Freelance life, Maslen on Marketing

A Christmas fable

“Yo! Elves!” The burly, leather-clad man grunted with effort as he swung himself down from the menacing-looking black SUV, and pushed the wraparound mirror sunglasses high on his shiny forehead.

“Where’s my posse?” he yelled.

Three or four diminutive figures shuffled out from behind a large Christmas tree. “Er, we prefer to be called Edutainment and Leisure Facilitators now,” one mumbled, having been shoved to the front of the group.

“Never mind all that PC stuff now,” said Santa (for it is he). “I’ve been on Facebook. We are, like, so not up-to-date. We’re gonna get ourselves modernised.”

“But Santa,” another elf said. “What about all the Christmas letters? We’ve got work to do.”

“First off, it’s iSanta. Second, letters? Excuse me? It’s text now innit? Instant messagin’. Twitterin’. Bloggin’. I’ve made a start already.”

He swept his free arm majestically along the flanks of what the elves, sorry, ELFs, belatedly realised was Old Faithful, the sleigh.

“Got it pimped, didn’t I?”

Ah yes, Father Christmas had, indeed, gone to “Pimp My Sleigh”. Body kit, 20-inch chromed rims, sound system and tinted glass all round.

Just then, two more ELFs rounded the corner of Santa’s modest wood-framed house, hand-in-hand with two small children, visitors from far away who had won a trip to meet the great man himself.

Their innocent smiles froze as they took in the sight that greeted them. No Rudolph, no Donner, no Blitzen, just a couple of mean-looking dogs, with brass-studded collars, growling through the open window of the SUV. “Waaahhh!!”, they shrieked.

Santa looked puzzled. Surely this is what they want? he mused. I thought they’d like me to be more modern.

Unfortunately, he had lost sight of all the reasons children round the world loved him.

Yes, he was old fashioned. His red and white outfit had remained unchanged for decades (and fie on those mean souls who claimed it was all the invention of Coca Cola’s advertising agency).

His facial hair was Biblical in its profusion and unkemptness. And his preferred (until now) mode of communication had been around for millennia.

But this is what all those millions of children wanted.

He was easy to understand. He was comfortingly familiar. He was reassuring. And he always, always knew what they wanted. (And if they had been very good, he usually brought it for them.)

It seems that he had forgotten an old advertising maxim: “Times, change, people don’t.*” Seduced perhaps by the siren call of snow.fl@ke, Lapland’s premier new media agency, he had lost sight of what his “customers” actually wanted.

You see, the children weren’t bored of his approach. They liked the way he kept it simple…

Send a nice letter: get toys in return…

…leave mince pies and a little nip of something to keep the cold out, plus a carrot or two for the reindeer…

…try to stop pinching your little brother for a couple of days. Kiss your baby sister and all would be well.

As he watched the children being comforted by Mrs Claus, he realised his mistake. He’d put his own feelings first and forgotten why he’d got into the business in the first place.

He shucked his leather jacket and called for his old suit. Then, having first let the dogs out (tame as kittens, really) he let off the handbrake and heaved the SUV into the lake. Beaming, he turned to the assembled company. “Forgive me,” he laughed, “it’s not Yo, Yo Yo. It’s Ho, Ho, Ho”.

And I’m telling you this because?

We all get a little bored of the way things are now and again. But before starting with something fresh, we should ask the critical question: who’s bored?

If your customers are bored of you, your brand, or your marketing approach, you have a clear mandate for change (hmm, sounds familiar). But if they like the way things are, and you’re the one itching to tinker with things, it’s time to stop for a mince pie and a latte and reflect on your good fortune.

* Coined by legendary copywriter, John Caples.

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