Yes, Virginia, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” — the song, the holiday special, and all that goes with them — originally began as a piece of Content Marketing. Seriously.
Here’s the story.
Montgomery Ward, a Chicago-based department store, used to give away coloring books as a Christmas promotion. The company believed it could save money by creating its own coloring book. In 1939, Montgomery Ward assigned copywriter Robert Lewis May to create an original tale for a coloring book.
The result was “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” a poem written about a little reindeer shunned because of his glowing red nose — until, of course, that same nose guides Santa’s sleigh through a foggy night.
The book was a hit: Montgomery Ward distributed 2.4 million copies in its first year. The tale of Rudolph had legs. In 1948, Lewis’ brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, turned the tale into the song, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which became a hit (and a classic) for Gene Autry. Marks also composed the score for the Rankin/Bass Christmas special about Rudolph as well as “Run Rudolph Run” for Chuck Berry.