I’ve been listening to a book on tape, The Man Who Sold America, about fascinating Chicago personality, Albert Lasker, 20th Century’s inventor of the marketing campaigns behind many of America’s biggest products. While Lasker may not have been the inventor of Santa, the marketing strategies he started changed the way Americans perceive Christmas.
For instance, it’s hard to imagine advertising without “the give-away” item. In 1939, Montgomery Ward department store Santas distributed a souvenir booklet, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which added the 9th reindeer to Santa’s sleigh. Written by a copywriter for the company, Robert L. May’s assignment was to write a “cheery” Christmas story with an animal main character. Chicago-based Montgomery Wards had been buying and distributing coloring books at Christmas and was looking to cut expenses by making their own book. May wrote the story, trying out the phrases on his daughter, in the same meter as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Although they gave away 2.4 million copies, wartime restrictions on paper prevented another distribution until 1946, when 3.6 million copies of the story were distributed.
Robert May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks wrote the lyrics and tune to the song in 1947, and Gene Autry recorded the song in 1949, where it rocketed to #1 on the Hit Parade.
According to the story, May considered naming his reindeer “Rollo” and then “Reginald.” In marketing, the name is everything.
It’s nine weeks after Jeremy’s initial idea of casting a groundhog in a Christmas story, and we still don’t have a name for the little fellow. I don’t think we can call him Phil because that groundhog has a weather-predicting purpose and a marketing life of his own.
Albert Lasker invented the marketing strategy of a baby naming contest to sell Pepsodent. I think Jeremy and I will have to have a baby naming contest for a groundhog. We don’t have the $5,000 Lasker offered, so we’ll make shortbread for the winner. Grumbles the Groundhog? Gabby the Groundhog? What’ll it be?