Have national holidays become white noise to Americans and media outlets?
There are over 1,500 national holidays on the National Day Calendar, with more added every year. These “holidays” can be a great opportunity for marketing teams, but the sheer number of them might render their influence ineffective in some public relations strategies.
Many people aren’t aware that most national days haven’t been federally created. With only 64 federally observed days (in addition to several dozen observed weeks or months), the rest of the national days Americans celebrate were created over the past century by clever marketers.
Take “National Raisin Day,” started in 1909 by raisin growers in California. National Doughnut Day was fried up in 1938 by the Salvation Army to honor the women who handed out doughnuts to soldiers on the front lines during World War I.
In 2013, technology talk show host Marlo Anderson created the National Day Calendar, where over 20,000 media outlets follow the site’s listed holidays. Anderson’s calendar launched national days into the popular sphere where they became a useful tool for engaging audiences. Some holidays are more mainstream (“PTSD Awareness Day”), while others are more bizarre or clearly promotional (“Lima Bean Respect Day” or “Garfield the Cat Day”).
Though national holidays present organizations with an opportunity to engage media outlets, efforts might be better directed at targeted social media channels than print or broadcast news media.
Anderson’s team receives tons of national holiday requests per year. A panel of four chooses which entries become holidays to add to the calendar, but anyone can declare any day a “National Day.” To get recognized by Anderson’s National Day Calendar, companies pay between $2,300 and $4,000 to join the ranks of the chosen.
This set-up limits the amount of meaningful media coverage even a legitimate organization can receive with their “National Day.” In 2019, for example, Atlantic reporter James Hamblin wrote an article disapproving of the attention created by “National Avocado Day,” noting that important political topics slipped under the radar.
So, if the proliferation of national days is becoming unsustainable, how do organizations use national days effectively? Here are five tips:
1. Be authentic. Engage in national days that are relevant to your core purpose/mission. Use holidays because they are important to your organization’s DNA, not because they’re an opportunity to get media attention.
2. Don’t bet the farm. Consider national day campaigns when developing your PR strategy. However, only in unique cases should they be the cornerstone. For example, your product or organization owns the brand category and/or share of voice.
3. Take advantage of social media. Engaging audiences online maximizes resources and aligns them with the natural ebb and flow of a typical national day customer attention cycle. Social media directly targets people’s interests, supports rapid message testing, and enables two-way engagement, which can streamline the customer journey.
4. Don’t rely on hashtags. Since their invention in 2007, hashtags have alerted audiences about social media content, especially regarding national holidays. Recently, a study by Next Web found that hashtag use might be on the decline. More than half of social media consumers don’t consider using them or searching them anymore.
5. Reporters aren’t interested. Inundated with national holiday pitches, James Hamblin’s Atlantic article shows journalists are increasingly skeptical of these stories. Corporate marketing and PR teams create and promote their organization around national holidays as a way to sell products and services. With this in mind, don’t be surprised if a reporter tells you to just buy advertising.
David Fouse is a partner and lead strategist with Pinkston, a Washington, D.C.-based strategic communications firm.