintage bulbs. 

In current holiday films, the aesthetic is more cookie cutter. Artificial trees of various colors, outdoor icicle lights, and giant bulbs of all one color overtook film sets, following a more clean aesthetic. Although this vibe is still beautiful, it doesn’t quite reach the nostalgia of the holiday season that audiences are used to.

When considering your business or organization’s branding, make sure you factor in the demographics of your audience. If you’re looking to attract Millennials, you shouldn’t focus your branding around the wants and needs of Baby Boomers. Buddy the Elf wouldn’t fit in It’s a Wonderful Life, just as George Bailey wouldn’t make sense in Elf. Be sure to consider what appeals to your audience members and the proper ways to get that message to them.

The magic of a great holiday movie lies in its ability to warm our hearts year after year. Though trends come and go, timeless classics stand the test of time thanks to strong characters, unique and engaging stories, problem solving, and nostalgia that tugs on some of our deepest memories. If you want your business or organization to stand the test of time, think like a filmmaker, encouraging your customers to return for years to come.



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