Marketing Plan Mistakes – A Hallmark Case Study

Sometimes I’m surprised that big companies like Hallmark can make huge marketing plan mistakes. But I was flabbergasted that Hallmark really blew a huge opportunity the other night during their broadcast of the November Christmas movie.

I’m a sap, I must say and heard my wife ask no fewer than 3 times if it was OK to watch the movie. She knew I’d get teary-eyed 10 – 15 times and I knew it, too. Those Hallmark movies are good for that. But Hallmark goes above and beyond these days, they buy almost all the ad time and fill it with sappy commercials too.

I was a wreck. A movie about a little girl stricken with cancer around the holidays? And then throw in a local couple whose son had died at 13, and another who was still grieving his wife? Man oh man does that pull on the heart strings. I’m not sure what the stick rate for TV movies is, but I gotta believe a huge percentage of people who tune in to a Hallmark movie watch it to the very end. You do want to know if the girl dies, don’t you?

So at the end of the movie this cancer stricken young girl has beaten it. She’s now 21 years old or so and is seen reading the story about her life to a bunch of kids. The story itself was part of the movie as a young friend was an aspiring writer hoping to write kids books.  So you’re left to assume that the kids book she was reading was written by her friend -about her.

And then the movie ends. . . well not like that. There’s a few hugs and memorable quotes, but that’s pretty much it. 2 hours of solid time less a few minutes here and there for TV station commercials. Otherwise, Hallmark owned the airwaves. I have never seen a more powerful “branding” campaign than that. Sure, only the people who watched it got the message – but widespread or not – they had your attention for 2 solid hours. . . very moment including the commercials.

How could you really have marketing plan mistakes with that agenda?

Then comes the pitch. . . “Hallmark does lots of good for children’s hospitals in Kansas City.  . . To learn more about that, go to”.  And then they add “and you can buy copies of this movie at Hallmark stores”. . . that’s it.

Several million people in the palm of their hands and they blew it.  I’m sure they’ll see a bump in card sales tomorrow and maybe some traffic to their website – but all in all they’re counting on the branding to drive sales. I guess they’re hoping that somewhere down the line you’ll remember to do that, because they’ve given you no reason to do it now.

How about something like, “If you’d like a copy of the book she was reading so you can share it with your family, go to and download your copy for free today”.  .  . Can you imagine the power you’d have if you got names and e-mail addresses of the people who just watched your 2 hour branding moment?

Sure they can tell you how many people watched it – sorta. But advertising during the show and at the end that you could download the book for free is priceless. How many e-mail addresses would that have been? In a story about marketing plan mistakes. . . relying on Hope has to be #1.

Hallmark is now relying on customer’s to remember the name of that film, to remember the film is at a Hallmark store, and remember it would be a good gift for Grandma Jones. Memory? Have you met a husband lately? We can’t remember to wear white socks when we mow the lawn let alone buy this made for TV movie.

How much would it have cost to have said that at the end? And then what would it have cost to have sent a follow-up e-mail tomorrow, in a week and shortly thereafter? How much more viral branding would they have gotten out of the millions of e-mails sent the next day with copies of the book attached? How many parents who’ve lost a child would have received that from loving friends?

I’m still in awe. And sadly for Hallmark, I sit here writing about the movie while 65% of their audience is likely now in bed. And tomorrow. . . well for Hallmark “hope is a marketing plan”.  After millions of dollars spent, they literally have to hope someone goes out and buys a card.

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