Thanksgiving: The Most Awesome Holiday Content Marketing Campaign You Need To See

Holiday Content Marketing CampaignDid you know that Thanksgiving as celebrated today resulted from one of the most awesome holiday content marketing campaigns ever?

Despite what you learned in elementary school, the first harvest feast between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans in 1621 lacked turkey and pumpkin pie!

Rather, 200 years after the Pilgrims’ first harvest dinner, a smart content marketer named Sarah Josepha Hale created our American Thanksgiving traditions.

So let’s examine Hale’s holiday content marketing campaign to see how she created today’s Thanksgiving holiday traditions. Then, you can apply them to your business where appropriate.


Sarah Hale: The Brilliant Content Marketer Who Created Thanksgiving

Philadelphia-based Sarah Josepha Hale became the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1837 and held the job until 1877.

Image of Godey’s Lady’s Book from 1850

To help the growing audience of American women, Mrs. Hale brought a strong sense of purpose and editorial principles.

She focused on social inequalities and women’s education.

Under her editorial guidance, the magazine grew from 10,000 readers to a pre-Civil War circulation of 150,000.  

Known as the Queen of Monthlies Godey’s Lady’s Book, influenced 19th century American life and culture. 

As the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, Hale became known for fashion, reading and cooking trends. In the process she became one of the most influential editors of her time. This made Godey’s the standard for  manners while shaping American traditions.


Thanksgiving: The Real History Most American Don’t Know

The first harvest meal shared by the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans probably consisted of lobster, seal, swan and corn. Due to the lack of sugar or ovens, the meal didn’t include pumpkin or apple pie. But, this celebration marked the beginning of a 50 year alliance between Europeans and Native Americans.

George Washington legislated that first Thanksgiving Day be observed on Thursday, November 26th, 1789, to honor the end of the Revolutionary War and ratification of the Constitution. While this holiday lasted only one year, Presidents John Adams and James Madison proclaimed similar holidays.

While northern states established Thanksgiving holidays, this holiday tradition never extended to southern states.

After reading about the Pilgrim’s feast Sarah Josepha Hale decided to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1827. To accomplish this, she created a content marketing campaign. It included turkey and pumpkin pie recipes. Also Hale wrote editorials annually to build public support for these ‘new’ Thanksgiving traditions.

For 36 years, Hale used a combination of editorial content and letter writing campaigns to persuade governors, senators and presidents to create a national Thanksgiving holiday.

Photograph of President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Source: Smithsonian Institution

Finally in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln used Hale’s holiday suggestion. He proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving.

5 Reasons Hale’s Holiday Content Marketing Campaign Worked

Turkey is at the heart of Hale’s holiday content marketing campaign

Hale’s Thanksgiving holiday content marketing campaign worked for 5 key reasons that you can apply to your content marketing campaigns.


1. Have an addressable audience

As a popular magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book reached an audience of 150,000 women before the Civil War. Even in today’s content rich landscape, many businesses would love to have an addressable audience of this size.

Further, Hale’s readers actively wanted this useful information. At a time when The Saturday Evening Post charged $2 per year, Godey’s subscribers paid $3 per year.

As a result, Hale was an influencer of her time. 


2. Focus on a set of core topics

Like any successful content marketer, Hale focused her editorial calendar on her audience’s key information needs. In comparison to many content marketers today, Hale had few competitors so she didn’t need to define her niche more granularly!


3. Published consistent content on a regular basis

Like any magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book followed a consistent publishing schedule. By delivering information on a consistent basis, Godey’s created Share of Audience Attention (aka: SOAA) and anticipation for its information.

Also, each issue of Godey’s provided additional value. It included an illustration of a garment and the pattern to make it. Also, it provided sheet music for the piano. As a result, readers saved back issues!


4. Received respect

Beyond its focus on women’s issues”, Godey’s Lady’s Book provided a publishing platform for top literary writers. Its contributors included well-known writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Acting like the Medium of its time, Godey’s and Sarah Hale, in particular, gained respect from top authors and poets so her influence increased.


5. Associate the holiday with history

Hale used the first Thanksgiving celebration in Plymouth as the historical basis for her content. But she molded the facts to make a cultural case to readers.

Hale provided recipes and cultural features focused on current American foods like turkey and pumpkin pie.

And her content successfully created traditions since we still associate these foods with Thanksgiving. 


BONUS: Met a deeper political need

At age 74, Hale’s holiday content marketing campaign achieved its goal. President Lincoln created a national Thanksgiving holiday.

Lincoln used Hale’s Thanksgiving celebration to heal his divided country on a more spiritual basis. In 1863, he made Thanksgiving an official holiday to be observed on the last Thursday in November. In his Thanksgiving proclamation Lincoln stated the holiday’s goal:

“…to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”


BTW, in 1864, Lincoln’s proclamation was sold to raise money for the Union troops.


5 Actionable Holiday Content Marketing Campaign Tactics

Take a page from Hale’s Thanksgiving playbook to develop and enhance holiday content marketing related to your business.

With the new year in planning range, use these content marketing tactics to build your editorial calendar for next year. At a minimum, add one marketing hook per month for B2C businesses and one per quarter for B2B businesses.


5 Actionable Holiday Content Marketing Campaign Tips

To help you with your holiday content marketing campaign, use these 5 tips:

  • Examine history and traditions based in your company, category and/or location. Like Sarah Hale, tap into existing practices. when you go beyond your business, you avoid making the celebration too promotional. You also help build audience anticipation.
  • Make the holiday meaningful to your audience. Align events with your audience’s beliefs and interests to enhance its value. Know what’s happening in the communities where you do business.
  • Get peers and frenemies to support your holiday. Don’t go it alone!  For example, aligned with their content marketing, American Express (aka: AMEX) created Small Business Saturday to help their merchants drive business.
  • Create related content. Like Sarah Hale, offer “How To” content. Include a variety of types of images and illustrations to make the content more alluring. Where appropriate make this content evergreen so that you can use it year after year.
  • Extend your content marketing to live events and experiences. Go beyond sales-driven content. Give people a reason to visit your business or retail store. For example, many department stores have a Santa to attract children pre-Christmas.


Holiday Content Marketing Campaign Conclusion

Sarah Josepha Hale was a brilliant content marketer whose goal to make Thanksgiving a national holiday extended beyond her lifetime.

Despite her embellishments, Hale offered her readers “How To” content to recreate Thanksgiving traditions in their homes and families.

To help your readers, examine your content marketing plans and editorial calendars to determine where you need celebrations or promotional hooks.

At a minimum use existing holidays to fill your editorial calendar.

Instead of adding another promotion and forgetting about it, create evergreen content that you republish or repromote annually like the Christmas movies you watch every year.

Use these content marketing tactics to build your company and/or local holidays and related content.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

PS: As a marketer, you may be interested to know that, during the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November to jumpstart holiday sales. But swayed by popular opinion, Roosevelt moved the holiday back to the fourth Thursday in November in 1941.

Editors Note: This post was originally published in November, 2018. It has been updated and revised for todays’s readers.

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on FacebookTwitter and Google+.


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