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BBH Feature: How “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Began as Content Marketing for Coca-Cola

The Surprising Origin of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

I love A Charlie Brown Christmas special. I love watching it every year with my 3 sons.

But I just found out something about the special that I didn’t know.

The most famous Christmas cartoon of all time wasn’t Charles Schulz’ idea.

It was Coca-Cola’s idea.

You see,  Lee Mendelson and Charles Schulz wanted to do a TV special featuring Charlie Brown, but it wasn’t about Christmas.

It was going to be about baseball.

In fact, they made the pilot of “the world’s worst baseball player” (Charlie Brown), but the network rejected it.

That’s when Coca-Cola stepped in.

They approached Mendelson to see if they could create a Peanuts Christmas special.

Mendelson and Schulz hadn’t even considered such a show, and didn’t  have anything prepared, but they seized the opportunity.

They quickly crafted a simple, single page creative treatment and presented it to Coke.

According to Ted Ryan, director of Heritage Communications at The Coca-Cola Company

“The next day, Coke sent Schulz and Mendelson the following telegram:

The Show Almost Didn’t Air

As popular as the show is these days, you might find this hard to believe, but the show almost didn’t make it on air.  According to

“The network hated the idea of a religious message in a Christmas TV special. They hated that the special wasn’t non-stop action interrupted with gales of fake laughter (as if cartoons would actually have a live studio audience). They didn’t like the soundtrack, thought the kid voiceover actors sounded too much like children, and would rather have played a needle scratch than jazz music. Things got so bad that even the special’s producers and Charlie Schulz (not known for having a cheery outlook to begin with) thought the cartoon would be a critical and commercial bomb.

“In fact, everyone was thinking of simply scrapping the show altogether…except for Cocoa-Cola, who was the special’s main sponsor and was not about to let a half-hour of advertising not make it to air.“

Where Are the Coke Ads in the Show?

The ads for Coca-Cola have been removed from the special over the years, so you won’t see them when you watch it today. So where were they in the original?

Ted Ryan says that the only Coca-Cola messages were “title slides telling viewers that the production was made possible by the support of the local bottlers around the country.”

Here is a video clip of the slides mentioning Coca-Cola…

Here’s a still of the slide mentioning Coke...

coca-cola ad in charlie brown christmas











Why I Consider the Original Show Content Marketing

Most people think of content marketing as content that focuses on the particular business that is creating it. And many times that is true.

But the most powerful content marketing can actually be content that isn’t focused directly on your business at all.

As I revealed in my book “51 Content Marketing Hacks”

“Create content that your prospects and customers want — especially if it isn’t focused on your business: You must not only create great content, but you must also create content that your desired target group is craving and searching for. And this might seem counterintuitive, but the most powerful kind of content for you to create might actually be content that doesn’t directly focus on your business or industry at all.”

Do you want proof that it was content that marketed Coca-Cola effectively?

The original episode was such a powerful piece of content that Coca-Cola received thank you letters for sponsoring the special!

A Content Marketing Lesson for You

You might have thought you couldn’t use content marketing, because you’re not a content creator of any kind.

Well, now you know that you can harness the power of content marketing without actually creating it.

You can hire content creators to create content for your business.

It doesn’t have to be someone at the level of Charles Schulz. There are many content creators out there who would gladly create content for you.

And, if you have always thought, “Well, who really cares about content related to my business?”

Now you know that the content doesn’t have to directly focus on your business or industry.
It just needs to be content that resonates with your audience. That’s the key.

That’s what Coca-Cola did.

And the result is content that was so popular that it still resonates with people almost 50 year later!


NOTE: This post originally appeared on my other website on December 3, 2014, I reposted it on the website, because I thought that you would want to learn this important lesson too!

About Scott Aughtmon (1872 Articles)
I’m author of the book 51 Content Marketing Hacks. I am also a regular contributor to and I am the person behind the popular infographic 21 Types of Content We Crave. I’m a business strategist, consultant, content creation specialist, and speaker. I’ve been studying effective marketing and business methods (both online and offline) since 1999. ===> If you would like to see ways that we could work together, then please click here to learn more.