Hijacking Holidays: To Observe Or Not To Observe

According to one source, “the U.S. is particularly prolific at creating ‘national month’ events to promote business and other interests.” There are upwards of 70 holidays in April alone. It’s enough to make a marketer’s head spin and it creates a new dilemma: to market or not.

Whether or not a brand should “hijack” (the act of leveraging a holiday or observance to create conversation or engagement) isn’t an exact science. The PR industry offers a graveyard of holiday shenanigans, where a mix of clever and strategic successes can be found alongside detrimental misses. To avoid the latter, marketers should evaluate the following areas when debating the holiday hijack:

  1. Make sure there is an authentic connection between the brand and holiday.Confirm there’s a clear reason to engage in the first place and that the cleverness of a campaign links back to the brand’s DNA. That link should be obvious to the public.



Consider McDonald’s stunt for International Women’s Day. The brand flipped its “M” arches to create a “W.” Praise for the stunt took a serious turn when backlash over the brand’s employee benefits and living wages emerged. Headlines encouraged the brand to “try again,” citing the stunt as a “hollow gesture.”

If target audiences will struggle to understand the brand connection, sit the holiday out.

  1. Get clear visibility into the (anticipated) end-user experience. Take April Fools’ Day, an equally loved and hated holiday among marketers and media. Announcing a sought-after product feature may ignite buzz, but the discovery of the news as a prank can leave audiences feeling duped. Pranksters should be mindful when concepting gimmicks to involve the audience as insiders to the joke, versus making them the punchline. This year, several brands mastered the holiday thanks to transparent messaging that informed audiences of their light-hearted intentions:
  • Burger King tipped off fans that its new chocolate Whopper may just be a gimmick via @BurgerKing tweets and a video spot ending with “Coming soon. Maybe.”
  • Google tapped into Millennial nostalgia by incorporating “Where’s Waldo” into an interactive, functioning version of Google Maps. Spurring engagement and trial, users played all week long.
  • One chocolatier announced a mouthwatering addition — California Collective’s 101% Dark Chocolate bar — and immediately guided curious chocoholics to the brand’s available dark chocolate offerings.
  1. Confirm the holiday hijack meets business goals. The allure of an opportunistic holiday can be the rose-colored glasses that have marketers sidestepping previously agreed-upon strategies. Always keep business and product goals in mind as guardrails. If the objective is to move product, then the campaign needs to be sales-driven with a call to action for readers, versus an education or awareness play. Brands that need to punch up chatter for an existing product can leverage national observances to invigorate interest, using the holiday as a reason for consumers to engage now instead of later. Evaluating the holiday opportunity against clear business goals helps brands determine the true business impact.
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