I have been going back through Christmas history (thanks Horrible Christmas by Terry Deary and Martin Brown, Wikipedia and Snopes) and discovered that Christmas as we know it had almost died out in the early 1800s. People thought it was a silly old-fashioned custom and didn’t celebrate it
… that is until a freelance writer by the name of Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol.
Charles was a very fast writer and wrote A Christmas Carol in less than two months as a way to try and make money as he was nearly bankrupt from his failed novel Martin Chuzzlewit. It was published on 19 December 1843 and the first run of 6000 copies sold out in one week at the very high price of 5 shillings a copy.
The book was so popular he was asked to read from it to audiences around the world (one of the first major successful speakers tours) where he made as much from speaking as he did from writing the book.
A Christmas Carol is credited for reviving our celebration of Christmas and their characters of Scrooge and Tiny Tim have entered Western folklore.
But that’s not all!
Another copywriter – Robert L.May was asked to come up with a Christmas story to give away to shoppers at Montgomery Ward department store in Chicago in 1939. Robert based his story of Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer on the Ugly Duckling and tried the names of Rollo and Reginald for the reindeer before settling on the name Rudolph.
He wrote the story in rhyme, testing it on his 4 year old daughter (very early product testing). May’s boss was worried that the red nose may not be appropriate for a family store – after all red noses were associated with alcoholism and drunks (political correctness is not a modern invention).
So May had his friend Denver Gillen sketch some reindeer from the local zoo with red noses. These drawings won over the boss and the book went to print. 2.4 million books were handed out by the end of 1939 – thanks to word of mouth viral marketing.
As the work had been created while May was an employee of the store, they owned the copyright and he received nothing for his work. With his wife with terminal cancer and deeply in debt, May finally convinced the store to turn the copyright over to him in January 1947. His financial future was then assured as he carefully managed the intellectual property in Rudolph through his company the Rudolph Company L.P.
May’s brother-in-law, singer Johnny Marks, took his poem and turned it into a song which was recorded by Gene Autry (after many people turned it down as not being commercial enough). The song is now the second top selling song of all time, second only to “White Christmas“.
Have a wonderful, safe and fun-filled Christmas – and whenever you hear A Christmas Carol or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, think of the difference copywriters make to your life.