From sweet tea to sunglasses: How Charlotte companies capitalize on made-up holidays

Charlotte Observer file photo
Duck Donuts

Surely you’ve noticed the number of holidays that retailers tout these days as ways to promote their products — National Doughnut Day, National Iced Tea Day, National Biscuit Day, National Sunglasses Day, the list goes on. You’ve probably seen these made-up holidays incorporated into social media hashtags and used by public relations firms as a reason to promote a client.

These holidays, however, aren’t exactly nationally recognized ones.

Whether they are created by individuals, businesses or advocacy groups, these made-up commemorations are ways to drum up sales and brand awareness — and Charlotte companies are capitalizing on the trend, too.

National Sunglasses Day on June 27, for instance, is a commemorative date created by The Vision Council to raise awareness about protecting eyes from UV rays, according to its website. In “recognition” of the not-so-commonly known holiday, a PR firm sent email blasts offering interviews with local optometrist MyEyeDr on the importance of wearing sunglasses over squinting.

Promotional holidays are simply meant to create brand interest and generate sales. That’s something merchants have been doing for years and years, said Roger Beahm, an executive director of the Wake Forest School of Business Center for Retail Innovation.

Customers may be noticing them more online because retailers have a stronger digital presence than they once did.

“What we’re seeing is a continuation of a long-standing trend that dates back well over a century,” Beahm said. “It’s why greeting card companies created some holidays we celebrate as a way of increasing sales of their products. It was a merchandising strategy.”

It’s working for Duck Donuts, a chain started in the Outer Banks that opened its first Charlotte store in Dilworth in 2015. The chain has been celebrating National Doughnut Day, created by The Salvation Army in the late 1930s, since it began franchising in 2013.

Founder and CEO Russ DiGilio said the annual holiday, which takes place June 1, has been good for business because it creates brand awareness and it gets people in the door. Duck Donuts typically does some kind of free doughnut giveaway, he said.

“National Doughnut Day is one of our busiest days of the year,” DiGilio said. After National Doughnut Day, he added, the chain begins to see an uptick in sales all of its locations.

Charlotte-based Bojangles’ celebrates six or seven “unique occasions” a year, according to spokesman Brian Little.

Recognizing these holidays includes selling heart-shaped “Bo Berry” biscuits on Valentine’s Day and offering special pricing on biscuits and sweet tea on National Buttermilk Biscuit Day (May 14), and National Iced Tea Day (June 10), respectively.

Little wouldn’t comment on the impact the promotional holidays have on sales, only that it receives “incredibly positive feedback” from customers, especially on social media.

Bojangles’ is known for being playful on its social media accounts. It doesn’t sell doughnuts, but the company used National Doughnut Day to recognize a fellow North Carolina brand, Winston-Salem-based Krispy Kreme, on its Twitter account.

The Instagram effect

Holly McGuire, editor in chief of Chase’s Calendar of Events, describes her company as a dictionary of holidays, commemorations and events throughout the year. Anyone can submit an entry for a certain holiday, McGuire said.

Chase’s has maintained its ledger of official holidays since the late 1950s. But McGuire said in the last five years, the number of made-up holidays has “really exploded” thanks to social media.

“People who are constantly posting on Instagram are looking for content. Like, ‘I need to find the excuse or a reason to post. Today is National Watermelon Day so I’ll post a picture of myself eating watermelon,’ ” McGuire said.

It has made matters a little complicated for Chase’s, which she describes as “a little more conservative” in terms of what it adds to the book. The holidays it adds should be long-lasting, McGuire said, and every holiday has to have a sponsor.

Some companies use the made-up holidays as a reason to give back. As part of a company-wide charitable giving effort on National Doughnut Day, for instance, RiseBiscuits Donuts at Steele Creek donated all of the sales of its Chocolate Icing Donut to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.

And this week, Whole Foods caused a stir when it cleared its Instagram and most of the accounts it follows, except for Beyoncé, Sting, Cardi B and other well-known names somehow associated with the letter “b.”

It turns out that the stunt was aimed at raising awareness for National Pollinator’s Week and Month, as well as at initiatives to educate kids to the value of honeybees in the ecosystem.

There are more made-up holidays than days of the year, although some have stronger staying power than others.

Some such as Earth Day, created in the 1960s, have societal value, Beahm said, and may be more widely observed than others created for purely promotional purposes, such as Amazon Prime Day on July 16.

“If (marketers) can’t find a holiday they’ll make one up,” Beahm said.

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