Passover: The Marketing Miracle

Nu & Improved

By Lenore Skenazy

Published March 30, 2011, issue of April 08, 2011.
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If you were wondering (which, perhaps, you weren’t) how to create the most memorable ad campaign ever — one that will get stuck in your brain, like the Taco Bell chihuahua; or Coke’s “I’d Like To Teach the World To Sing” song, or even the E*TRADE baby, except for an extra couple of THOUSAND years — there is one marketing marvel that you should study hard: Passover.

You bet your sweet matzo ball! As a holiday, it’s my favorite. As a religious festival, it reminds us of our very foundation as Jews. But as a how-to for would-be Mad Men, it is the Ten Commandments. (How appropriate!)

Commandment 1:

Find a catchy theme song.

While “Chad Gadya” isn’t at the top of anyone’s hit parade, there’s clearly one great tune inextricably linked to the holiday: “Dayenu.” This song is so simple, you learn the chorus just by learning its name. But just in case you somehow didn’t catch it, the word is repeated for 15 verses, 12 TIMES A VERSE. It’s a song you can sing to your oldest relatives, who have forgotten almost everything else, and they will chorus in, gleefully. THAT is the sign of a great jingle.

Commandment 2:

Don’t miss a single demographic!

You can aim for one part of the population and get one part of the market (Budweiser/Young Men, Viagra/Those Young Men 35 Years Later). But if you’ve got something for everyone (Hershey’s, iPhones), it just doesn’t pay to leave anyone behind. At Passover, we don’t. What says the wise son, dumb son, mean son — everyone’s got a say. Likewise, everyone who’s able to read the Haggadah aloud is expected to join in. It’s like the hora, only sitting down.

Commandment 3:

Bring home the message.

Don’t say, “This is what God did for my ancestors….” Who cares about ancestors? Do we drink lime rickeys anymore? Run to the store for castor oil? No, all this was important to the folks before us. But on Passover, it’s, “This is what God did for ME.” Not you, not them — me. That is the phrase every marketer is dying to make consumers believe: This is for me! This is not my father’s festival of freedom. It’s mine!

Commandment 4:

Get ’em while they’re young.

By roping the youngest child into reciting the Four Questions, Passover guarantees kiddie involvement — and new kiddies, year after year! Those sing-song questions become part of the kids’ earliest memories, like nursery rhymes or lullabies, except more important, because they had to perform them in front of the ultimate audience: the family! It’s like a practice bar mitzvah. Huge!

Commandment 5:

Games! Coupons!

We might not have any scratch-off games or sweepstakes, but we do have their prototype —the afikomen. We hide the matzo and, just like one of those games at McDonald’s, everyone tries to win. Redeem the crunchy coupon for cash prizes!

Commandment 6:

Keep ’em hungry for more.

How do you get people to pay attention for five full hours on Super Bowl Sunday? Chips and dip! You give them just enough snacks to keep them happy, but not quite enough to fill them up before the chili. Well, on Passover we’ve got chips and dip, too. Even before the big game — er, brisket — we’ve got salt water; parsley; haroset; maror, or bitter herbs, and a whole lot of chips. Well, matzo. Look, we got into this game long before anyone ever heard of Doritos. Naturally there have been some product improvements along the way.

Commandment 7:

Repetition, repetition, repetition.

Remember how you learned the Oscar Mayer wiener song? It wasn’t by hearing it just once. And twoallbeefpattiesspecialsaucelettucecheese… — that took awhile to internalize, too. Advertisers run their ads over and over, because that’s how we learn. (That’s how we learn in school, too.) So every year, we, too, repeat the same story! Can you remember anything else about Rabbi Gamliel except that he and his buddies spent the holiday talking about “all the days of your life,” which, one of them suddenly realized, meant all the days AND nights? Now, each year you hear the rabbi’s name, it bores a little deeper into your soul, as does the whole gestalt.

Commandment 8:

Honor thy father and mother.

Yes, yes, I know I’m stealing from another list, but the point is, if you can get a whole family together — mom, dad, kids, grandparents — it becomes a big deal. So the older generation will always make a Seder, because that way the kids will always come. Well, often come. Except when it’s semester-abroad time. Or they got married and moved to Moscow. Or they’ve gone vegan. Or they’ve decided they hate — well, anyway, point is, if you can get buy-in from all the generations, you’ve got a hit!

Commandment 9:

Add wine!

In fact— make it mandatory. Who’s gonna say no to a holiday like that?

Commandment 10:

Come up with a great brand name.

Okay, so we’ve got singing, drinking, eating, meeting, playing, praying, hiding, seeking, repetition, multigenerational involvement and a great story. What’s missing marketing-wise?

It needs a name! Short. Easy to spell. And the name should MEAN something or reflect a key point, like how God didn’t slay the firstborn sons of the Jews who put lamb’s blood on their doors. I like to think that if anyone had asked ME way back when, I’d have come up with a killer name: Lamb-a-rama!

But “Passover” is pretty catchy, too. And it seems to be working.

Lenore Skenazy is a public speaker and the author of “Free-Range Kids” (Wiley, 2010).


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