This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
For 30 years, the 17th of October has been the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. It is one day out of 365 where humanity can come together and attempt to change the world for the better. At least, it was. Now – according to the worldwide Twitter trending topics for 2017 – the 17th of October is #NationalPastaDay. (It's also Spreadsheet Day, Hagfish Day and #PlayingCardCollectionDay.)
National and international days are now inescapable. Trending on Twitter on a daily basis, ever more unusual holidays are added to the calendar each year. There's Brandied Fruit Day, Sausage Pizza Day and even International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day. Our daily quest for social media content means everyone and anyone gets involved. This year, the Israel Defense Forces made a video for #InternationalCoffeeDay, posted underneath the words: "Do you love coffee as much as our soldiers?"
On the whole, national holidays seem to fall into one of three categories: those created by brands, those created by eccentrics and those created by people who actually hope to make a difference to something other than fourth quarter sales figures. Regardless of their origins, though, nearly every international day has become heavily branded. Sales people now jump on the more official, charitable days – such as when a PR for a "Parisian eyewear brand" recently sent an email about their "trend-led" frames for World Sight Day 2018.
So how did these days become so prolific? And why do they leave cartoon coins flashing in marketers' eyes? After all, does anyone actually celebrate International Mouthguard Day?
"One of our staff actually ordered what we believe to be the first ever mouthguard cake," says Joel Seshold, the brand marketing manager for gum shield company OPRO, which invented #MouthguardDay this year.
Joel originally started the day as "a small project that was supposed to be a bit of fun". He chose the first Monday in September because it is the time of year children return to school ("it's kind of our Christmas") and registered the day on a couple of online calendars to make it official. In the end, OPRO's Mouthguard Day posts reached over 4.4 million people on Twitter, and although he is unable to give exact figures, Joel says sales did rise.
"My expectations were completely blown out of the water – I was absolutely bowled over by how big it went," he says. "It was very surprising, to be honest. I woke up in the morning and the first thing on my Twitter feed was someone in Tokyo posting about it. They had completely no relation to us whatsoever. Before we could actually post anything out ourselves, they'd posted out a couple of hashtags that gained momentum."
Is it really that easy? Is marketing now as simple as inventing a day, launching a hashtag and sitting back to watch the money pour in?
"The sponsorship in 2017 was £140,000," says the inventor of National Burger Day, Jamie Klingler. Jamie invented the day as a PR move for ShortList's daily email, Mr Hyde, and won Marketer of the Year at the 2016 PPA awards for the feat. "It was massive exposure and engagement," she says. "By the third year, Budweiser were running ads naming the day. This will probably be widely mocked, but it was an accomplishment to establish a national day that helped restaurants in a dead week – GBK said they had an 80 percent uplift on the day annually."
Jamie chose the 27th of August for National Burger Day, simply because it was her birthday, and attributes some of the day's success to the fact she managed to get it added to Wikipedia's coveted list of food days. While this list is somewhat exclusive, anyone can apply to be featured on the internet's national day calendars, and despite the formality of the words "international" and "national", these days are in no way official.
"Believe it or not, there's no real legal process or requirement for creating a 'day'," reads the FAQ of national day calendar daysoftheyear.com. "If enough people take part, share the word, then the day is – as far as we're concerned – real."
Marketers are so inclined to invent national days that there are now marketers for the marketers who want to market national days. The Party Excuses Network was launched in 2011 to "offer targeted websites that offer validated digital real estate" to brands hoping to create new holidays. They have over 20 live websites – such as National Garlic Day, Mint Julep Day and National Cereal Day – but are currently squatting on over 50 URLs they hope to sell. At present, they are auctioning off NationalFrenchFryDay.com.
"August 19, 2015 – National Potato Day trended Top 10 on Twitter," boasts their website in large bold red font.
And it really is all about trending. America's National Hot Dog Day has existed for over 40 years, but Eric Mittenthal – president of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (the self-described "Hot Dog Top Dog") – says social media has had "an enormous impact" on increasing awareness about the day.
"It was a 'hashtag holiday' long before hashtags existed," he says. "We're always proud to make it to the top trend on Twitter." Eric and his colleagues release a planning guide for the day, which tells the public "how to generate interest in hot dogs in your community". While brands do profit via the NHDSC's Restaurant Partner Programme, Eric says that, overall, "the aim of the day is to celebrate hot dogs".
Yet no international celebration is as pure and uncorrupted by capitalism than Fredrik Fredricsson's International Carrot Day.
"Back in the days it started as a reaction to the evil cinnamon bun day celebrated in Sweden," Fredrik says over email. "I have higher thoughts about humanity and wanted to create something more healthy and with a positive vibe."
Like #MouthguardDay, Fredrik's carrot day had some success in Japan; Tokyo's Ueno Zoo wrote to Fredrik to ask how they could celebrate the day. "It's rapidly growing not only in the UK, but in several countries, as an annual event," says Fredrik, who, like nearly everyone interviewed for this piece, simply created a website for the day and thus willed it into existence.
"The overall aim is to have fun!" Fredrik says. "It started as a fun way to party! I do think Carrot Day is taken more seriously by some at this point, but I don't mind. I don't do profit on it. It's just my gift to humanity!”"
We all want a reason to party, but after sending out a hashtag, does anyone actually bother to celebrate national days?
"I've always felt these holidays speak to me in some way. The universe has brought them to me. I don't know why," says Miller Daurey, AKA "Mack Holiday". Over the last decade, Miller has been drawn to international and national holidays after starting a "Thanksgiving in June" celebration with his friends. In the past he has celebrated #LeftHandersDay and #CountYourButtonsDay, and even created #NationalManiPediDay (the 25th of April).
"I just really wanted to give people a reason to celebrate every single day, to find joy," says Miller, who started his "Mack Holiday" persona in 2014 with a YouTube channel called HolidayWhatTV. "I've been through, like many of us, some hardships in my life, and I just wanted to remind people that no matter what you've been through… you can get up in the morning and at the very least there's going be a holiday you can celebrate, and let's do that together."
Miller has long felt connected to these days, starting to celebrate them years before they gained notoriety ("I don’t even know if there was a thing called 'trending' back in 2007," he says). When he hosted a podcast about downtown Vegas in the 2000s, he would always find a national day that correlated with the weekly sponsor.
"Without fail, every single time I would find a holiday that completely connected to their business," he says. "If there was a shoe person on the show, I'd find a holiday about shoes happening right then and there. I'm like, come on, universe! You really want me to do this, don't you?"
It's not all fun and games, though; over the years, Miller has made more serious videos about traditional awareness days. His father committed suicide when Miller was a teen, and Miller decided to make a video about it for his channel. "Wouldn't you know, I happened in my research to find out that my birthday – which is September 10th – is World Suicide Prevention Day," he says. "I just got the chills right now saying that to you."
Highly specific commemorative days are more historic than we think. According to NPR's Kenny Malone, the first National Raisin Day was celebrated over 100 years ago – and a newspaper article from the time complained that the day was just shameless promotion by raisin growers. Yet the huge upsurge in international days is definitely a modern phenomenon, as the trend benefits marketers, social media editors and content-creating journalists and YouTubers.
It's only a matter of time until International "International Day" Day makes it onto the calendars – and there'll be plenty of sales departments ready to celebrate.