Category Archives: Economics

Stupid made-up holidays

You’ve probably heard of the “Hallmark Holiday” — a special calendar day, week or month concocted for the purpose of selling something. (For what it’s worth, Hallmark Cards, Inc. denies creating any holiday.)

One of the most notorious of these is Sweetest Day, which was created not by Hallmark but by Cleveland confectioners wanting to sell more candy in October. There’s also National Boss Day, Administrative Professionals’ Day, Grandparents’ Day and the like. If you still have a printed calendar in this day and age, it won’t take you long to find a holiday designed solely for the purpose of making money. (Never mind Halloween and Christmas, which generate plenty of sales despite having more historical significance.)

But look out — marketers are getting more shameless and desperate by the minute. November 5 is Bank Transfer Day. March 26 is Make Up Your Own Holiday Day: a made up holiday devoted to made up holidays.

It gets worse. Did you know March is National Frozen Food Month? Or that September is Life Insurance Awareness Month? It’s not enough to have a day on the calendar devoted to selling your product…now you have to have an entire month?

Why do marketers keep doing this stuff? Because it works. Because we as consumers allow it to work. Think about it: a made-up holiday is a marketer’s dream…they simply find a period during the year when sales tend to slip and then inject an artificial sense of urgency by making up some reason to care about their product right now.

So just remember, the next time you feel an urge to buy frozen food in March, life insurance in September or a Boss’s Day card, remember that someone cooked all of this up just to make you part with more of your hard-earned money.

Have you driven a Mercury lately? Neither has anybody else…

There have been many unfortunate casualties of the recent economic downturn. Companies have folded. People have lost their jobs and their homes in appalling numbers.

So in the midst of all that, it’s hard for me to be wistful about the demise of Mercury. For those of you who aren’t quite as attuned to all things automobile, Mercury is a not only a planet and an element, but also a brand of car under the umbrella of Ford Motor Company.

You can be forgiven for not knowing that because somewhere along the way, the Mercury brand became irrelevant to Ford in much the same way that Oldsmobile became irrelevant to General Motors and Plymouth became irrelevant to Chrysler.

Quite simply, a Mercury Milan is a Ford Fusion with a Mercury badge. A Mercury Sable is essentially a Ford Taurus. A Mercury Mariner is mechanically identical to a Ford Escape.

Mercury used to stand for something. It used to be Ford’s slightly more refined (but not pretentious) cousin. It used to be to Ford Motor Company what Buick was to General Motors…nicer than a Chevrolet but not quite a Cadillac. It had its place.

But then the weird economics of the automobile industry took over, and brands ceased to have meaning. Ford repackaged its Pinto as the Mercury Bobcat: an affront to the upmarket image Mercury was made to convey. Chrysler rebadged the low-rent Dodge Omni (I have firsthand experience with this horrible car) as the Plymouth Horizon. GM secretly swapped out the Oldsmobile engine for a Chevy power plant in the 1977 Delta 88 and ruffled the feathers of more than a few loyal Oldsmobile customers – after they had purchased the Delta 88.

The most egregious example I have seen in recent years is the Pontiac G3: a rebadged Chevrolet Aveo that offers not the tiniest shred of “driving excitement.” The only reason this car existed was so Pontiac dealers could have a “value leader” vehicle, regardless of how meaningless it made the Pontiac arrow.

For the nostalgic car people out there, the end of Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Mercury may be painful to watch, but the mourning should have started a few decades ago when their parent companies started committing slow brand suicide.