There is a classic holiday movie that my family watches every year after Thanksgiving dinner—A Christmas Story. Set in the 1940s, the movie is about a young boy, Ralphie, his mother, father and little brother. There are a dozen memorable scenes in the movie. Ralphie’s friend gets his tongue stuck on a lamp post in the dead of winter after another friend “double dog dares” him to try it. Ralphie asks his mother for a “Red Rider BB gun” for Christmas to which she replies “You’re gonna shoot your eye out.”
There is one scene that is especially relevant for marketers. Ralphie and his brother are big fans of the “Little Orphan Annie” radio hour. As part of a promotion, the listeners were encouraged to send away for the secret decoder ring, and they would receive a secret message from Annie herself.
Ralphie could hardly stand it. He ran home from school everyday to check the mail, only to be disappointed. Then finally, one day, there was a large envelope addressed to him. It must be his decoder ring. He could hardly wait. He ran into the house and locked himself in the bathroom. He sat down and began to decode the secret message from Annie herself.
Letter by painstaking letter, the message appeared. He couldn’t work fast enough. He had to know what Little Orphan Annie wanted to tell him. D…..R…..I….oh, the anticipation. N….K….come on. M….O…R….E…O…V…A…L…T…I…N…E. You have got to be kidding! “Drink more Ovaltine.” Ralphie was crushed. He threw down the decoder ring and never felt quite the same about Ovaltine or Little Orphan Annie.
The lesson I’ve always taken away from that scene is that it is your responsibility as a marketer to deliver what you promise. There is nothing wrong with creating an environment of anticipation. It is a great strategy and can pay off big time. But the experience better pay off. Otherwise it can backfire big time.
What about poor Ralphie? The makers of Ovaltine sponsored the Little Orphan Annie radio hour in order to sell more of their product. Unfortunately their promotion had the opposite effect. It alienated a poor little kid and probably turned him off Ovaltine forever. Not exactly good for business.