At some point you gave into the hype, grabbed the remote and turned on the Hallmark channel to find out what your friends were raving about. It seemed crazy, but these were the same friends who introduced you to Game of Thrones and Schitt$ Creek. They were trusted sources.
Thirty seconds in, you were staring at the screen in confusion, right? And maybe deciding you needed new friends? How can the same people who watch Game of Thrones watch “Marry Me at Christmas”?
I get it. You’re not crazy. But neither are they, actually. There is a real-deal, science-based explanation for this cultural addiction to Hallmark movies. And when you understand it, you can harness that power for your marketing machine.
It was an accident.
For me, it happened the year we decided to have our annual family reunion at a cabin in the woods over Christmas and we got snowed in. In our group, we had one family with three daughters, and one family with four sons. The “girl cousins” were all set to watch Hallmark movies for days because, duh, it was Hallmark season. The “boy cousins” had never heard of Hallmark. They thought football and basketball were the only “seasons” on TV.
Looking back, it was the perfect setup for a Hallmark movie (minus the romance).
Snowed in at a family reunion in the mountains, three generations confront the true meaning of “quality programming.” When the Christmas-loving girls face off with the football-loving boys, family bonds are pushed to their limits. Will the Christmas spirit win the remote control this holiday season? Find out when “Winning at Christmas” premieres on the Hallmark Channel, tonight at 8 pm/7c.”
If you’ve ever watched even five minutes of a Hallmark movie, you know where this is going so I’ll cut to the chase.
In the span of one Hallmark Christmas movie — a story about a family-owned, Christmas-something business in a quaint Alaskan village, if I recall — the boys went from heckling, to laughing, to cheering on a Christmas wedding like it was a Superbowl victory. Before we knew it, the next movie had started and no one asked for the remote control. We were hooked.
To be fair, the heckling never really stopped, because it turns out that’s part of the fun for lots of Hallmark fans. And that’s the part most Hallmark-haters don’t understand. The Hallmark-lovers (ok, “we”) are fully aware of what we are watching. We embrace it. We plan our schedules around it.
Why does this work?
So what is the magical pull of these low-budget, poorly scripted, squeaky-clean romances eternally set at Christmas? Do we really want to watch movies we can predict with 99% accuracy within the first three minutes?
Yes. That’s exactly what we want at a subconscious, primitive level. Think about it this way. Our lives are full of stress and tension. We spend our days fighting through the confusion and noise of too much information and unresolved conflict. At the end of the day we are starving for simple stories with happy endings.
Hallmark movies lead us gently along a predictable path from problem to solution to success, all tied up in a pretty Christmas bow. The fact that every Hallmark movie follows the same predictable formula is no accident. It’s scientifically proven to be the exact formula our brains love. When that story loop closes, our brains release serotonin, the neurological happy juice. No joke.
Our brains are basically jonesing for a hit of resolution and closure. Problem + Solution + Success = Happy Brains.
Here’s what it looks like (spoiler alert for all the Hallmark movies, and most other movies, too):
- A character wants something, but there is a problem standing in her way (2:00).
- A potential – but uncomfortable solution is presented. Will she take it to possibly get what she wants? (10:00)
- Yes, yes she will. (15:00)
- Tests, allies and enemies swirl around as she moves toward her goal (20:00-67:00).
- Everything is unraveling and it looks like all is lost (70:00).
- But she’s learned a few things along the way. She is not the same girl who started this movie. She takes action and makes the right choice (91:00).
- The problem is solved and she gets married on Christmas Day (120:00).
And this time of year, you can get that hit reliably, any day of the week, in 122 minutes, around the clock.
Market like a Hallmark Movie
So what can this fascinating science teach us about marketing? (Because that’s why we’re here, remember. We are doing an academic study of Hallmark Movies for the sake of improving our marketing.)
“Brains hate confusion and crave clarity” is a human truth. So how can we use that knowledge to create marketing that works?
For one, think about your messaging from the perspective of your target audience. Imagine your ideal client — who doesn’t know about you yet — driving down the highway at 75 mph. She’s listening to a podcast, replaying a fight she had with her teenager this morning, trying not to glance at the texts that are popping up on her phone, all while navigating through traffic.
If she passes a billboard that says “X Company: Our simple mission is to help people” (I actually saw that ad yesterday), do you think she notices it? Remembers it? Knows what X Company does and if she needs it? No.
Now imagine this. This same woman has just inherited her grandmother’s house, which hasn’t been updated since 1975, has a bad roof, foundation problems, and it is located in a neighborhood that is sketchy at best. She’s not consciously thinking about this problem right now while she listens to her podcast and drives, but it’s in her brain and her brain is keeping track of it for her in the background. Her brain is constantly scanning the horizon for possible solutions to all the open problems she has.
So when she passes a bright yellow billboard that says, “We buy ugly houses – www.webuyuglyhouses.com” it jumps out at her. She sees it and thinks, “That’s it! They’ll buy the house! Done!” and she makes a mental note to go to that website and check it out.
Her brain filtered out every other billboard she passed, but made sure she saw that one because it was relevant to an open problem she had.
The average American encounters 5,000 commercial messages a day. As a result, our brains have gotten really good at filtering out the messages that don’t apply to us. And because we are moving so quickly through those 5,000 messages, our brains have to make quick decisions. If it isn’t clearly relevant right away, we’ve moved on. Sorry.
Your marketing messages need to be Hallmark-simple.
You may have a complicated business. That’s fine. But your customers need a clear and simple introduction to you that speaks directly to the problem they are holding. Do the hard work to wrestle your messaging into the simplest terms possible. The initial stages of marketing are all about grabbing attention, and contrary to popular opinion, clever does not win at this stage. Clear wins. Every time.
Summary: Your target audience is tired. They willingly subject themselves to Hallmark Christmas movies because they are so desperately in need of clear and simple programming.
So the next time you are thinking about creating new marketing for your business, ask yourself, “What would Hallmark do?”