Invent ‘Special Days’ to launch promotions

Promotions on unusual ‘Special Days’ (e.g. World Tourism Day, anniversary of first purchase) are more effective at increasing sales. In one experiment, people were 25% more likely to buy.

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📝 Intro

Are our promotions more effective if we link them to a special date?

For example, Pi Day (March 14), which celebrates the mathematical constant, is increasingly used in the US as an excuse for special promotions for anything from pizzas to makeup.

Today’s research shows us that that’s a pretty good idea.


Previous insight: Sustainability signals quality (100+ more insights here)

Unusual special day promotions increase the effect of discounts

Impacted metrics: Customer acquisition | Customer spending
Channels: Promotions
For: B2C
Research date: September 2021

📈 Recommendation

Use unusual special days to launch your promotions (e.g. World Cotton Day: Today only, 25% off our cotton items).

You can create three types of special day promotions:

  • Existing special days (e.g. World Water Day)

  • Your company’s own day (e.g. Amazon Prime Day)

  • Personalized special offer days (e.g. anniversary of the first time a customer bought from you)

Special days must be creative and original while fitting to your brand and product. They won’t work if many competitors use them too (e.g. Father’s Day).


🎓 Effects

  • People are more likely to buy from promotions that celebrate an uncommon special day (e.g. 30% off for Star Wars day), compared to the same discount not linked to a special day (e.g. 30% off today only).

  • For example, in experiments:

    • People were almost 2x more likely to click promotion links in an email (10% vs 19.3%) of a small business selling dog gear (e.g. collars) when the promotion day was a special day:

      • Special day subject line: “Save 25% Today As We Celebrate the Anniversary of Cooper’s Rescue” (Cooper being the company’s mascot dog, rescued by the founder)

      • Control condition subject line: “Save 25% Today at [Company name]”

    • Study participants reported they were 25.1% more likely to buy from a picnic-related retailer when the one-day 30% discount was framed as a “National Picnic Day Sale” day rather an “Annual One Day Sale”

  • For the effect to work, the special day needs to be:

    • Original: a holiday or event that’s not commonly used for promotions (e.g. World Postal Day, 9th October) or is unique to the company (e.g. an anniversary, preferably accompanied by a story)

    • Appropriate: a good fit between the special day and the company’s brand and products (e.g. ​​International Firefighter’s Day, 4th May, wouldn’t typically be relevant for a food retailer)

  • Special day-themed promotions don’t give negative signals (e.g. low quality), unlike what often happens when discounting products. Instead, people see the promotions as the result of marketing creativity.

(How people rated different holidays in a survey. Creativity of the special day is what increases purchase intentions - Click to zoom in)


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🧠 Why it works

  • We notice the creativity of special day promotions that are original and appropriate.

  • This unexpected unique creativity makes us feel better towards the brand and increases our enjoyment of the offers, which makes us more likely to buy.

✋ Limitations

  • This study only looked at special day promotions that had a discount attached to them (e.g. 20% off on selected products). We don’t know whether just celebrating a special day in itself, without further incentives, would have a positive effect.

  • It’s unclear how much originality special days need to have before they start to have an effect. Is a birthday offer original enough?

  • We don’t know whether the frequent use of various special day promotions could have a long-term positive (e.g. very creative brand) or negative (e.g. using every possible excuse for promotions) effect on a brand.

  • The research didn’t analyze the effect of multiple day offers, such as special weeks (e.g. World Space Week). However, the effects are likely to be similar.

🏢 Companies using this

  • Some holidays have already been transformed into promotional days that are now commonplace and unoriginal (e.g. Mother’s Day).

  • Apparel retailer Land’s End uses International Swimsuit Day July 5th) to promote its swimwear line.

  • Betabrand, a fashion retailer, sends personalized special discounts to their customers on the anniversary of the day they made their first purchase.

⚡ Steps to implement

  • Instead of launching discounts and promotions without a meaning, look for reasons to create a special day offer.

  • You can choose from existing special days (relevant to the local market you’re targeting), create your own company day, or use a personalized day based on an interaction you had with a customer.

  • The more creative you can make it the better, but make sure you keep it appropriate to your brand and products.


🔍 Study type

Lab and online experiments, and a field experiment (on the email list of a small business selling dog gear). United States

📖 Research

Zane, D. M., Reczek, R. W., & Haws, K. L. (September 2021). Promoting Pi Day: Consumer Response to Special Day‐Themed Sales Promotions. Journal of Consumer Psychology.

[Link to paper]

🏫 Affiliations

College of Business, Lehigh University; The College of Business, The Ohio State University; and Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University. United States

Remember: Because of the groundbreaking nature of this paper, it could be proven wrong in the future (although this is rare). It also may not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.


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