I love the wonderfully heartwarming classic holiday special, “Frosty the Snowman.” This year we introduced the holiday classic to my 3-year-old son. He loved it: the music, the fun, the message of believing in child-like wonder. Who wouldn’t like it?! Then, someone gave us a DVD of holiday specials that included a sequel my husband and I had never seen: “Frosty Returns,” a sequel made in 1992 and produced by Lorne Michaels’ (yep, *that* Lorne from SNL) video company. It had to be great, right?

Well, no. It wasn’t. I knew there must be a reason we had never seen it. It was released direct to video in 1993. It wasn’t a “sequel” in the traditional sense – it was made by a completely different company and the animation and message lacked continuity. My son’s face registered disappointment; and I was reminded of some “classic” marketing lessons. That seemed to be this video’s sole redeeming value. Hey, it’s the holidays, so I tend to be optimistic.

Lesson One: Simplicity. The original “Frosty,” was a simple cartoon with simple, catchy music. My son understands the plot line in that one, and knows the words to the song by heart. Great marketing means keeping things simple. I’ve said this many times before. It’s true. Everything about “Frosty Returns,” was complicated – the plot, the characters, the message and the music.

The original Frosty by contrast speaks clearly and concisely – we understand the key dilemma, the characters, and what’s at stake. No jargon or high-falutin words or behavior to alienate an audience that wants to be entertained. Complexity convolutes. If people can’t remember or grasp the key essence of your business value, they can’t be enthusiasts for you. People can’t be fans if they can’t see themselves in your marketing – and that means no marketing leverage or multiplier.

Lesson Two: Continuity. Great marketing means consistency and continuity. A brand is built over time through repeated, consistent interactions. “Frosty Returns” was created by a different company and that explains the differences; however, it ruined some fundamentals that made “Frosty” a classic.

Besides being drawn very differently, in this ‘newer’ special, Frosty remains alive without the magic silk hat. In the original, he comes to life only with the magic hat on. Think it’s not an issue? Well, even a 3-year-old noticed that a brand promise – a fundamental precept to the Frosty storyline – had been broken. The consistency of the story was lost. We tried to explain. No matter. To him, “Frosty” should be “Frosty.” Out of the mouths of babes, right?

That’s not to say that businesses can’t innovate and try new things. They should. It’s also important to know the core elements that define your brand success and how they translate into a consistent experience. Think: Classic Coke or the classic label on Tropicana orange juice. In both cases, attempts to change too many items backfired (or in Coke’s case some have said huge PR stunt…hmmm…). In any sense, customers wanted the simple, clean, uncomplicated versions of the product and the packaging.

Side note: a few years ago, Tropicana got rid of the orange with the straw on it and they brought it back after spending some $40 million plus on the change. Why? The purity and simplicity of the symbol and “story” – an orange with a straw in it – was locked into peoples’ minds (that’s brand positioning). By getting rid of it, they were eradicating a huge differentiation and competitive advantage. What says “fresh,” besides a straw right into the orange?!

Lesson Three: Messaging Clarity.
This point also speaks to lesson one on simplicity. The messaging and plot of “Frosty Returns” was complicated and political. In this version, Frosty fights anti-environmental sources including an evil company and corporate board. He also abandons the iconic corn cob pipe (a key brand element), lest the kids watching interpret this as an endorsement of smoking. I expect that from a political-oriented program; so when did Frosty get “preachy?” Frosty was a lovable, fun, simple holiday icon, not a pedant looking to co-opt the holiday for a complex, non-holiday related agenda.

On a personal note, I support the political messages included in the video; however, I don’t want my simple, pure “Frosty” usurped by politics. We get enough of this in real life – we want Frosty to remain a heartwarming, entertaining, untainted story, not a provocative advertisement.

Finally, part of the lack of clarity in this video is the music. It’s complex – there is no simple and catchy rhyme structure. Instead, Frosty gets sanguine about lots of issues that kids (and even some adults!) can’t get their arms around. Some of the lyrics are way beyond what you might expect of a fun, holiday cartoon. Contrast that with the music of the original Frosty. In short, this cartoon tries to do too much. Is it a cartoon, is it a polemical musical? It certainly didn’t have an easy, fun-to-grasp holiday message.

And that’s how some businesses operate. They try to do too much in their messaging. When you get convoluted, you lose your audience, and that is a kiss of death in marketing. Pick one key message and focus your energies there.
It doesn’t mean you can’t have other services and messages, too. However, when too many messages vie for focus, you put the burden of deciphering on your audience. That’s not where it should be – clarity is your burden.

When you make your messages simple, story-like and easy, you make it easier for your audience to talk about you and champion your message. That’s what great marketing is about. Just ask any 3-year-old. They are one tough audience. And, as it turns out, when it comes to the art of simplicity, they’re usually right.