We all love a party. And with St Patrick's Day just around the corner (17 March) die-hard Guinness and Murphy's fans will be rewarded with promotions and deals on the black stuff the length and breadth of the UK.
With brands fighting for space among the nationals and consumer magazines, promotion of a brand synonymous with a celebration day can be big business in terms of both coverage and sales. St Patrick's Day is probably among the best-known of saints days outside its own country, and Irish brands Guinness and Murphy's Irish Stout are quick to spot the advantage. Guinness will be running promotions in 30,000 pubs across the UK this year, supported by TV advertising and consumer PR activity.
'Sales go up massively,' admits Guinness owner Diageo's brand PR manager Ailish Hanley, who clearly feels promotional onslaught is justified, although keeps exact sales figures close to his chest.
Tying in a consumer brand with an established, annual day in the calendar may seem like an obvious idea, but consumer permission remains the key to success. While Guinness has a large following throughout the year, there is an additional group who will enjoy the theatre of St Patrick's Day, and part of that day for them is drinking Guinness. It's more or less similar to having Christmas pudding at Christmas.
Two years ago, Murphy's Irish Stout was approached by the Greater London Authority to sponsor London's first St Patrick's Day parade. For Shine Communications, which handled PR for Murphy's at that time, it was an opportunity to 'own' a day. It came with a warning, however; beware of a potential brand overkill: as it was St Patrick's Day, rather than a Murphy's corporate day, the team had to ensure it was about celebrating all things Irish, rather than just a single brand.
'Using St Patrick's Day is a way of driving awareness, trial sampling and getting your message across,' explains Rowland Communications joint managing director Richard Stacy, who has worked with Guinness on 17 March.
'But if you are using it strategically, you have to see your brand is aligned with the essence of the particular day.'
The right date
PROs need to make subtle distinctions.
Diageo's Johnnie Walker Gold Label, for example, hosted a Burns Night event in January with designer Roland Mouret. But it may be a surprise to learn that rival whisky-maker Glenmorangie Distillery Company does not regard the Scottish poet's traditional day as a good fit for its brand.
Instead, brand PR manager Clare Meikle explains that the big celebration day for the product is Father's Day in June. It's the second biggest sales occasion after Christmas, with a 100 per cent uplift in sales, which is a definite spike on the chart for the company. The campaign is aimed at young men buying for their dads, with regional radio competitions and press advertorials. 'With Burns Night, it's a bit more of an on-trade thing, less of a sales peak. Most people have a bottle left from Christmas,' she adds.
Merely shoe-horning the brand into the day and hoping it will appeal to consumers won't necessarily work, and may go some way to explaining why St David's Day, St Andrew's Day and St George's Day have not been colonised in the same way as St Patrick's Day. 'You can't turn something into a story if it doesn't have a synergy with the day,' claims Nexus Communications consumer managing director Alan Twigg, who, when working at Harrison Cowley, was responsible for associating Charles Wells' beer brand Bombardier English Premium Bitter with St George's Day.
Twigg, a Scot who counter-intuitively wore tartan to that pitch, says: 'The triggers for a Scotsman, Irishman or Welshman are very different from the English. You have to look at what nationalism means.'
Images of inebriated thugs mouthing obscenities outside a football
ground while draped in the cross of St George may have generated the feeling among PROs that celebrating England's national day is not a road they want to go down.
But the campaign for Bombardier English Premium Bitter involved rewriting the national anthem, lobbying for a new bank holiday and, crucially, alerting press to the idea that the pub industry could be missing out on £20m in trade for the day by not getting involved.
It is not solely drinks brands that have recognised the potential of piggybacking PR campaigns on calendar events. Nexus generated interest for food manufacturer Patak's by tying products in with the Hindu Diwali festival last October.
The team invited food writers to Mosimann's Academy to go through recipes and ran competitions that attracted both radio and magazine coverage.
Elsewhere, BT cut international call charges to China to coincide with 2003's Chinese New Year and ran PR activity at seven UK Chinatowns for this year's event. Damian Peachey, BT Consumer head of PR, says: 'We spend an increasing amount of our budget on ethnic marketing and combining a campaign with Chinese New Year was an ideal way of talking to our customers.'
Airline Cathay Pacific also tapped into the January celebrations to promote Hong Kong as a holiday destination, by getting its branding on cartons of specially-developed New Covent Garden Food Company soup for Chinese New Year in a campaign by 360.
Figures are not yet available for this campaign but the PR team is confident; sales of New Covent Garden's themed 2002 St Valentine's Day soup (made with lovage and artichoke hearts) were up 12.7 per cent year on year after the campaign.
Yet for all the imagination shown, PROs appear to have overlooked the glaring potential of one publicity-friendly named day - except one notable exception.
In 1991 Borkowski PR founder Mark Borkowski was pictured in the national newspapers dressed as a Hampshire farmer and tending his crop of Cabbage Patch Kids - a brand the agency was promoting for client Hasbro UK. And the date? April Fool's Day, of course.
ST PATRICK'S DAY
Last year, St Patrick's Day fell on a Monday, which gave Lexis PR a weekend in which to promote one of Diageo GB's most famous brands, Guinness.
Targeting its efforts at 24 to 34-year-old London-based men, Lexis came up with the idea of a 'botanical pub' called The Saint & Shamrock - in effect a glorified sampling station.
It was grown over seven months, and included 20,000 shamrocks, a pool table with a topiary player, a turf dartboard and holly-clad table and chair area. The 'pub' was set up in London's Canary Wharf, a location chosen to provide ample footfall and the opportunity for word-of-mouth to spread.
The target was to provide 10,000 samples of Guinness draft and generate two pieces of national print and broadcast coverage. In the event, 15,000 samples were served to consumers over the five days up to and including 17 March. There was national coverage of the pub in the Daily Star, The Sun, Daily Express and The Guardian. However, events caught up with the promotion: scheduled features on Channel 4's RI:SE and the Richard & Judy show were pulled as they coincided with the invasion of Iraq. But regional coverage included a front page in the London Metro, and three print pieces in East London papers. Capital Radio, BBC Radio 1, Radio 4 and London Live all featured the event. The pub itself was offered as a prize for a Metro competition.
MAXIMISE NATIONAL DAY PR
1 Make them part of a wider campaign - As one PRO says: 'You don't want to be associated with one day of the year and lose the other 364'
2 Choose relevant spokespeople - Lingerie range BeauBlue had Jordan as spokesperson for its National Foreplay Day
3 Create competitions - Quality Street is perhaps not the most original gift for Mothering Sunday, but its Celebrity Mother of the Year Award helps generate significant coverage
4 Ensure authenticity - New Covent Garden's Chinese New Year Soup was a recognisably Chinese recipe rather than simply carrying Chinese branding
5 Visual appeal - Ten people in Murphy's-branded 'pint' suits mingled with crowds at London's St Patrick's Day parade
6 Audience research - BT tapped into China's tradition of offering red 'good luck' envelopes on the Chinese New Year. Envelopes given out on the street contained enough money for a free minute call
7 Create a product - In 2003, Church End Brewery came up with a new microbrew called Alcofrolic for St Valentine's Day, claiming it was an aphrodisiac
8 Give the media unusual angles - Although not strictly speaking a single day, Slendertone's National Bottom Week gave journalists the opportunity to write about subjects such as how much you could tell about a person from the shape of their bottom
9 Think about spin-offs - Charles Wells brewery spun off Eternal England events following the St George's Day push for its Bombardier beer. These involved round-the-year eccentric sports such as cheese rolling
10 Don't overdo it - 'Invented' days need to be employed sparingly - there are only so many National Be Nicer to Accountants with Blond Hair Days which are likely to work.