What do Christmas, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and action figures have in common? If you guessed Star-Lord (or even The Terminator for us older peeps), you are only half wrong. The real answer is the “classic” Christmas Movie Jingle All The Way.
Totally recommend watching it if you haven’t already. But for the purposes of this article, all you really need to know is Mr. Schwarzenegger plays a workaholic dad who tries to do the impossible – buy the most in-demand toy on Christmas Eve, when demand is sky-high and supply is deep-valley low.
Watching the movie on an annual basis is fun for its own reasons. Where else can you see the former governor of California wearing spandex and steel?
But watching it with a marketer’s eye is an entirely different experience. In today’s article, we’re going to focus on the marketing of the hotly pursued toy Turbo Man, and how it is marketed within the world of the movie.
Remembering what Christmas shopping was like in the 1990s
Before we get into the thick of the movie’s analysis, you need to first understand that shopping in the 90s was a very different experience than shopping in the present day even if you ignore the pandemic. The internet had been around for a little while, but having a computer, let alone internet access, was low on the totem pole of “home requirements”. In 1997 (one year after the release of Jingle All The Way), only 36.6% of households in the United States had a computer. Take it a step further and only 18% of those with a computer had the internet.
So how did people get their Christmas shopping done? The old-fashioned way – physically driving from store to store. If a product was in high demand, it was a common occurrence for someone to have to go to multiple stores before getting their hands on the Holy Grail toy.
But what if every single store was out of stock and Christmas was literally just around the corner? Chaos would ensue.
To put you in the same mindset as protagonist Howard (aka Schwarzenegger), imagine that you are trying to get your hands on a PlayStation 5 (PS5). With the current chip shortage (among other things) it is nearly impossible to get this extremely popular game console. People are resorting to banding together in Facebook groups to notify other desperate parents where certain stores or websites have the product in stock.
Now imagine trying to get a PS5 without the internet. On Christmas Eve.
Feel that panic? That’s the emotional engine fueling Howard in Jingle All The Way.
What Jingle All The Way can teach us about marketing
How did an action figure turn every parent in Minneapolis to a contestant on The Hunger Games? Why, brilliant marketing of course! From what I can see in the movie,Turbo Man is based off a TV show character that also stars in its own feature length film. So basically, Turbo Man is a stand-in for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
Much like the Power Rangers, we can assume that Turbo Man started with a TV show, then found itself on the silver screen, and at some point along the way, the studio cashed in on merch by releasing the oh-so-in-demand action figures. A basis for all these assumptions can be found in the movie, and you can even see a movie theatre marquee in the background advertising the Turbo Man movie.
With these assumptions laid out, let’s talk about what we can learn from Turbo Man’s marketing team. After all, while the marketing team is fictional, they did a very real and outstanding job on marketing their products.
Freakishly good ability to appeal to the emotions of the actual purchaser of the product? Check, check, and check.
Lesson 1: Turbo Man’s real superpower is consistent branding
Jingle All The Way shows that marketing is about more than just promotion. When you create something like the Turbo Man action figure, everything starts with branding. For example, check out the logo that is literally emblazoned across Turbo Man’s chest.
Turbo Man’s logo works in a variety of contexts
It’s easy to understand why businesses need to have good names.. Great business names are catchy, easy to remember, and easy to spell. Why? Because you want people to remember who you are and why you’re great.
Logos do the same thing, but visually. A good logo can visually show what a company is about while being simple and memorable. The more places you can use a logo, the better!
Consider the Disney “D” – it is iconic. Or the P&G symbol, or even the GE symbol. All of these are giant companies which use letter-based logos to great effect.
With Turbo Man, they take this to its logical extreme. The logo is a gold T on a red background. The logo works when it’s blown up to giant size and when it’s shrunk down to a quarter inch. The font is evocative and feels dramatic and action-packed. And the color scheme is powerful: red background, gold T.
A logo that good and simple can be used everywhere, and The Turbo Man production team knew that. So that’s why they started with including a logo directly on their main hero. Doing that would make all future marketing that much easier
Turbo Man’s color scheme and font choices reinforce the franchise’s brand messages
Much like with the logo, the Turbo Man brand as a whole very consistently uses a specific font and colors. His colors are Red and Gold, with some green trimming. You can see this in every piece of advertising, marketing collateral, and PR event where Turbo Man is present.
Even the Jingle All The Way movie production team used the Turbo Man branding to differentiate the movie as a product. From the opening frames, we are hit with strong branding of the toy. The poster of the movie Jingle All The Way and the in-universe Turbo Man toy have very different branding.
And yet the branded font and coloring of the Turbo Man is what is used for the opening credits. Why? Because the opening scene is the all important Turbo Man TV show. Right from the get-go the movie is setting its stance and indicating that the center of the movie is the action hero.
Second, the costume department understood the assignment. They used the Turbo Man branded colors to subtly enhance character alliances. Jamie, the son who is desperately wanting his own Turbo Man action figure, uses the branded colors in his everyday life. He sees his dad as his own superhero, and this is clear in the family portrait hanging in his clubhouse in which his dad is wearing the Turbo Man colors. This boy who idealizes Turbo Man is faithful right down to his tippy toes.
Turbo Man has a clear brand voice backed up by his persona and catchphrase
If you want a character to stand the test of time, it helps to give them a clear brand voice supported by a persona and slogans. SpongeBob has his laugh and naive childlike spirit. Johnny Bravo has his 1950s greaser style, baritone voice, and obsessive love of his physique and hair. Mickey Mouse has his squeaky voice and innocent catchphrases like “oh, boy!”
For Turbo Man, kids know he is going to save the day when he says the three magic words “It’s Turbo Time”. What’s great about this slogan is it is short (easy to put in advertising), includes the character’s name (Turbo), and invokes a sense of confidence and success. It is good to have multiple phrases that can be changed out at various events but having a short punchy slogan in your marketing arsenal is a must.
Lesson 2: Turbo Man uses multiple forms of media to increase brand impressions per customer
Turbo Man’s print and display ad game is on point
If you have ever taken a class in marketing, then you probably learned about the Marketing Rule of 7. This rule was first developed by the movie industry in the 1930s, and has been the staple of marketing even to present day.
If you are not familiar with the concept, it’s simple. It means that a consumer needs to see a product or message 7 times before they will take action and make a purchasing decision. Turbo Man’s marketing team does that and more.
All of the branded colors, fonts, and slogans are used in every piece of advertising throughout the entire Jingle All The Way movie. The sales floors in the various toy stores all look the same. All the promotional posters feature the same images and slogans. Even the animatronic cardboard cutout of Turbo Man is displaying the two-fingered salute.
The similarity between branded print ads and display pieces is more than just an artifact of them being easy to manufacture in bulk. A child is choosing a toy for an experience – one that has been established by their favorite television show. Providing children a uniform shopping experience means that all kids across the country are made to feel special.
Think about Disney World and DisneyLand. They both have a lot of the same rides and basic general experiences. Customers love consistency, and that’s a cornerstone of good experiences.
Turbo Man was constantly being featured in television ads
Consider the television ads. They play like mini TVshows AND show kids having tons of fun with their new action figures. Nothing like planting the seed of FOMO at a young age.
Look at how much fun these kids are having with their Turbo Man action figures! Don’t you think it’s Turbo Time to get one too?
Oh no! Dementor is on the scene! You better keep your promise to Turbo Man and help defeat the evil villain!
Afterall, like Turbo Man says, “Always keep your promises if you want to keep your friends”. And you promised to buy my merch, didn’t you?
Turbo Man was a regular presence at PR events
Is a successful toy considered a success if they don’t have a balloon in the Macy’s Day Parade? If you tuned in to this year’s Macy’s Day Parade, then you probably saw the Grogu (baby Yoda) balloon. What was special about that balloon, at least in connection with this article, is that the balloon was designed by the toy company Funko. Meaning, Disney’s Marvel leveraged the Macy’s Day Parade to promote their highly popular show The Mandalorian, while also advertising their connection with Funko Pop toys. That is an ad on an ad on an ad.
A similar concept can be applied to Wintertainment, where highly popular Turbo Man gets his own float and mini show.
NOTE: If you have not seen the movie and do not want a spoiler, then skip this section.
Turbo Man’s marketing team invested their existing customer interest by leveraging the PR opportunity at Wintertainment. Print ads are effective and television commercials are engaging. Imagine how much better an interactive live televised event would be.
They definitely had high expectations because they went all out. I would shudder to think how high their budget was. You want to talk about impressive branding…just watch the Wintertainment opening scenes.
There are beautiful banners hanging around town advertising the event. The float is elaborate. The actor meant to play Turbo Man at the event has a functioning Turbo Man suit. Yes. You read that right. FUNCTIONING. As in, he can fly around like Iron Man. That isn’t even technology that exists now! Well, that we know of, that is. But in this 1996 fictional world, the company responsible for Turbo Man made a working suit.
Some other branding pieces to note is the marching band. The logo is on the drums, the band members are in the Turbo Man colors complete with branded capes. Even the confetti that shoots out of the float is red and gold. At this point, I wonder what part of the Wintertainment parade is not branded with Turbo Man! Because even the parade hosts were signed up to play along with the skit when Dementor and his minions make an appearance.
Lesson 3: The Turbo Man franchise was wide open for new product releases
Taking the strong branding a step further – Turbo Man has also been leveraged into a variety of product lines. Sure, every child’s parent is scrambling to get their hands on the action figure, but there are plenty of other products that go in line with the show overall.
There is Dementor (the villain), Scooter (Turbo Man’s sidekick), costumes, accessories, the list could go on and on. Below is a listing of the products I saw in Jingle All The Way, but the possibilities are nearly endless.
- TV Show
- Comic Book
- Wrapping Paper
- Boomerang (Turborang)
- Branded Gift Certificate
- Other Action Figures: Dementor & Scooter
Having a franchise this open to releasing different products is basically how Harry Potter has stayed relevant with their original audience even as they age into their 30’s and 40’s.
Just imagine what Turbo Man merch would look like in the 2020’s in the world of Jingle All the Way. Living rooms could have blankets and coasters and picture frames. The bedroom could be decked out in a whole host of bedding and desk accessories. The bathroom can have shower curtains and a toothbrush holder and even Turbo Man toothpaste.
And this is still just scratching the surface. If Turbo Man were to age like Harry Potter or Marvel movies, its signature red could become a more respectable crimson and the gold can have a muted shine. Then all the childhood products could get a chic makeover.
Lesson 4: Turbo Man leveraged the greatest purchasing motivator of them all – adult emotions
Lastly, there is the basic core need that the marketing team knew how to leverage. And that is the parents themselves. When it comes to children’s toys, the consumer and the purchaser are two different people. This is easy to forget.
A savvy marketing and advertising team will recognize that while the product needs to be engaging enough to catch the eye of the consumer, the teams need to also market to the purchaser for the sweet, sweet payout. Here are some examples.
Turbo Man purchasers conflated love for their child with purchasing products
The first emotion the Turbo Man marketing team leverages is parents’ love for their children. In Jingle All The Way, the protagonist Howard is looking to make amends with his son Jamie when he didn’t show up to the karate belt test. Howard was prioritizing work and making sales rather than showing up to events that meant a lot to Jamie. Seeing how desperately Jamie wanted the Turbo Man action figure, Howard’s parental emotions to make amends and bond with his son were triggered.
And is there a price too high for happy memories? Apparently not, because a sales rep at the store in Mall of America announced the price of Turbo Man action figures was doubled due to the laws of supply and demand.
Howard still continued to fight tooth and nail to enter the action figure lottery. He even followed a sketchy Santa (played by the wonderful Jim Belushi) to a heavily guarded black market sale of in-demand toys. He was willing to shell out $300 for the action figure (that’s about the price of a PS5 today).
All Howard wants to do is become his son’s hero once again. And he is willing to go to the ends of the earth to make that happen.
When Jamie recites practically the entire Turbo Man commercial from memory, he follows it by saying everyone is getting a Turbo Man so whoever doesn’t is a real loser. We, as parents, don’t want our kids to feel like losers, so there is a twofold effect.
One on hand, we remember when we were young and felt like a loser (we’ll get back to this), and on the other we inherently want the best for our children. Which includes not wanting them to fall behind compared to their friends.
Is this a healthy mentality toward parenting? No.
Is it relatable to parents who just want to make their kids happy? Yes.
Turbo Man purchasers were sometimes motivated by their own unmet desires from childhood
This is the motivator for Sinbad’s character, Myron the Mailman. We learn in the diner scene that Myron grew up very poor and grew to be increasingly callous to the corporate system. As a child, Myron desperately wanted a specific toy gun but his father was unable to afford the toy.
His wealthy neighbor, on the other hand, received the toy for Christmas. In Myron’s twisted view, he reasoned his life turned out the way it did all because he did not receive that specific toy as a child. Reading it on the screen superficially, it seems like a ridiculous conclusion for Myron to draw. But if you watch the clip and consider the headspace in which Myron finds himself, it is actually a sad and somewhat understandable conclusion.
Smart marketers recognize that a consumer’s psychological need can be exploited when positioning a product for sale. Ethical or not, it can be a very effective way to move a product and create a shopping frenzy.
The ability to buy a Turbo Man action figure became a status symbol for some parents
Lastly, we have our least altruistic reason, but also one of the biggest and simplest motivators in getting a person to buy a product. Vanity. Plain and simple.
If a parent can brag in the next mommy & me class that they got a hold of the highly sought-after toy, then they are going to look like total ballers.
Which brings me to Howard’s neighbor, Ted. As I look through the copious notes I took while rewatching the movie to prepare for this article, I keep coming across random lines where I call him something impolite. Ted is the one guy that Howard truly wants to beat in the long run.
Sure, Howard is up against Myron the entire movie trying to get a hold of the Turbo Man action figure, but part of Howard’s motivation is to prove to Ted that he is a good dad. Howard’s motivation isn’t just about wanting to bond with and get back into good graces with his son. He also wants to get back at his sneaky and sniveling neighbor.
Jingle All The Way is more than just a Schwarzenegger movie
So there you have it. Jingle All The Way is more than just an excuse to see Schwarzenegger climb through children’s jungle gyms, get in a fight with a reindeer, or ad lib lines alongside Sinbad. It is a lesson in the power of marketing.
With strong branding, promotion, and an understanding of emotions, it’s easy to see how Turbo Man became such a phenomenon in the world of the movie. And while you don’t have to have the budget of Turbo Man to succeed, you can at least take a few tips from the marketers when it comes to your own business.
Just, make sure to remember what is important in life! You can’t put a price on the things that matter most, and you can’t buy your way to healthy relationships.
Also never get in a fight with a reindeer.