There's something cultural going on with birthdays. Like so many aspects of our lives, the ways in which we celebrate them have changed – in some cases, a lot.
Just a few years ago, your birthday meant a day of well-wishes on Facebook – often from people you've never heard of (or can't remember how you know them). For me, it's a free beverage at Starbucks, followed by a visit to a nearby Jax Car Wash where I can get the salt off my car for free.
But in recent years, it seems like most restaurants and eateries have found ways to honor your latest trip around Old Sol. You can visit a full list of birthday discounts here. But I've done you one step better with a full itinerary of birthday freebies that guarantee you'll pack on a couple pounds on your big day. (In some cases, you may need to be a member of a brand's “club.”)
6 am Start your day as I usually do with a free drink from Starbucks
7 am Head to Denny's for a free birthday Slam
8 am From there, it's onto Krispy Kreme for a complimentary donut
9 am Head over to your neighborhood Waffle House for….a free waffle!
10 am It's free wings from….(wait for it)…Buffalo Wild Wings
11 am Onto Auntie Anne's for a pretzel – on the house, of course
Noon Bonefish gets in on the celebration with an order of Bang Bang Shrimp
1 pm Time to catch a matinee at AMC Theaters with a free large popcorn
2 pm Chick-fil-A, oddly enough, offers up a free cookie or brownie
3 pm It's the right time for a tase of free chips + guac at Chipotle
4 pm Afternoon snack time at Firehouse Subs – a free medium sub
5 pm It's a Dairy Queen, bring a pal who buys a Blizzard – and yours is free!
6 pm Feeling a little hungry? IHOP has a full stack of pancakes waiting
7 pm Time for another movie at Regal Cinemas for a free small popcorn
8 pm After the flick, stop into Panera Break for a pastry – gratis, of course!
9 pm If you can find one, swing by Pinkberry for a small yogurt – no charge
10 pm Your big day wouldn't be as fun without a free cupcake from Sprinkles
11 pm Zip by Cheesecake Factory for what else – a slice of their cheesecake
Don't blame me if you need to loosen up that belt a notch or two after a birthday extravaganza like the one above. It illustrates how seemingly everyone wants to get in on your birthday action.
Yes, this free sampling is good for consumers. But it can have wonderful benefits for the brand. In order to get the free popcorn at AMC or Regal Theaters, you'll probably purchase a movie ticket (or two). Or you'll claim your free item of food, but likely order even more food or bring guests and family members with you.
And if you notice some of the illustrations I included, fans often “socialize” their experience on their social media pages, generating even more sharing and mentions for the brand.
Radio stations can get in on the fun in inexpensive but memorable ways. The e-birthday card is always an effective way to garner presence on a listener's big day.
For stations with actual airstaffs (don't get me going….), start capturing birthdates and phone numbers of email database members. Have a personality make a celebratory phone call (or voicemail) on a listener's big day. Can this be a bit time-consuming? Of course it can. But when you think about the impact of a loved and trusted personality making a birthday call or leaving a birthday voicemail, it is something that could only happen in radio.
Or go the Cameo route, and have a station's personality cut a brief but heartfelt/funny video short that can be emailed to the birthday boy or girl. (Wouldn't a little help from AI come in handy right about now?)
But what about your station's big birthday? If it ends in a zero, there's the understandable tendency to want to blow your horn – perhaps for the entire year. Like those who celebrate their birthday weeks or even months, you might want to think about the entertainment value of a long, drawn-out, self-congratulatory fest.
In other words, thinking about a listener's reaction: WIIFM.
What's in it for me?
If you can't readily answer that big question about your brand and how to celebrate your milestone without bragging, you might want to rethink the festivities. We have worked with stations that have celebrated major birthdays – KLOS, WRIF, WMMR, and KUPD among them. In every case, we have urged their programmers to adopt the “It's our birthday but you get the presents” mindset. Self-adulation may work well in the corporate world, but can actually backfire in radio if the audience doesn't feel part of the festivities.
And even then, a year-long celebration may just be too much for many brands. First, it's a lot of work. And second, it is pretty self-congratulatory no matter how you handle it. The length of your celebration might also be dependent on whether your sales team attracted sponsors to share in your station's big news.
But are there other ways for radio to promote a red letter day – without going over the top and sounding self-indulgent?
Look no further than Hasbro, the iconic toy company, who recently celebrated its 100th anniversary – a true accomplishment in any business. A story in Mental Floss took a different tact – perhaps an idea of acknowledging your station's next big anniversary differently. This method communicates a brand's unique journey in a memorable way.
In “10 Unusual Facts About Toy Giant Hasbro for Their 100th Anniversary,” Jake Rossen publishes his countdown. And for several of these items, I found myself thinking, “I didn't know that about Hasbro.” In other words, I learned new facts and background about Hasbro I have found myself sharing in conversations and right here on this blog.
Here are three of my favorites:
- “Hasbro popularized the phrase ‘action figure'” – It started with the release of G.I. Joe (yes, a doll for boys) in 1964. But rather than use the D-word in their marketing, Hasbro creative whiz Don Levine, came up with a term that has stuck over the decades, in essence, creating a new toy category.
- Hasbro went to war with Mattel over Barbie – Clearly, Barbie dominated the doll world after its launch in 1959. Arch rival, Hasbro, was none too happy about it. They countered with the Jem & the
Holograms (pictured) line in 1986, but after a good start (backed by a cartoon series), these rockers faded out. Later in 1988, Hasbro came up with Maxie, closer in design and feel to category leader, Barbie. A UK import, Sindy, triggered lawsuits from Mattel. How painful was 2023, the Year of Barbie to the Hasbro brain trust?
- “Hasbro trademarked that Play-Doh smell” – Amazingly, I can still smell it, many decades later. Can you? Talk about sensory memories. It is interesting that it took until 2018 for Hasbro to legally grab this smell, described as “sweet, slightly musky, vanilla-like fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, and the natural smell of a salted, wheat-based dough.” However, they characterized it, that Play-Doh smell worked.
Could you put together a similar “Didya know?” list for your radio station? Maybe it's connected to a big birthday contest where the 10 folks who correctly answer each quiz question about your station are qualified for a big prize. It could prove to be a way to shine the light on a station's birthday in a way that is engaging, interesting, and sticky.
Birthdays are milestone celebrations that are meaningful to listeners, as well as stations that are proud of their longevity and accomplishments, often lasting over decades. But handling the celebration in a way that works for all of a station's constituencies is critically important.
Planning these celebrations isn't just about a bunch of tactics – special programming, contesting, and merch. Handled correctly, it could be a catalyst for fundraising in the Christian and public radio communities.
How do your fans feel about your big birthday? What would delight them and make them more enthusiastic about your station? How can you turn them into ambassadors for your station's brand accomplishment? Is there a way to ensure your audience comes out as the big winners?
But without a strategic purpose, birthday branding may be destined for a mixed celebration.
Be careful before you light the candles and throw the confetti.