St. Patrick’s Day reminds us that “the holidays” don’t end in January

Chicago is a city that takes St. Patrick’s Day very seriously. Despite the often-frigid temperatures, every March 17, Chicagoans flock downtown to watch the city dye the river neon green, as they pass around flasks and joke, “If they can dye the river green today, why don’t they dye it blue every other day?” This year, McDonald’s got in on the celebration, installing an 80-foot rainbow in the water to promote its famous Shamrock Shakes. Reading about that, we realized that we kind of forgot about St. Patrick’s Day as a holiday. Maybe you did, too.

According to Adobe, the 2017 holiday season generated more than $100 billion in sales, a number that seems to increase every year. That period is naturally the most lucrative for many brands and requires months of planning for marketers, ensuring that the holidays never quite end. According to a BigCommerce survey of 1,018 brands, the majority start planning for the holidays over the summer. However, 7.5% are thinking about it as early as January.

At the same time, the holidays are ongoing because there are so many of them beyond the holidays. And people spend a lot of money on them.

mcdonald's st. patrick's day shambow

Valentine’s Day + St. Patrick’s Day + Easter + Mother’s Day = more than $65 billion

On Valentine’s Day, the National Retail Federation (NRF) estimated that consumers spent $19.6 billion, whether or not they had a valentine; 11.5% of those people bought something for themselves. A month later, St. Patrick’s Day generated more than $5 billion. In a few weeks, Easter is projected to bring in close to $20 billion. Mother’s Day is estimated to trump them all with $23.6 billion. And that’s only three months in the year, without even getting into all the federal holidays that always inspire retailers to have big sales.

Let’s zero in on St. Patrick’s Day, since that was only a few days ago. It’s a big holiday for McDonald’s, given the popularity of the Shamrock Shake. Brands like Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme (and whatever bagel store you go to) celebrate with green bagels and doughnuts. Alcohol brands, particularly Irish ones like Guinness and Jameson, can be counted on to have promotions. The latter even had a giveaway involving a trip to visit its distillery in Ireland.

But overall, you don’t see that much marketing around St. Patrick’s Day.

Unsurprisingly, food and beverage were the biggest spending categories this weekend, according to NRF. The organization found that the next-highest category was apparel: 31% of consumers who made St. Patrick’s Day purchases bought clothes. Why don’t more retailers make a bigger deal about promoting whatever green clothing they sell? Where are the tutorials from Sephora or L’Oréal teaching consumers how to do St. Patrick’s Day makeup? It seems like a missed opportunity, given how many brands deploy marketing messages every day anyway.

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B-list holiday best practices

Thinking back to St. Patrick’s Day – and looking ahead to the upcoming Easter, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day holidays – what are some best practices for your brand (or your clients’ brands)?

  1. What is it about the holiday that’s most resonant with your audience? It doesn’t even necessarily have to revolve around a product, either. Travel deal aggregator TravelZoo partnered with Tourism Ireland to livestream Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade; 344,000 people watched it.
  2. What does the holiday inspire people to buy? You might think Mother’s Day is the top flower-giving day of the year, but that’s actually Valentine’s Day (or when Elvis dies). It’s a big day for brands like 1-800-Flowers, but people are actually more likely to gift mom with a houseplant. Food is the top purchase for Fourth of July. Not every company lends itself to creating a gift guide, but understanding the holiday’s typical spending patterns will give you some direction.
    easter spending nrf
  3. What if there’s no obvious connection? Food, particularly candy, dominates Easter spending, but you don’t need to be Hershey’s to get in on the holiday if you’re creative. Don’t forget that “Easter egg” is a synonym for a hidden little prize. If you’re a shameless fan of puns, “the mother of all” can apply to essentially anything a few weeks later.

Further proof that these holidays are underestimated marketing opportunities: I’ve never had a Shamrock Shake in my life, but really want one now.

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