Charles Dickens is at it again. What do I mean?
I’ve previously written about a literary technique that Charles Dickens used to become famous that is still used to create hit TV shows and blockbuster movies today.
Well, today I want to show you how Dickens helped to make popular one of the most beloved holidays in the United States: Christmas.
And I want to show you how he did this by unintentionally taping into the power of content marketing.
In fact, as you’re about to discover, he wasn’t really intending to promote Christmas, but something else much nearer and dearer to his heart.
Today, I want to tell you how he did this and in the process, I want to reveal some important content marketing lessons that we can learn from Dickens.
And it all starts with a movie that I didn’t plan on watching.
(In case you’re worried and wondering, there are no real “spoilers” about the movie in this post!)
The Great Movie We Didn’t Plan on Seeing
It was the day before Thanksgiving and all through the house… Oh, wait. Wrong story. (Sorry! I couldn’t resist.)
But it really was the day before Thanksgiving and my wife and I and our three sons were all getting ready to see Thor Ragnarok.
My sons and I had already seen it, but we wanted to take my wife to see it because we thought she would love it. (She loves to laugh and we love to hear her laugh.)
But we made a fatal error.
We didn’t think we had to show up that early to a 3:30 pm showing of the movie, because it was the day before Thanksgiving, the movie had been out for a while, and we thought many people would still be working.
We were wrong.
When we got there, 10 minutes or so before it started, we found out that the only seats that were left were in the front row. We didn’t want to do that, so we asked them what other movies were playing soon.
Both of the movies were ones we had thought about watching at some point — before we were forced to make this choice — so we thought for second and decided that we wanted to see a more light-hearted movie, so we chose The Man Who Invented Christmas.
The Man Who Invented Christmas – Official Trailer
I had seen the trailer and I thought it could be good, but I wasn’t sure if it would be cheesy.
Well, it wasn’t cheesy at all!
In fact, I really loved the movie.
But it was what the movie revealed about how Dickens inspired the holiday of Christmas, as we know it today, that gave me the inspiration for this post.
Let me explain…
How Charles Dickens Unintentionally Harnessed the Power of Content Marketing to Make Christmas Popular
Preface to the Original Edition
A Christmas Carol
I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
Their faithful Friend and Servant,
After watching the movie and researching Charles Dickens, I discovered that the way that we think about and celebrate Christmas is NOT the way it was in Dickens’ day.
In Dickens’ era, Christmas was not the popular holiday it is today.
Christmas was a second-class holiday in many peoples’ minds. Easter and Boxing Day were much more popular in that day and age.
It had been popular up until the late 1700s, back when people actually took 12 days to celebrate it. (Remind you of a certain song?)
By Dickens’ time, all of the old traditions and ceremonies had faded away.
It wasn’t a joyful time of the year. There were no decorations, carols, etc. People weren’t walking around with a sense of “the Christmas spirit.”
But Dickens loved Christmas. He had an affection and nostalgia for it.
Why? Because his father used to celebrate it, the old ways that people used to, with Charles and his siblings when Charles was young.
Still, his purpose for writing the book wasn’t really to make Christmas popular.
He had a much more basic and urgent need on his mind.
The Great Charles Dickens… Broke?
Charles needed money!
He had written several flops after the huge success of Oliver Twist.
He had many large expenses, a fifth child on the way, and his payment checks from his publisher were lagging. (Things haven’t changed much, have they? 🙂 )
So he NEEDED to write another book and it had to be a good one. His family’s survival depended on it. But the inspiration for the book wasn’t to make Christmas popular.
He had a much more personal interest that he wanted to encourage/promote.
You see, he had gone to Manchester to deliver a speech in support of adult education for manufacturing workers there.
Because when he had seen the poor conditions of the children at the Field Lane Ragged School (a school for the poor), he remembered his own difficult childhood.
These events inspired him to go back home and write a story set during the Christmas season about a struggling lower class family and a rich man who has a change of heart.
You see? His main goal – besides making money so his family wouldn’t be in the poorhouse themselves – was to have his readers walk away with a different view of and concern for the poor.
And he hoped that setting the story during Christmas would inspire his readers to become like the renewed and changed Scrooge at the end of the story.
(The way the movie portrays the process of coming up with this story is great!)
The Amazing Reception for “A Christmas Carol”
The public’s reaction to the book was unbelievable!
The book was released during the Christmas season of 1843 and it became an instant bestseller in England and eventually in the U.S. as well.
Charles Dickens would go on to gain so much fame from A Christmas Carol that he was like “The Beatles” of his day.
Now, I am NOT saying that his book is the only reason that Christmas became so popular and adored. There were other factors too.
But Dickens had such an influence on Christmas and was so connected to the holiday that when he died in 1870, it is said that when a young girl heard of his death she asked her mother…
“Mr. Dickens dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?”
CONTENT MARKETING LESSON #1:
Stories, the Secret Weapon of Powerful Content Marketing
Think about it.
If Dickens had just written a book about the plight of the poor in England and the need to care for them, the book would’ve never become a bestseller and the well-known work it is today.
But instead of just writing directly about the need to care for the poor, he wrapped the idea behind the veil of a powerful, relatable story.
Don’t miss the importance of this fact. In a great book called Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs, he gives an interesting perspective about how stories have the power to persuade…
“Stories are a particular type of human communication designed to persuade an audience of a storyteller’s worldview.
“The storyteller does this by placing characters, real or fictional, onto a stage and showing what happens to these characters over a period of time.
“Each character pursues some type of goal in accordance with his or her values, facing difficulty along the way and either succeeds or fails according to the storyteller’s view of how the world works.”
As I said in a previous post (Content Marketers: This is Your Brain on Stories),…
“Your brain enters and experiences stories! Your brain can ignore dry facts. It passively takes in data and stats. But when you tell a story (if you tell it well), then the brain wakes up and plays along!”
In other words, when you speak to people’s intellect you make them think. But when you speak to their heart, you inspire them to act!
Because Dickens wrapped his ideas up in stories, they not only changed peoples’ minds about the poor, they changed their attitudes and hearts about the poor and showed them that Christmas (the time of the year when the book was released) was the best time to DO something about their new feelings and concerns for the poor!
A Strange Example from My Own Life
Recently, I watched a documentary about writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, the actual creators of Superman.
It told the story of their struggle to gain back their rights (and income) to the character they created for DC comics.
It was a heart-wrenching story to see these guys try to get just a small piece of the financial rewards for their character, while they lived an almost penniless existence.
In the end, it was so rewarding to see that decades later they were awarded by Warner Bros. (the then owner of Superman) a significant amount of money to be paid to them every year until their deaths.
What does this have to do with the way that stories and feelings inspire us to act? Nothing at this point in my story.
It’s what happened next that shows the impact of this story in a very strange way.
You see, after I watched the documentary, I went online to look something up and I ended up being led to Wikipedia and I found this message…
In case you can’t read it from this image, it says…
TITLE: We ask you, humbly, to help.
Hi reader in the U.S., it seems you use Wikipedia a lot. This Friday we ask you to protect Wikipedia’s independence. It’s December 1, we haven’t hit our goal, and time is running out in 2017 to help us. We depend on donations averaging $15, but fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $3, the price of your Friday coffee, you would help keep Wikipedia thriving for years. Please take a minute to keep Wikipedia growing. Thank you. — Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia Founder
I have never given to Wikipedia before.
In fact, have never even wanted to give to them before.
But after seeing the story of those two creators not getting the money due them, I saw a similarity in Jimmy Wales request.
I have gotten a lot of benefit from Wikipedia over the years, but Jimmy never got anything from me in return.
The story of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had impacted my emotions and so I decided to give.
And I decided not just to give $3, but I decided to give $15. The amount isn’t an impressive amount. I only mention it because it was the higher amount they were asking for, not the minimum they were asking for.
That’s how much of an emotional impact the story of the creators of Superman had on me!
It had so much impact that I gave to someone else who seemed to be in a similar place because I didn’t want to be like DC Comics was back in the day.
Did you catch that?
Their story had bled into the reality of my OWN life! I felt like DC Comics (the bad guy) and it my made me want to be the good guy.
THAT’S what Charles Dickens’ story did.
People didn’t want to be like Scrooge (before his transformation), so they responded in the real world to the poor and each other with care and compassion.
It didn’t just change their attitudes about the poor. It changed their attitudes about Christmas… and it is still impacting people’s hearts today.
That’s the power that stories have!
Too many content marketers focus too much on getting the facts across and forget to share stories that will make those facts have more impact!
The Types of Stories You Can Use in Your Content Marketing
There are many different types of stories that you can use in your content marketing
- Stories from others (like this one)
- Personal stories from your life or individuals within the company you are creating content for (like my Superman story)
- Your business’ origin story
- Customer stories
- Case studies
Just make sure that when you tell these stories to make sure that you do it like a storyteller would and not like an analyst would (no offense to analysts!).
CONTENT MARKETING LESSON #2:
Form Impacts and Increases Function
There is one last thing I learned AFTER watching this film and this lesson has nothing to do with Charles Dickens himself or even his story “A Christmas Carol.”
It has everything to do with the movie – the story about him.
You see, it wasn’t until I started researching all of this that I discovered that the movie was based on a book of a similar name The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits.
The book came out in 2011, but I have never heard of it!
What is the lesson that content marketers can learn from this?
Never imprison your content in only one format! When you do, you limit its audience and impact.
That means that you need to remember to repurpose your content so that you can extend its reach and the reactions it causes in people.
A book reaches a smaller audience of people (readers) than a movie does. Not only that, but the impact of reading a story is different than seeing it acted out before you.
By taking the story from the book and putting it in the form of a screenplay that eventually was made into a movie, it changed its influence.
The wisest and most successful content marketers have always understood that each form of content has a different level of impact, a different audience, and even a different perceived value.
Not only do the new formats impact different people in different ways, and have different perceived values, but the new formats impact the original format in positive ways.
When I looked up the book on Amazon a few weeks ago, I saw that it had a pretty good ranking…
The story of the Dickens’ impact on Christmas in the form of a movie has positively impacted the sales of the book!
(I know this personally because I put the book on my Amazon Wishlist.)
That is why you must free your content from the limits of only residing in one content form! When you do this you will see amazing new results through your new form of the content and your original form.
I don’t think that Charles Dickens ever meant to change how people thought of and celebrated Christmas during his day and age.
And he could never imagine influencing people 174 years later who lived on another continent!
But that is the power of content marketing that is infused with stories or veiled in a larger story. It can have a huge impact, even when used unintentionally.
If that true when it’s used unintentionally, then just think of the impact it can have when you use the combination of content marketing and stories intentionally!
P.S. If you haven’t downloaded my free guide, The Content Marketer’s Ultimate Guide to Creating Content That Captures the Short Attention Spans of Today’s Readers, which reveals how you can use a literary technique that Dickens used to become famous, then you go do that by clicking here.