Last Thursday was Earth Day and there were the usual wonderful and less wonderful actions on the part of marketers, nonprofits and corporations to get in on the celebration by aligning and promoting their brand. Nancy Schwartz highlighted a number of great nonprofit efforts. On the commercial side, Leslie Kaufman wrote a piece for the New York Times about Earth Day now being big business. Sports teams got into the act as well–the Houston Astros gave out caps made of recycled materials.
Hyping issues, causes, and products around a themed day, week or month has been a mainstay of modern public relations since Edward Bernays organized a women’s march in the 1920s during the celebrated New York Easter Parade. That was an effort to get women to smoke and it worked.
Fast forward to 2010, and it seems that there isn’t a day, or week or month that doesn’t belong to some group, cause or issue. A look at some upcoming events reveals that May boasts Mother’s Day, Nurse’s Day, Better Hearing and Speech Month, National Salad Month, National Hamburger Month and Teacher Appreciation Week. These events, if used properly, can provide a peg to generate excitement and interest for an issue. But in a world where information spreads rapidly and globally, and where the wisdom of crowds rules, we have to be even more creative in how we get attention for the things that matter to us and that we hope matter to others. We need to innovate and not rely on the same tired strategies.
Earth Day helped to grow a movement–it wasn’t an end in and of itself. The fact that corporations who in 1970 stayed far away from it now embrace it speaks to how far we as a society have come about how we care for our planet. Getting together to think about an issue for a day, week or month may make us all feel better but the real litmus test is does it do more than sell hamburgers, show that a corporation has a heart or generate sales for Hallmark? Does it really make more people aware of an issue and move them toward some positive change or action?