It’s that time of year again - Valentine’s is long gone, and it’s not quite acceptable to get excited about Easter yet…which means it must be St. Patrick’s Day! The Irish holiday is steeped in tradition and history - it is at its heart a celebration of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who converted the then-pagan Irish to Christianity - but aside from that, the day has also become a marketing goldmine in recent years. Although the roots of St. Patrick’s Day are, well, saintly, the day has now come to be a rather more raucous celebration of all things Irish, with the emphasis heavily on Irish food and, of course, Irish drinks. Whether you’re planning on being bedecked in shamrocks or ignoring the celebrations altogether, it’s pretty hard to ignore some of the campaigns going on right now…for better or for worse!
Before we get into some of the more memorable St. Patrick’s Day campaigns for 2017, we have to wonder - what it is about this Irish national holiday that has such an effect on customers the world over? According to data from Impact, around $4.6 billion will be spent on the 17th March in the USA alone, with the average American spending $37 dollars on the day. The holiday has progressed from being a largely religious observance to “one of the largest global parties of the year” (Campaign), and plenty of brands have capitalised on this. St. Patrick seems to represent a kind of “everyman figure” that people can connect to, and many brands succeed by emulating this accessible and relatable vibe.
In fact, Rick Hirst, writing for Campaign, has even gone as far as to name Saint Patrick “the ultimate brand ambassador” due to the success of marketing on the holiday. The numerous symbols and icons which we instantly associate with the holiday - not to mention, quite simply, the colour green - mean that brands have a large pool of options to fish from when brainstorming ideas for the holiday. But that’s not to say some brands aren’t thinking outside of the box this year, as we’re about to see.
You can’t talk about St. Patrick’s Day without talking about what is perhaps the most successful and well-known of Irish exports - Guinness. Guinness are famous for their stellar advertising campaigns, from their very first national ad printed in 1929 in the Daily Express, to their numerous innovative and iconic television campaigns. Their 1999 tv spot, Surfer, is often regarded as one of the best adverts of all time, and “Britain’s favourite all-time ad” (Independent), cementing their place at the top of the marketing food chain. Guinness have always set themselves apart with a clear brand identity, innovative marketing and a long and celebrated company heritage.
This year, their US contingent has stepped away from a traditional St. Patrick’s Day marketing campaign, instead opting for a charitable approach. Their March campaign, #stacheforcharity, draws to a close this weekend in honour of St. Patrick’s Day. As part of the campaign, Guinness USA have promised to donate $1 to charity for every photo it receives. The catch? The photo must feature someone sporting a classic Guinness foam ‘moustache’, captioned with the hashtag #stacheforcharity. The simple, yet brilliant idea behind the initiative is to “celebrate what brings us together” and “build community values in the US” (Male Standard) during a turbulent period for American consumers. Guinness Brand Director, Emma Giles, has even stated that “few, if any, holidays are as unifying” as St. Patrick’s Day, making it the perfect opportunity for the charitable campaign to really make a difference.
Guinness isn’t the only brand making a push with social for St. Paddy’s this year. Jameson Whiskey, another famous Irish brand and one that is just as synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day, are also getting interactive in honour of this Friday. Celebrating their brand heritage, this year Jameson are taking a St. Patrick’s Day tradition that dates back to 1780 and making it current with their #CheersYourJameson campaign. All users have to do is submit a photo or video (the wackier the better) captioned with the hashtag #CheersYourJameson and tag the location via Instagram, and they could be in with a chance of winning a trip to Dublin to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day 2018. This campaign is a masterful stroke, combining brand heritage and customer unity with an easy and memorable hashtag.
On the other side of the spectrum, some brands seem to have really missed the mark this year. So far, the most notable St. Patrick’s Day marketing fail of 2017 has to be McDonalds, who sparked outrage with their most recent social campaign. Their US Twitter launched a video showing a man blowing into one of their famous (and seasonal) ‘Shamrock Shakes’ as if it were bagpipes… the famous Scottish instrument. The man was also depicted as ‘playing’ the shake in front of Stonehenge…a famous English monument. The campaign has been slated and mocked, by Twitter users and tabloids since its release, as well as being branded culturally insensitive.
This marks a significant change from previous years, when McDonalds has managed to embrace St. Patrick’s Day in a much more effective and respectful way. Their Shamrock Shake has become a symbol of the holiday in the US, and in previous years they have invested in brilliant background marketing schemes to remind customers of its status. For example, in the past they have engaged customers successfully by creating the illusion of a huge Shamrock Shake being poured into the Chicago River, which is conveniently dyed green every year for the holiday.
In other news, St. Patrick’s Day has also triggered an unprecedented move from Krispy Kreme this year. The doughnut chain has decided to change their best-selling product for one day and one day only in honour of St. Paddy - the iconic Original Glazed doughnut is becoming the emerald-iced and playfully named O’riginal Glazed in selected US and Canada stores this Friday. This is a stroke of marketing genius from the doughnut giants, who have never before changed the name of their iconic product, and shows that big brands really are capable of capturing the joyful St. Patrick’s Day spirit.
Although some brands may have missed the mark this year, it’s obvious that St. Patrick’s Day is an unmissable opportunity for all sorts of brands to make their mark and appeal to a broader range of customers. The playful spirit that defines this holiday means that brands can really get creative, coming up with fun and individual campaigns that unite and excite customers in equal measure. Whether it’s your favourite day of the year or just another Friday, be sure to look out for the brands making a difference this year, and - most importantly - cheers!