Unless you’re a brand that can easily incorporate bearded magical beings, shamrocks, or mint into your seasonal advertising, St. Patrick’s Day is not necessarily an easy aesthetic fit for visual advertising. Nonetheless, with Irish pride strong and deep-rooted in this country, St. Paddy’s has been a major celebration for generations. And unlike other holidays where the retail component has largely moved online, this holiday remains centered around local celebrations.
Bars and restaurants go all-in with décor, drink specials and parties. And the traditional parades, everywhere from Boston to Sedona to small-town South Florida, bring out local school districts, banks, fire departments and small businesses.
We’re taking a look at some St. Patrick’s Day marketing traditions, from the Shamrock Shake to the sponsored parade float.
Bob Beck Chevrolet — Trotting out all the blarney
Before full-color ads, you couldn’t connote a festive Irish feeling by splashing green shamrocks around the layout. Instead, advertisers did it through wee turns o’ phrase and visual cues: This car dealership went full leprechaun in its 1964 St. Patrick’s Day Sale ad. In a departure from the symbolic pot ‘o gold, the main leprechaun is toting a shamrock-festooned piggy bank and stacks of dollars. This vintage ad blog has an interesting analysis of the imagery in the ad.
Shamrock Shakes — McDonalds’ can’t-be-stopped cult favorite
While the Shamrock Shake was introduced a scant 6 years after the auto advertisement above, it has aged incredibly well — as a product, a seasonal tradition, and a guilty pleasure that people are not embarrassed to love. In fact, the Shamrock Shake is held up among the best seasonal products and marketing events in modern retail. The wholesome family-friendly ads, the excitement created by its “limited time only” availability, and the holiday treat aspect of it grabbed the public nearly 50 years ago, and the cult-like following has only continued to build since then. Even concerted social media campaigns against the uber-sugary Shamrock cannot make a dent in its popularity.
This spot from the 1980s is interesting because it gives a close-up view of how the shake is mixed — and honestly it looks completely unappetizing. The spot would never fly today, because people don’t want to think about what’s in that oh-so-sweet minty-green syrup. They just want to splurge on it a couple times in the fleeting February-March window, and then be done till next year.
Ten-B-Low — What people did before the Shamrock Shake
One of the reasons the Shamrock Shake was revolutionary when it came out was because its competition included products like this concentrated ice cream in a can. According to the instructions, Ten-B-Low must be mixed with water and crushed green candies, and then frozen to make ice cream of normal consistency. If this seems incredibly tedious and also not at all delicious, read the fine print on the ad, which proudly differentiates the product from other “creamice” non-ice-cream knockoffs.
Guinness — The beer that owns St. Paddy’s
We couldn’t do a St. Patrick’s Day icons roundup without calling out the beer that defines the holiday. Guinness is an advertising juggernaut as well as a distinctive product (while there are some other Irish stouts that taste similar to it, none are widely available in the US). This is a country with more of a taste for light beer, so Guinness, the darkest on the spectrum in most bars, needs to cast a wide net to reach those folks that have a taste for it. Its marketing keeps it visible in clever ways throughout the year — and on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone becomes a Guinness stout drinker for a day.
Parades! — Promoting to the tourists and bonding the locals
Because of the parade tradition, St. Patrick’s Day remains a holiday where local businesses always have an opportunity to get out and promote themselves to the maximum number of eyeballs. It’s a marketing/PR stunt that’s community-oriented and do-able at any budget. Many of the mom-and-pop shops or local services that sponsor parade floats could care less about implementing “experiential marketing activations” to build their brand, but they know they need to have a presence in the parade.