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Father's Day Ad Can't Save the Manatee

One of the oldest tricks in the retail promotions handbook is to base your promotion around a holiday. That’s why you see chocolate promotions in around Valentine’s Day in February, and back to school sales in August, when most schools in the United States restart after the summer break. Merchants and retailers use holidays as a hook to hang their promotions on.

It goes without saying that there’s nothing coded in the world’s DNA that compels back-to-school sales to take place in August, however. In counties where the summer school break is shorter back-to-school sales might take place in July.

So if Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) or even Labor Day (the first Monday in September) sound like the perfect time to grill up some steaks on the BBQ, it’s because for more than 30 years that’s what grocers have been telling us.

The point being, effective marketers are able draw connections that didn’t exist before between holidays and sales promotions.

Now a cause is trying to draw a connection between Father’s Day and support of Manatees. In the States Father’s Day is celebrated on the third Sunday in June. Manatees are large herbivorous marine mammals that inhabit three smallish ranges, the Caribbean / Gulf of Mexico, the upper Amazon River basin, and West Africa. In the United States, manatees, or sea cows, are limited to the Florida peninsula.

Manatees are big and slow moving. And because they frequent shallow waters, manatees have a lot of run-ins with motorboats. Moreover, they’re a fragile species. Their slow metabolism means that even though they’re mammals, they don’t tolerate cold water very well. They breed only every other year and gestation is 12 months long and yields one calf. It takes another year or 18 months to wean their calves. But just because they’re big and slow don’t mistake them for dumb. Wikipedia says manatees “demonstrate complex discrimination and task-learning similar to dolphins and pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) in acoustic and visual studies.”

In the ad, which I found in the June 2013 issue of Redbook magazine, the call to action goes like this: “For Dad, a Real Stand-Up Guy, Adopt-a-Manatee this Father’s Day.” The cause is the Save the Manatee Club, a 501(c)(3) charity founded by Jimmy Buffet and Florida politician Bob Graham in 1981, and headquartered in Maitland, Florida.

Cue the Margaritaville record scratch sound effect.

What? Adopt-a-Manatee this Father’s Day?

Sure, I buy that promotions don’t have to have demonstrate infallible logic. After Mother’s Day, the second busiest season for flower sales is Christmas, surprisingly enough. And I’m willing to concede the idea that really good and persistent advertising can help us see connections that weren’t already there. The reason why diamonds are associated with love is because DeBeers has been telling us that “A Diamond is Forever” since 1947.

But if Save the Manatee, really wants to hang its hook on Father’s Day, it’s going to have to work a little harder on making that case.

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