In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to salute one of the greatest (and longest-running) marketing campaigns of all time. In the name of dear old St. Patrick, Americans throw parties, march in parades, and buy approximately $5 billion in trinkets, decor, beer, whiskey, etc. This celebration of all things Irish has the greatest economic impact right here in America, and it’s due to the American mastery of marketing.
I’m Irish, and I love being Irish. But the reality is that the Irish is one of many immigrant populations that found new life in America. Why is St. Patrick’s Day so special? New York City invests in a mammoth parade (the largest civilian parade in the world), Chicago dyes its river green, and there are major celebrations in at least 30 other american cities (especially here in Alexandria, where we celebrate all month). But it’s a good bet that only a fraction of revelers can tell you who St. Patrick was, or much about Ireland’s history. So what makes this day so special, what are we celebrating, and what are we really buying?
The magic of St. Patrick’s day can be symbolized by one iconic button, worn proudly by the Irish and non-Irish alike: “Kiss me, I’m Irish.” This simple marketing capitalizes on inclusion of EVERYONE in the fun, and taps into what everyone wants—to be happy and feel like they are a part of something. No matter your ethnicity, chances are that you (or “your people”) have overcome hardships and deserve a break to celebrate yourself. The modern marketing of St. Patrick’s Day provides just that sort of inclusion.
I know there are some Irish who are ashamed of the evolution of the Holiday. But think about how different things would be if St. Patrick’s Day had continued to develop as a private, Irish-only affair. There certainly would not have been $5 billion flowing. While not all the profit goes into Irish pockets, clearly it was enough to make the day worth sharing. And smart marketing made it wildly successful by finding the connection between what the product offers and what the people want.
So that’s how St. Patrick’s Day has grown to mean something more in America. Folks seeking camaraderie will wear green, patronize Irish bars and restaurants, grapple for green beads, buy green hats and trinkets, drink the approved beverages, make/buy/eat piles of green cookies, and more. And if you’re wondering whether it is in fact lucky to kiss an Irish person, know that Ancestry.com reports DNA test results reveal that 2 of 3 people have at least 5% Irish in them. So apparently the Irish do get lucky a lot.
No matter what your DNA says, enjoy the celebration this St. Patrick’s Day. Kiss, smile, toast, and get home safe so we can do it all again together next year.