Business takeaways from fictional marketing geniuses: Turbo Man - Heart Internet Blog - Focusing on all aspects of the web

Widely thought to be the best of all Arnie films*, Jingle All The Way is a Christmas classic. Like all good seasonal movies, it includes manic reindeer, lots of slapstick comedy, and an unhealthy dose of capitalism. If you’ve not seen it before, the premise of the film is that a busy dad is desperately trying to get the year’s most popular toy (an action figure named Turbo Man) for his son to open on Christmas Day.


*dependent on your social circle

(Interestingly, the shortage of the number one children’s toy every Christmas is usually deliberate. Not only does it make it more desirable, but it also directs parents to buy alternative toys for Christmas and promise their children that they can have the toy they really want when it’s back in stock. Which the toy companies make sure will be in January, a traditionally slow period for toy sales).

What makes this post different to the other posts in this series so far, Willy Wonka and President Business, is that the company behind Turbo Man remains anonymous. There are no clues to their branding, non-Turbo Man products, or even their name. For the purposes of the film, it doesn’t make a difference; it’s Turbo Man that’s the focus. However, when we’re looking at it from a ‘marketing geniuses’ perspective, it strips back a lot in terms of branding, perception and story around the business itself. Instead, the focus is very much on the product. This post goes back to the core of making your product and sales messages strong so you can then build your marketing outwards.

The core product

The Turbo Man figure itself is an incredibly well-designed product. Jamie, the son, describes all the features of the figure excitedly with wide eyes, describing its discus weapon, flying capabilities and so on. In the film, it’s instantly recognisable from the cheap counterfeit knock-offs that are created to take advantage of the trend. You can make even the most boring product or service covetable. If the features or appearance aren’t exciting in and of themselves, focus on selling the benefits and results. Make sure your products are always being reviewed and improved in order to develop the best experience possible.

The other key takeaway here is that how you talk about your product influences how your customers talk about it. This is shown in the movie with the correction, “It’s not a doll. It’s an action figure.” All your marketing should reflect how you want your product to be perceived, which includes everything from name to colour to price to description, and beyond. For example, Hotel Chocolat deliberately chooses to have all their product prices end in .00 or .50, because they think .99 suggests a lower cost, lower worth product.

Slogans and straplines

Jingle All The Way has a lot of memorable lines. In fact, we had a Christmas quiz question about it on Twitter last year and plenty of people responded with quotes from the film as well as the answer. What’s interesting is that the lines they quoted were specifically the marketing slogans.

The main slogan is “It’s turbo time!”…and if you’ve seen Jingle All The Way, chances are you just read that in your head in the same way it’s said in the film. When it comes to marketing, it’s just not about what you say, it’s how you say it. If your business is predominantly text-based, consider:

  • The different contexts in which your text appears (physical situation, format, media).
  • Ways in which your words might be misinterpreted in terms of tone, or lead to confusion in terms of meaning.
  • Utilising other formats as well, e.g. video, face-to-face communication, podcasts and sound bites (these also have accessibility benefits for customers with disabilities).


The perfect tagline takes a lot of work. Globally recognised slogans like “Just do it” or “I’m lovin’ it” are the result of huge budgets and big brands. Instead of looking to corporations for inspiration, have a browse around ones of a similar size or industry and analyse their slogans for elements that you like or dislike. Another exercise that helps is to isolate one specific product and write mini lists of the biggest benefits, then keep reducing that down to the most important feature/message.

One of Turbo Man’s other key slogans is, “You can always count on me”. This implies reliability and a personal approach, and in the same way, creating a strong, positive flagship message for your brand works well. Steer clear of overselling yourself and stick to the reality of your business: people appreciate honesty and realism more than crazy claims. Having an extra element that appeals to your audience can really help too; in the film, one of Turbo Man’s lesser used quotes is, “Always keep your promises if you want to keep your friends,” which is really a message designed to make adults feel comfortable about the toys their children are playing with and ensure Turbo Man is seen as a positive, acceptable role model.

When creating slogans, straplines, titles and headlines, think about:

  • Making it short, snappy, and memorable.
  • Incorporating your brand name or product name (particularly your web address).
  • Whether it reflects your brand (in terms of message, tone, and meaning).
  • How it will work with your logo(s).
  • Whether it will be relevant in five or ten years’ time.

Emotional marketing

The classic story of good overcoming evil makes a frequent appearance in marketing, particularly with visual media such as videos and TV ads. We talked about the importance of a great story in the Willy Wonka edition of this series, but in Jingle All The Way the idea of the all-American super hero defeating the evil villain comes up repeatedly, in cartoons, through toys, and in ‘real life’. Even though it’s clear what’s going to happen every time, turning negatives into positives and building that happy ending has a feel-good factor that leaves the audience (and customers) feeling satisfied. Introduce this in your own marketing through the power of storytelling; it doesn’t have to be anything involved or complicated. Even a couple of sentences can tell a story.

In Jingle All The Way, the concept of fear is also utilised in various different ways. Outside of the Turbo Man hero vs. villain story, the other main fear is that of the father, Howard, being unable to get his son the Turbo Man action figure for Christmas. This plays on a fear that all parents have: feeling like they’ve let their children down. In marketing, fear is a common mechanism to explore worst case scenarios of what could happen: if you don’t have a fire alarm, your life is at risk. If you don’t have a strong password, your money can be stolen. If you don’t donate to charity, a child will die. There is a strong emotional marketing ploy at work, but it’s underlined by truth. There are ethical considerations around this kind of marketing, and in many niches there are laws surrounding what you can and can’t say; for example, you can’t market zinc bracelets as having health benefits because the claims have been disputed through science. Whether you choose to include an element of fear in your marketing is up to you, although if you run any kind of web business chances are you’ve informed people about spam, hacking, search engine penalties, or similar at some point anyway!

Seasonal peaks

Knowing the pattern of your seasonal highs and lows makes a huge difference to every part of your business and the decisions you make. Regardless of what it is, every product and service is affected by peaks and troughs simply because human beings behave differently at different times of the year. The average person is buying presents in December, holidaying in August, buying chocolate in spring, more likely to stay at home throughout winter, and so on.

In Jingle All The Way, Christmas capitalism is prevalent in every scene. Even the toy manufacturers capitalise on demand by creating artificial shortages designed to send customers into a frenzy. All kinds of businesses jump on the Turbo Man wagon and respond in different ways. Many toy stores put the prices up several hundred percent, much to the disgust of the parents. The local radio station does a giveaway offering a Turbo Man as the prize. One store attempts a lottery draw to determine who gets the last figure. And towards the end of the film, the climax of the Turbo Man obsession involves a life-size Turbo Man mascot giving away a special edition of the figure to one lucky child. Today this would be considered viral marketing; Turbo Man is not only successful for the company who produces it, but also benefits for those jumping of the bandwagon. Whilst this can have plenty of benefits if you’re the one at the epicentre, this kind of hype is notorious for being short lived.


The golden rule here is: know your seasonal peaks. This knowledge ensures you have the right amount of stock in, run sales at the right times, and appeal to customers at the times they’re most in need of your products and services. But it’s not just about seasonal changes. Even week-to-week, day-to-day, hour-to-hour can make a difference. Use your website analytics data (and any other data you have) to identify patterns. Perhaps your customers are more likely to buy a particular product on a Wednesday afternoon, or maybe one of your services is most popular in July and August. Some patterns will take at least a couple of years to be confirmed, but you can easily keep on top of it by running reports for comparisons. If you can find data for your industry online, you can also compare it with that to see how closely it correlates to your own findings. If it’s a good match, you can use it to project and predict even if your business is very new.

Social proof

We touched on social proof [] earlier in the series, but it’s a common theme in every example we’ve looked at. Turbo Man’s hype is exacerbated by social proof: the more people adopt a particular idea or behaviour, the more other people follow. In Jingle All The Way, the demand for Turbo Man reaches fever pitch thanks to a manipulation of supply. The crowds trying to get their hands on the figure only increase in size as the film goes on. As people continue to talk about it and it continues to get media coverage, social proof is further strengthened to the point that people are willing to physically fight over the toy. Although social proof for your own business is likely to occur on a much smaller scale, you can still utilise it successfully to drive sales. More importantly, you can use it selectively to attract more of the same types of customers you already have, allowing you to optimise your products and services to meet a particular set of needs. To get started, check out this article from Kissmetrics: 7 things you MUST understand when leveraging social proof in your marketing efforts.

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