Does Your Content Marketing Need to Be Decoded?

by Gerry Moran

There’s a content marketing lesson packaged in the famous Christmas Story movie. Perhaps you’ve seen it?

Since 1983, we’ve been drinking up the Ovaltine content marketing story on The Christmas Story. Ovaltine almost pulled off the perfect execution of using storytelling to generate awareness, engagement, and generating a sale with Ralph!

Brands must understand the power of storytelling to reach and involve customers so they will “buy stuff.” It may take a little longer to take this storytelling route than a direct-respond email or telemarketing. However, it’s a necessary approach since many customers need to be wooed this way!

3 Parts To Good Content Marketing Storytelling

The Ovaltine scene in The Christmas Story breaks the need to tell a story with your content down nicely.

1. Generate better brand awareness using storytelling

Like many of the 1940’s and 1950’s brands, Ovaltine used radio shows to connect with their audience of buyers (i.e., moms) and influencers (i.e., kids). As presented in The Christmas Story, Ralph was a captive audience member each week. Since there was no television, Facebook or PS3 in 1940, so Ralph’s entertainment was centered on the Annie radio show.

Ovaltine used its storytelling ability to insinuate their weekly chocolatey message into their listeners’ lives and minds. This approach helped to build their brand awareness.

2. Tell an engaging story to build a great relationship 

Each week Ralph listened to the radio-delivered adventures of Annie. In addition to hearing the weekly escapades, he was intrigued by how each show ended with a secret message. He needed a decoder ring to understand this message. He tried to decode it without one but failed each week. He needed that tool to understand what Ovaltine was saying.

We all know that great content marketing and messaging should not require a decoder ring. However, this secret message and the need for a decoder ring was the carrot for the reader’s (i.e., Ralph’s) engagement. What a great idea to keep the audience engaged! Ovaltine did a great job of increasing their awareness and buyer involvement by integrating the story with the need for a true engagement mechanism.

3. The call to action to move the buyer toward conversion

Now, this is where Ovaltine did a good job and not so good job. The announcer’s highlight of the secret message at the end of each episode was a great call-to-action. It truly tried to take the relationship to the next step. Ovaltine wanted little kids from around the country to mail away for the decoder ring!

This action was a great step toward the purchase! However, once Ralph received the HIS ring and decoded the secret message, he found that the storytelling ended, and the sales pitch began. Instead of continuing the story in the way that he expected, the direct message became “Be Sure To Drink Your Ovaltine.” As Ralph put it, “A crummy commercial? Son of a bitch!” The Ovaltine relationship ended due to bad storytelling!

Do you have another great example of content marketing and storytelling embedded in a television classic? If so, please share below! Or contact me at

Great marketing strategies execute on their content marketing strategy with great storytelling. With no decoder ring needed!

Make sure to execute your content marketing strategy the right way! Otherwise, you might shoot your eye out with your poor storytelling!

Gerry Moran is a social media and content marketing strategist who's worked for large global brands and digital agencies. He's spent significant time in hands-on marketing leadership roles with HBO, IKEA, Ralston Purina, Kodak, and numerous digital agencies. He spent his last ten years working at SAP and Cognizant, where he built their content marketing operating models, developed social media training programs, and helped thousands with their LinkedIn makeovers and personal branding strategies.

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