Betabrand celebrated Christmas in October. Just before Halloween the apparel company built on memes launched a video game: Santa Sleighs Halloween, its tagline: “Christmas comes early… WITH A VENGEANCE.”
Like most things Betabrand, it was supposed to be a joke. “What we wanted to poke fun at this year was how glutinous retailers had gotten around the holiday season,” Aaron Magness, Betabrand’s VP of Marketing, told Fast Company. “The whole point of it being: Christmas has already gobbled up Thanksgiving. It’s just getting earlier and earlier: This year it’s Halloween. Next year people are going to see wreaths going up on Arbor Day.”
Instead of having another whatever percent-off sale like every other retailer, Betabrand tacks. “There’s something interesting around connecting to an event that has a level of awareness where your message isn’t getting lost with a billion other messages,” added Magness. Poking fun of the far-too long holiday shopping season helps Betabrand stand out and, in turn, drive sales.
The company first realized the potential of unconventional holidays when in 2011 the Corduroy Appreciation Club celebrated Betabrand’s take on corduroy pants, the horizontal striped Cordarounds, at the organization’s annual 11/11 gathering. (The 11’s look like the stripes on cords, get it?) After seeing the enthusiasm for its product from a niche community, Betabrand realized it could use the connection to bring attention to one of its flagship products. For the last four years, Betabrand has celebrated Corduroy Appreciation Day. The promotions, which include 22% off sales, move the cords about four times more than on other days.
Now Betabrand celebrates all sorts of weird retail holidays. There’s Blacker than Black Friday, a sale on Betabrand’s black clothing, which falls two Fridays before Thanksgiving. And, forget Labor or Memorial Day sales, St. Patrick’s Day is where it’s at.
The strategy is, in part, to critique the current retail climate. “This [Christmas] used to be a great holiday, now it’s all about sell, sell, sell buy, buy buy,” said Magness. That type of messaging is on brand for the retailer, which takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to both the design and marketing of its wares.
But at the end of the day, just like every other retailer, Betabrand is using holidays as a peg, a reason to get people shopping. The Santa the vampire slayer video game may be making fun of the far-too-early onset of holiday shopping season, but it’s also participating in the ritual, as to not miss out on sales. Playing the game unlocked deal codes. Being weird about it also helps Betabrand stand out in the sea of blaring “30% OFF, BUY NOW” marketing emails piling up in your promotions tab. It’s about: “How do you break through the noise and the clutter by making a different message?” Magness said. “Rallying around nonconformist holidays may be a way for us to do that.” Indeed: The brand’s email open rate hovers around 30%, according to Magness, almost double the rate of other e-commerce companies, per MailChimp.
That said, Betabrand doesn’t celebrate quirky holidays just because. The strategy only works when there’s a product to rally around. And, jokes get old. “We need to innovate,” he said. “Now that I said Arbor Day I think we should find out something to do there.”