While Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas cements its status as television’s premier holiday programming event, Crown Media Family Networks’ marketing team is moving the brand into the real world in all sorts of ways, drawing on the resources of the overall company to help fans indulge their Christmas dreams.
Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas kicked off this year on October 22, with hundreds of original holiday movies on offer as well as more than 40 new original Christmas movies in 2021 alone. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, a new holiday movie premieres. Tune-in for these new movies on Saturdays outpaces even the major broadcast networks, leading Hallmark to a fourth-quarter viewership win across total viewers and key female demographics.
“We really worked hard this year to try to meet our consumers where they are,” said Lara Richardson, CMO, Crown Media Family Networks, who also is a member of Promax’s board of directors. Richardson joined Crown Media one year ago after more than a decade at Discovery, where she left as group executive vice president.
“It is not just about letting me market my show to you and you watching it. It’s about reinforcing the brand. At Hallmark, we are Christmas so we wanted to be in places that represent that. We make fans one by one. When somebody has a pleasant experience with our brand, they tell other people about it.”
With the fall launch of Countdown to Christmas, Hallmark fanned out into local communities to create presences at pumpkin patches ahead of Halloween. Later, the network brought that same effort to Christmas tree farms.
“At pumpkin patches all over the country, we had cute little pumpkins stacked up like snowmen and we gave away pumpkins. Then we turned around and did the same thing at Christmas tree farms, where we have heard some heart-warming stories,” said Richarson. “One kid was [at a Christmas tree farm] with his mom, looking around, and our street team started talking to them. He told them what a huge Hallmark Channel fan his mom was and they gave them a voucher for a free Christmas tree. The kid asked, ‘does this mean we are actually going to be able to get a tree this year?’”
“These are natural brand extensions for us – these types of activations in which we bring our brand values of joy, happiness and love to the world,” Richardson said.
Along those lines, Hallmark launched Hallmark Channel Holiday Suites with Wyndham Destinations in three locations: Avon, Colo. (outside of Vail); Nashville, Tenn., and New York City. The rooms, which were available in November and December for two-night minimum stays, were decorated in Christmas themes appropriate to their location: a snowy Christmas for Avon, a country-music Christmas for Nashville and a traditional Christmas for New York City. While in New York, fans also could pose for selfies in front of Hallmark’s branding in Grand Central Station.
The Wyndham hotel suites also offered fun Christmas activities for guests, including hot chocolate stations, a space where guests could decorate gingerbread houses, bathtubs full of foam snowballs and lots of Hallmark holiday swag, including branded wine, tea and chocolate, all of which is also available for purchase in stores and online.
“When the hotel rooms at all three properties went on sale, they sold out in seven hours,” Richardson said.
Women snapped the suites up for girls’ shopping weekends while families grabbed them for fun pre-holiday getaways. The Wyndham activation was so successful that the partners are already talking about expanding it for next year, Richardson said.
Perhaps in preparation for those weekends, fans could go to any Drybar location and get their hair blown out while enjoying Hallmark Christmas music and movies.
Fans who don’t have a local activation to visit can tune into SiriusXM and listen to Hallmark Channel Radio, which includes Christmas music and interviews with Hallmark movie talent, or pick up one of four Christmas novels published by Hallmark Publishing. And the bakers amongst them can still enter a contest in which they create a recipe using a Hershey’s baking product, the winner of which earns a walk-on role in one of Hallmark’s original movies or $5,000.
All of this combines to make Hallmark Channel the most-watched entertainment network in the fourth quarter 2021 to date among households, women 25-54, women 18-plus and total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. To date in 2021, Countdown to Christmas has reached 39 million unique total viewers.