Old Man Parker from 'A Christmas Story': A Marketing Genius?

Old Man Parker, a marketing genius?

If you’re like many people, you’ve watched the 1983 classic movie ‘A Christmas Story’ more times than you can count. The movie has become a holiday staple as it airs regularly, and often gets 24-hour marathon treatment during the month of December. It’s a nostalgic, entertaining film set in the 1940’s which focuses on a young boy named Ralphie who tries his best to convince his parents that a Red Rider BB gun is the perfect Christmas gift for him.


Of the many memorable scenes within the film, one in particular spotlights Ralphie’s father who is known simply as ‘Old Man Parker’ (played by the late Darren McGavin). No-nonsense, straightforward, and firm are characteristics of the blue-collar father of two young boys. During the course of a few minutes however, the oId man displays his emotion at winning a “major award” in the form of an illuminating lamp that is shaped like woman’s leg. While the feelings of other family members vary from curiosity to downright hatred towards the lamp, we get to see his solid marketing skills at work.

Here are 5 examples of Old Man Parker’s marketing skills in action:

1. He builds interest: “There could be anything in there” he says as the “Italian” crate is inspected for contents. He engages his audience by focusing on what the item could be while communicating in a manner that generates curiosity, if not demand. It’s been stated that a prime challenge for marketers is a lack of interest through direct interactions. Old Man Parker nails it here.

2. He’s a product evangelist: The Old Man is absolutely passionate about the award/product and describes the lamp as “indescribably beautiful” and states that it reminds him of the “4th of July”. But perhaps the passion is at a pinnacle when he gleeful states “What a greeeat lamp” almost sounding like Tony the Tiger in the process.

3. He is resilient: As any marketer knows, it’s always a definitive process before an campaign comes together. In this case, it takes determination and creativity to get the lamp illuminated. Ultimately, all the plugs crammed into the outlet are no match for the old man’s resilience. The result is perfectly summed up by the narrator, “The snap of a few sparks, a quick whiff of o-zone, and the lamp blazed forth an unparalleled glory.” Any marketer can understand the old man’s elation after a successful launch.

4. His positioning game is strong: The old man knows how to position the lamp. “Right in the middle of our front room window” much to the dismay of Mother Parker. But he knows it will generate impressions from the key location it’s placed. The old man exhibits his success brilliantly through positioning that is on point.

5. He engages with his audience: He communicates to his audience simply and directly as to what the lamp is (a “Major Award”) and why it’s important (“I won it”) which is enough of a remarkable message that his neighbor shares the message with other onlookers. As famed author and marketing mastermind Seth Godin once said “By definition, remarkable things get remarked upon.” The old man has done a remarkable enough job to get his audience buzzing.

Though it could be argued that Old Man Parker had his own limitations in the film (i.e. reading struggles [see: “fra-GEE-leh”], or being accused of being a “master in profanity”) he was quite impressive in his efforts to create interest around his fascinating, albeit short lived, victory trophy. All of Cleveland Street knew of his success because the old man created undeniable hype in a challenging seasonal market where it’s often hard to gain traction.

Bonus points for coming through with that BB gun for Ralphie as well.

Here’s to you, Old Man Parker, enjoy that Christmas duck.

About Revmarka

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