Once upon a time, at Christmas, a very special and beloved character was born.
Amidst much anticipation and under twinkling stars, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer came into the world in 1939 thanks to the pen of Montgomery Ward staff copywriter Bob L. May.
Montgomery Ward, once one of the biggest department stores in the world, used to buy and give away colouring books for Christmas every year, but that was an expensive business. So in 1939, they asked Bob L. May to create their own book, and Rudolph was born.
What he created became one of the best-known Christmas tales. You know it: a bunch of youngsters, a little bullying, a job to do, some pesky fog, and the underreindeer done good.
What you might not know is how clever a marketing ploy this was — and how lucky Montgomery Ward and Bob L. May were that it took off. I doubt either the company nor the copywriter had any inkling of just how successful it would be.
The department store produced Rudolph as a magazine poem and distributed 2.4 million copies to its customers during the 1939 Christmas period — the only year it was made, because of war-time restrictions on paper.
You can imagine how quickly the magazine became a collectors’ item…
In 1946, another 3.6 million copies were handed out to Montgomery Ward’s shoppers.
The only place you could get your hands on this story was at the department store. As word spread, you can bet your butt many, many people went to MW who otherwise would not have done. I rather suspect Rudolph brought that shop more new customers than they could ever have dreamed.
Because of that, MW could afford to be generous, so the president gave the copyright to the poem to Bob L. May as a Christmas bonus. A hell of a bonus, because someone offered to turn it into a song, and the song became the second best selling Christmas record ever (after White Christmas).
I’ve been looking for a first edition of that magazine poem for years. Occasionally they pop up on eBay, but they’re mostly reprints or in poor condition.
One day, I shall add it to my swipe file…
Bob L. May was a master of dreaming up legends for brands. He’s not the only one, either…
If you don’t have a story of your own, you can always create one. If that’s something you’d like to do, but you’re stuck for ideas, hit me up. I’ve a few Borrow My Brain slots available before Christmas…
Vicky Fraser is a copywriter, author, and entrepreneur. She really did run away with the circus… but when she’s not swinging from a trapeze, she’s showing other copywriters and small business owners how to work with better clients, make more money, and stop missing bathtimes, first words, and dinners with angry partners. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Get your copy here.
PS Let Rudolph’s story inspire you to create something of your own.