When is the appropriate time in your relationship to send a family Christmas card?

My husband and I love each other very much, but I’m pretty sure Christmas cards aren’t part of our holiday plans until we have children. 

For current parents though, there is a Christmas card trend that is making headlines. I first heard about it on the Today show. 

This year, parents have surrendered to their children. They’ve realized that capturing the perfect Christmas card photo is damn near impossible, so they’ve given up on prim and proper poses in festive sweaters and flannel. 

Instead, parents are sending cards with pictures of their kids sitting on Santa’s lap, kicking and screaming — similar to this photo of my brother and me circa 1992.

Why These Cards are a Christmas Hit

Just when you thought you were in full-on Christmas vacation mode, I’m reminding you that marketing lessons are always around us. It turns out there’s even a takeaway from the Christmas cards adorning your refrigerator. 

At the moment, I have several family Christmas cards on my fridge, and yes, they’re picture-perfect (thank you to those who sent them!). 

But if I received a card that captured a Santa-induced temper tantrum as pictured above, it would certainly stand out among the rest. 

To quote the prolific marketing author, Seth Godin (he’s the GOAT), a picture like this is considered a “purple cow.”

What is a Purple Cow?

In his 2003 book, Purple Cow, Godin suggests that if brands want to cut through the competition and combat advertising avoidance, you have to introduce something new, unique and remarkable – like a purple cow.

Godin goes on to break down the word “remarkable” in its simplest terms: worth remarking about.

There’s nothing new, unique, or remarkable about your typical Christmas card. We basically see the same scenes and poses from year to year. 

But a card with pictures of unruly kids on Santa’s lap is not only authentic and relatable, but it’s refreshingly original, hilarious, and a conversation starter. 

I wish I was a fly on the wall the moment that first set of parents decided to send their Christmas card that way. Can you imagine that conversation? At first, the idea probably seemed a little crazy. A Christmas card with children screaming instead of smiling? Blasphemy! But ultimately, it won hearts, inspired a trend, and made national news. 

This trend took off because those parents decided to take a risk — they were vulnerable enough to show their imperfect reality. They broke the tradition of Christmas cards as we know them and ended up creating something remarkable.

Purple Cow Examples

Good news — for your brand to be remarkable, you don’t need to have the biggest marketing budget or even the best products. You just have to be brave enough to take risks.

We see brands do this all the time. A notable example would be the Twitter account for Wendy’s. Rather than portraying their brand voice as polished and professional as most companies do, they chose to be sassy. As a result of their audacity, their tweets are remarkable.

Or how about the outdoor gear company REI? In 2015, they decided to close all of their retail stores on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. They instead encouraged their employees and customers to spend the day outside.

From the outside looking in (no pun intended), this may have seemed like a missed sales opportunity, but the risk was worth the reward. Not only did sales skyrocket, but REI received national media attention, increased engagement on social media, and immeasurable brand loyalty.

Purple Cows in Your Marketing

If you want your advertising to be effective, you need to define your purple cow. Before you spend a single marketing dollar, get clear on your big idea. Plan your creative strategy and determine how you will stand out. This starts with market research.  

To research your market, look at what the competition is doing. What are the trends in your category? Consider stereotypes, cultural norms, and current perceptions. 

Next, you need a keen understanding of your audience (do I sound like a broken record yet?). What are their values, behaviors, and frustrations? 

Then, take everything you found and turn it on its head. Or as Seth Godin would say, how can you challenge the status quo? 

    • Perfect Christmas cards are commonplace — not remarkable.
    • Professionally branded Twitter accounts are customary — not remarkable.
    • A big box store open on Black Friday is expected — not remarkable.

When you take a risk, you will cut through the competition, promote conversation, and fascinate your audience.

“You’re either remarkable or invisible. Make a choice.” -Seth Godin

Click here to buy Purple Cow on Amazon.

READ MORE: The Hidden Marketing Message in Taylor Swift’s Christmas Song “Christmas Tree Farm”

Need help with your audience research? Snap my empathy map template below so to help understand what messages will resonate most!