Read Me, I'm Irish

There should be a minimum standard for invoking certain holidays like St. Patrick's Day. It's a minor holiday, to be sure -- as tracked by RetailEmail.Blogspot, less than 4% of the emails sent by major online retailers on St. Patrick's Day and the five days prior referenced the holiday -- but it's still a holiday that has a personality. Marketers need to make their references to holidays like this relevant -- or do as so many retailers did, and not bother with it at all.

On that note, two emails caught my eye this season: one from Finish Line and another from Bluefly. The former simply used a green "free shipping" banner with some four-leaf clovers to top off an otherwise typical email for them -- no selection of green shoes; no shoes endorsed by players on the Boston Celtics. The subject line, "Free Shipping on New Shoes Arriving Daily," contained no reference to or even a pun on St. Patrick's Day. On the other hand, Bluefly .in a March 16 email used the subject line "Top Of The Mornin' To Ya...," but didn't carry through and have any kind of reference to the holiday in the body of the email. It just seemed lazy and half-baked.

Other retailers tried harder. Overstock gave a March 15 email the subject line "Happy St. Patty's Day - Collect your Lucky 7% Off Coupon!" playing off the luckiness of the number 7. DisneyShopping thought that 7 wasn't quite lucky enough when it comes to discounts, so it upped it to 17 in a March 15 email with the subject line "St. Patrick's Day Savings -- Extra 17% Off Newly Reduced Prices!" In that email, DisneyShopping uses more St. Patty's Day wordplay, saying, "Save lots of green on already reduced prices!" and included an image of Mickey Mouse in Irish attire. JC Whitney also played off the number 7, promoting its $7.77 sale, among other Irish-themed promotions.

Of course, retailers also offered plenty of Irish-themed products. FTD went Irish by offering green carnations, a shamrock planter and -- for an Asian twist -- lucky bamboo. Adding to its family of Happy Hour Bouquets, 1-800-Flowers.com offered a Beer Mug of Blooms, with flowers on top and acrylic rocks inside that looked so much like amber goodness that the product should carry the warning, "Choking hazard: Keep away from small children and Irish revelers." MLB.com offered green sports apparel, and Lillian Vernon and Oriental Trading offered plenty of Irish-themed home decor and party goods.

The Finish Line and Bluefly emails remind me of an email that Circuit City sent on Oct. 26. It announced a Halloween sale as if it were announcing a Labor Day or Columbus Day sale, which is to say there was no hook whatsoever. The next day, Dell sent out an email with the subject line "Picture this - Halloween savings on Dell Photography solutions" that pulled off the Halloween hook perfectly, connecting Dell's computers and electronics to the capturing of Halloween moments.

The point is that holidays are great marketing opportunities, but you can't show up at the St. Patrick's Day parade wearing French blue from head to toe and expect to be taken seriously. You have to do more than just show up.