This Guy Makes Money Selling Fake Holidays to Corporations
Image by Lia Kantrowitz for VICE
"Yesterday was National Kiss a Ginger Day. For some reason, nobody told me about it until today."
That's Conan O'Brien, in a monologue he delivered on January 13, 2015. And he's right. January 12 is Kiss a Ginger Day, if only by name. There are thousands of these dumb "National Days," and many can slip by you if you're not looking out for them. Several crowd the calendar each day of the year. Just take the current week, for instance. April 3 was, in part, National Chocolate Mousse Day, World Party Day, and National Find a Rainbow Day. April 4 marks National Chicken Cordon Bleu Day, National Hug a Newsperson Day, and National Walk Around Things Day, and April 5 is National Caramel Day and National Raisin and Spice Bar Day, among several others.
Why do these days exist?
The origin of many are uncertain. A lot of the product-focused holidays trickled out of local and national proclamations, like Reagan's "Ice Cream Day." Others, unsurprisingly, come from conspiratorial corporate marketing—like "Sweetest Day," which was explicitly engineered by a cabal of candy companies. But there are also plenty that happen by complete accident, like September 19's National Talk Like a Pirate Day, which was an in-joke between friends that went viral. The National Kiss a Ginger Day Conan missed out on was one guy's Facebook campaign to counteract National Kick a Ginger Day, which was inspired by an episode of South Park.
You've likely seen these types of uncertified and obscure "holidays" spread like wildfire on Twitter, which they're tailor made for. Morning-show segments, where they make for cheap and easy fodder, also help keep some of them in the public consciousness. Ditto late night monologues like Conan's. The days are in part a product of the modern media age, gobbled up and shared by people on socials and pilfered by sites hungry to make sharable #content.
But you can also thank Marlo Anderson of Mandan, North Dakota, population 20,000.
Back in 2013, Anderson started archiving all these "holidays" at one central hub, National Day Calendar. He began running them down as a fun hobby. It's become a job.
"Four years ago, I heard there was a National Popcorn Day, and I'm kind of a popcorn nut, so I was looking online to learn how that day came to be, and I couldn't find any information," he says. "I thought that was strange, so we [started the site]."
Anderson made use of old congressional records, and the Chase Calendar of Events (a guide to holidays that has been around since 1957) to populate his calendar. After a lot of hours and research, he became a go-to resource. Soon, he says, the media started following, and "it just kinda blew up."
Most of these holidays, he says, have existed for decades but were never particularly relevant. That's changing. On May 28, massive brands like Jack in the Box and McDonald's will no doubt factor National Hamburger Day into their daily marketing blitz. It'll likely trend on Twitter, and the National Day Calendar has a lot to do with that momentum. The site sends out regular media alerts detailing each day's jubilees to the 20,000 press outlets and entertainment figures on its mailing list. That reach has made Anderson the de facto czar for silly fake holidays.
"We kinda rose to this authority, and people started asking if they could register new days with us," he says.
Today, the National Day Calendar is a fully commercial institution, one that no longer lists these days but sells them too. Anderson has monetized by selling holidays through an application process. He says they receive roughly 18,000 applications a year, and of those about 30 turn into "National Days." Every week, a four-person selection committee convenes to whittle down the field. If they reach a unanimous agreement on a proposed day, it moves forward. Those approved can then pick packages that start at $2,300 and feature various levels of engagement.
His usual customers are nonprofits, and Anderson says his personal favorite day he's "registered" is National Astronaut Day on May 5—the same day Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. became the first American in space in 1961.
Of course, there's a lot of corporate involvement too.
Last year, the site sold a day to the Jeep marketing braintrust, giving birth to Jeep 4x4 Day on April 4 (get it?). August 14 is National Fajita Day, which was applied for by the On the Border Mexican restaurant franchise. Anderson isn't a government agent, he doesn't wield any licensed dominion, and these National Days are not nationally recognized in any real sense, but that seems to matter very little. The hope of them catching some kind of viral fire and possibly boosting business is what drives customers to Anderson.
The success of the calendar has taken him by complete surprise. By day, he is the president of Zoovio, a company that digitizes VHS tape libraries, and Awesome 2 Products, a local computer repair outfit near his native Mandan. He likely won't leave those jobs anytime soon, as National Day Calendar does have its own staff now. But who knows. Stranger things have happened. National Sneak Some Zucchini into Your Neighbors Porch Day, for example (August 8, btw).
"I never thought [the calendar] would get to this level," he says. "I laugh about it every day. It's an amazing role to have in life."
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