This Halloween, any CMO who's considering a new-product launch might want to hit the theater first and watch (again) The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton's 1993 cult classic that's currently enjoying a revival in 3-D.
The movie will offer you some sage advice about how not to launch a new brand. That's because Nightmare Before Christmas isn't, as you thought, an animated musical for children and Broadway fans, but a movie about the marketing business.
In the film, Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, represents an archetypal CMO. He's running a successful franchise, Halloween Inc., and generally delivering the goods.
Nightmare opens with Jack's corporate colleagues congratulating him after another successful sales season: "I believe it was our most horrible yet!" says Jack. "Thanks to you," replies the two-faced mayor of Halloween Town, who represents Jack's pr chief (Proof: Early in the movie he tells Jack, "I can't make decisions by myself.")
And yet, Jack is bored. Like so many brand managers, he has gotten so close to his product that he can no longer see why consumers even liked it in the first place. As far as Jack is concerned, Halloween is "Just like last year, and the year before that and the year before that."
So Jack decides to do some market research, represented by a long walk in the dark woods—an experience every CMO can relate to. Note that Jack's dog, Zero (his market research agency), is supposed to be lighting the way with his glowing nose but actually gets his client lost.
Jack accidentally discovers Christmas—something he's never seen before—and is thus inspired to relaunch Halloween as a gift-giving event. (Anyone who has ever seen a CMO ignore hard data in favor of an anecdote from a focus group will recognize this scenario.) And the sales potential is obvious.
Like all marketing stories, Nightmare Before Christmas' dramatic inflection point is a new-business presentation. Jack gathers his colleagues in an auditorium and tries to explain Christmas to them. The setting lacks only a set of cobwebbed PowerPoint slides. Naturally, the employees of Halloween Inc. don't quite get it.
So, like many a CMO before him, Jack elects to water down his vision in mid-pitch. "I may as well give them what they want," he says.
The result is that Halloween Inc. enters the Christmas category with a product that is a mish-mash of Jack's original vision and Halloween's core business: booby-trapped toys that will horrify children.