Photo: Pixabay

It’s a winter evening and you’re sitting comfortably with your gadget in hand, scrolling through the endless stream of social media updates. More than once, a blob of green pops up on your timeline. “Oh, it’s only the Grinch!” you think, as you scroll past.

But wait a sec—he seems to be everywhere. In between meal-prep updates, motivational posts, holiday check-ins, and funny tweets, he keeps peeking in. Knowingly or not, we’ve all been on a journey with the Grinch this past month or so. In some parts of the world, you couldn’t even drive past a signal without running into one of these:

Photo: gosocial.com

It doesn’t matter if it’s not snowing outside or if Christmas is over already—the little green fella has managed to break the internet. From Youtubers and Instagrammers turning themselves into the character with their DIY crafts and makeup skills to people adding #grinchmood to their grumpy tweets, there’s a lot to unpack about how this character from the 1957 Dr. Seuss classic, carved out a corner for himself in our current social media narrative.

How did this not-so-lovely creature from children’s literature become a mascot of social media currency? And most importantly, what’s in those green Grinch pancakes that IHOP’s been serving up?

Photo: IHOP

Maybe the latter is too much to ponder on this slow winter’s day, and we’ll never know how those green pancakes turned out (let us know if any of you tried them!).

The former, however, is something I want us to look at more closely. The road to answering how begins November of 2018 when the animated remake of The Grinch had its worldwide release. The internet was quick to jump on the bandwagon, and what started as a tale about the creature who hated Christmas turned into a winter aesthetic for people, marketers, and brands across the world.

The Grinch became a mascot of the season, assuming various messaging and moods across the social internet. He’s also (very unwillingly, we assume) become an essential marketing lesson for all of us to learn from. The moral of his story being this—virtually anything can be turned into a point of conversation if you’re wearing your creative hat; even a grumbly old Grinch!

It’s interesting that unlike other box office successes, like Frozen or Moana, the Grinch—despite being a children’s film franchise—has become a marketing icon for a largely grown-up audience.

Even the film’s official marketing efforts went out on a limb to make its messaging more universal. Though its style is cute and childlike, the Grinch still retains the very adult frustrations that make him a relatable character for all. He even threw some grown-up snark in the direction of Black Friday this year, for instance. Let’s look at how the Grinch was reimagined on various marketing drawing boards across the world, leading to his becoming an internet sensation.

The Grinch as a marketing mascot

This is the obvious route every other brand takes, but it really worked, considering the character is packed with heaps of personality (although a bit grumpy and Disney villian-esque).

Using the green mascot as a marketing icon to champion your brand is cool. But doing it well is a challenge. While we had lots of brands throwing the green face on their products willy-nilly, some businesses put a creative spin on it, making it a bit more memorable for the rest of us.

The good folks at Berkshire Hathaway PenFed Realty decided that sprinkling their house listings with a bit of Grinch would help boost their listings. And we mean, literally sprinkling some Grinch. Take a look:

Photo: Berkshire Hathaway PenFed Realty website

The Grinch as a marketing persona

Brands have been trying everything, from letting the Grinch school you about taxes, to borrowing its personality for a day and threatening to shred your kids’ letters to Santa. Some were a hit and others, quite evidently, were a miss.

But it was Honda who really understood the spirit of the Grinch and pulled off a marketing hack that didn’t require them to paint their cars green. It was far simpler!

One day, the automobile brand’s Twitter handle was, without warning, taken over by the Grinch. He stole the brand’s social media profile and claimed it all for himself. The rest, as they say, is history.

Photo: Honda Official Twitter

Props to their marketing team for coming up with an idea that packed some ingenuity. Whether it boosted their sales or not, it definitely stood out among the crowd.

The Grinch as a marketing message

As they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Even if there were brands that didn’t really wow us with a Grinch-themed campaign, some of them definitely got into the spirit of the season and threw a little snark our way, keeping with the trend.

From makeup company China Glaze wishing us a “Merry Whatever” to IHOP taking a dig at itself with the Grinch in its marketing banners saying “Green pancakes? I’m not amused,” there were lots of cute brand messaging going around.

But do you know who did it even better than all these brands?

Netizens!

Surprise, surprise! It was the people of the internet that did a better job at hacking social media using the Grinch. From dubbing a famous politician as the resident Grinch, to creating the hashtag #grinchmood to collectively identify the internet’s frustration at everyday things, netizens carried the character’s marketing appeal even better than brands—yes, the same brands who put a lot of marketing brain into it. It makes us wonder if effective marketing is sometimes just less overthinking and trading the big drawing boards for everyday humor.

Now there’s something you don’t see every day.

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