Tom Harvey of YesMore drinks marketing agency proposes some steps for a longer-term approach.  

Easter has been and gone and, as I’m sure most will agree, Christmas and New Year feel as though they were an absolute age ago. Key dates such as International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day have passed, Father’s Day is around the corner and we’ll undoubtedly see campaigns around World Gin, Malbec or Beer Day soon enough. 

Brands use all these as a way to resonate with consumers via association with the key date, but there are problems with relying solely on this approach. One is that not all brands have a genuine reason to tap into these key dates. I won’t shame them publicly, but I recently counted five campaigns advertising alcohol promotions around Blue Monday, supposedly the most depressing day of the year. Why advertise alcohol as a remedy for the January blues? Experience tells me the brands just didn’t make the connection that they were essentially promoting self-medication through booze. 

It was most likely a habitual marketing instinct to think “key date” and “what do we do for it?”, a common approach for many marketeers and brand owners. Another problem is that key calendar date marketing can be samey and predictable. It’s questionable whether brands genuinely stand out amid the many thousands of 10%-off campaigns for Mother’s Day. One gimmick that’s gained popularity in recent years is for brands to send their whole database an email offering an opt-out of emails about Mother’s or Father’s Day in case recipients have lost parents and are triggered. But they are sent in the lead-up to those key dates, in effect acting as marketing anyway. 

Key calendar date marketing has become saturated, with competitors doing the same things. The role of marketing is, ultimately, to get a brand to chime with the audience through whatever means necessary – and that doesn’t have to mean marketing around just key calendar dates. So, I want to propose a few alternatives that provide more long-term brand-building benefits. 

One is to reflect the news agenda. While it’d be very short-sighted to tap into one or two news stories and then leave it for a while, if you make a connection around all stories about a particular topic, then you may be on to something. News generates conversation, and conversation spreads word of mouth. Brewdog is a fantastic example of a brand that is unafraid to tap into a topical news story to resonate with an audience segment, even if it means alienating others. 

Another route to connecting with target audiences is entertainment, such as the latest TV shows, films or podcasts that everyone’s talking about. Celebrity partnerships provide a more long-term approach. These essentially piggy-back those celebrities’ resonance with an audience, helping to make brands more relatable and relevant to target consumers. Brands just need to be smart with the partnership and watch out for the risks involved.

The final suggestion is to resonate via purpose. That doesn’t mean, for example, running an International Women’s Day event if you have an all-male board of directors. The brand and the business need to really mean it, setting up a culture of accountability, transparency and desire to implement real change, rather than just shouting about it. 

A fantastic example of the way to do this properly is Nc’nean, the female-founded whisky brand, which has a team comprising more than 50% women and that puts its money where its mouth is throughout the year. Not only does it tap into key dates such as International Women’s Day – this year it brought eight female bartenders together at the Royal Cocktail Exchange to make Nc’nean cocktails for £7.70, to highlight the 7.7% gender pay gap – but has also created its own key dates, such as Women’s Whisky Week. 

It’s also part of a campaign through Buy Women Built, an organisation to promote female-founded brands that will see sampling activity and much more from 40-plus brands in Whole Foods Market. Nc’nean is proactively encouraging retailers to champion its own values. Purpose-driven activity such as this gives brands licence to tap into key calendar dates for their marketing.