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A Content Marketing Christmas Story…Story

This week the Pulizzi family had a chance to visit the A Christmas Story house for the first time.

Most people aren’t aware of this, but the house and many of the scenes from the classic Christmas tale were filmed on the west-side of Cleveland, Ohio in a beautiful neighborhood called Tremont.

It happened, but it wasn’t meant to be.

There were 20 cities in the original city search for the movie.  Cleveland was not among those 20.

The only reason Cleveland became the choice was because the head of marketing for Higbee’s Department Store responded to a simple request.  Remember the famous Santa scene where Ralphie asks Santa for his Red Rider gun? Well, the director (Bob Clark of Porky’s fame) sent a request out to department stores around the US and Canada to get permission for that shot.

You would think there would be a number of stores that would respond to such a request, right?  Today, brands pay millions for product placement opportunities like that one.  Well, in 1983, only one store responded and said they would offer their store up…and that was Higbee’s in Cleveland.

And so, A Christmas Story was filmed in Cleveland.

As they were on set at Higbee’s for early shooting, the author, Jean Shepherd, saw smoke stacks in the background just beyond Higbee’s.  Jean said to the director, “take me to those smoke stacks”. It was there they found the house and neighborhood similar to the area where Jean grew up (A Christmas Story was based on Jean’s childhood).

Although the film opened up to some critical acclaim, box office receipts totaled less than $20 million, and was easily trounced in it’s opening weekend by, of all movies, Rambo.

But unlike most movies, the film lingered at the box office for a while.  After opening Thanksgiving weekend of 1983, the movie was still in many theaters in January of 1984.  In 1997, TNT began their 24-hour marathon of the show starting Christmas Eve.  By 2002, the movie was seen by almost 40 million during that 24 hour stretch.  By 2008, it was over 50 million…and 6.5 million individual DVD sales later, A Christmas Story is one of the most famous Christmas movies of all time.

What Can We Learn from A Christmas Story?

  • What if more people thought like Ted Turner, who purchased the rights to A Christmas Story over 20 years ago? What if more marketers looked at content as an investment, capable of creating revenues and profits for years to come? Marketing professionals, for the most part, just don’t think that way.  We don’t think about how content, amazing content, can move our customers and our businesses. What if?
  • You never know where you opportunities lie when it comes to your content.  A Christmas Story now plays an important part of Cleveland’s history and personality solely because one person responded to a request.  Do you receive guest blog post requests?  Partnership requests?  What do you do with them?  What if you were Higbee’s…what would you do?
  • Do you give your content a chance to succeed? It would have been so easy for everyone to give up on A Christmas Story because Rambo crushed it in the opening weekend.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to brands who start a blog and stop that blog within six months, unhappy with the results.  No matter what kind of content marketing you are executing, almost all of it takes time to take off.  Viral happens after a thousand pieces of great content.
Happy Holidays to you!  Thank you for being part of the content marketing revolution.