CampaignsYour official guide to unofficial holiday marketing

Your official guide to unofficial holiday marketing

With Valentine’s Day behind us and Easter still weeks away, you may think that puts you on holiday marketing hiatus. Not so.

March is gearing up to deliver a wealth of promotional opportunities, from Tolkien Reading Day to the ever-popular Pi Day, a favorite among dessert and pizza brands everywhere.

Unofficial holidays are like office donuts: you never need an excuse to try one (or three). Lighthearted observances like National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day, International Free Hugs Day, and Eat a Red Apple Day generate social media buzz, and open the door for brands to participate in high impression conversations online.

This week saw marketers capitalize on Leap Day, February’s extra day that arrives every four years.


With its #DayItForward campaign, Chevy invited consumers to use the time to “pay it forward” by doing something kind and good.

The resulting stories – videos, images, and posts on social media and a campaign microsite  — allowed the auto brand to align itself with an inspirational social message and build positive brand sentiment.


With #TakeTheLeap, Zappos shifted the Leap Day focus to encourage work-life balance.

The online retailer shut down for the day so that employees could do something fun and adventurous. Zappos even filed a petition with to make Leap Day a federal holiday.

Kristin Richmer of Zappos Awareness Marketing:

As a brand, one of our core values is to create fun and a little weirdness, while another is to embrace and drive change. We believe marketing efforts around an unofficial holiday like Leap Day offer brands an uncluttered space to make some noise and grab the attention of consumers.


Think outside the brand

But where do companies begin? There are dozens of unofficial holidays for the taking – and selecting the right one isn’t as easy as it seems.

Last month, countless brands recognized National Margarita Day on February 22.

The obvious participants were among them; Patron Tequila, Chili’s Grill & Bar, Visit Sante Fe all posted about their margarita-related offerings.

But Google posted too, using the day to promote Google Search, while Time Inc.’s personal finance resource Money shared content on where to buy the drinks for two bucks.



Associating yourself with a holiday that relates to your product or service is a given (IHOP went so far as to create its own custom holiday as part of a social good campaign, with National Pancake Day on March 8), but don’t stop there.

Expand your purview to include days that allow you to showcase your brand in a different way.

Indie publisher Algonquin Books took advantage of #NationalMargaritaDay social chatter by promoting a blog post on the history of the drink as described by one of its authors.

Nordstrom, meanwhile, kept it simple by tapping into the mindset of its target audience of young professionals.

In other words, as long as you can link a holiday to your brand without forcing a fit, there’s a place for you among the usual suspects.



Know your followers, and your brand voice

“Know your audience” may be the first rule of marketing communications, but “know your brand voice” is a close second.

This means that regardless of which holiday you choose, your messaging should reflect the brand your customers have come to know.

Consider your brand’s personality, philosophy, and values, and develop a message that reflects your brand identity.

For last year’s Star Wars Day, also know as #MayThe4th, Texas-based fast food chain Whataburger differentiated itself by getting clever and creative with its condiments.

The image replicated recent videos promoting its new Buffalo Sauce, and generated thousands of interactions on Twitter.



Tim Hortons doubled up on its cultural references by pairing #StarWarsDay with the popular hashtag #MotivationMonday and an image of its Timbits donut holes.

The themed post shared an on-brand message that was also reflective of the product (i.e. Timbits may be small, but they pack a flavor punch).


Kristin Richmer of Zappos:

Our content– be it imagery, video, or copy – is always fresh and in keeping with the Zappos ethos. We pride ourselves on thinking out-of-the-box and executing bold stunts that allow us to connect with our customers on a deeper, more personal level.

Add value

If there’s a downside to unofficial holidays, it’s that they’re becoming too popular with marketers. The best way to stand out? Deliver value.

Think of unofficial holidays in the context of content: what can you give your audience that they can use? Recipes, DIY projects, and lifehacks are a good option. So is pure entertainment.

If you can make your followers smile, odds are good you can incite a share. Research has shown posts that evoke happiness are more likely to be shared than gloomy ones, while inspirational videos are better equipped to gain traction than negative content.

Actor and comedian Milton Berle once said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” Think of unofficial holidays as your entry into a consumer conversation, and start developing that social content.

Tessa Wegert is a business and tech reporter, former media strategist, and branded content developer.