U.S. News

Leap Year Day Is Special, And Marketers Know It

null|The New York Times

According to folklore, leap year day is the choice moment for women who have no interest in waiting for the guy to pop the question.

And now businesses and nonprofit organizations are using the day — Feb. 29, this Friday — as the occasion to make special proposals and pitches of their own.

This year there are frog-oriented promotions (get it? leap!), exotic cocktails being added to menus (“I'll have a leap day, on the rocks”), and marketing campaigns for products whose relevance to the date at hand seems at best tenuous (pizza? skin moisturizer?). Certain discounts are being offered only to the rarefied few who have the fortune or misfortune to have been born on this calendar anomaly.

Boston Market will be dishing up a free leap day lunch — choices include chicken pot pie and meatloaf — to those born on Feb. 29, otherwise known as leaplings. Anyone who is still hungry can try Morton’s The Steakhouse which is offering a free special dinner to a limited number of guests in eight markets, among them Baltimore, Philadelphia and Hackensack, N.J. Reservations and birthday bona fides are required.

“We just thought it was a fun way to promote Morton’s,” said a spokesman for the chain, Roger Drake, “to honor the people who were born on leap year day and who kind of get left out of things on their birthdays. They only get one every four years, and Morton’s is all about celebrations.”

According to the Web site www.leapyearday.com, which is run by a group called the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, there are about 200,000 leap day babies in the United States. Famous ones include the actor Dennis Farina, the motivational speaker Tony Robbins and the rapper Ja Rule.

“We want the calendars to put the words leap day on Feb. 29 the way they put New Year’s Day on Jan. 1 or Groundhog Day on Feb. 2,” said Raenell Dawn, a leapling and a co-founder of the society. So far the quest is quixotic. “I’ve been at this for 20 years and no calendar company has agreed. One laughed at me.”

If it is any consolation, Ms. Dawn — assuming she has her birth certificate handy — will be eligible for a free pizza ordered online on her birthday at Papa John’s, which is seizing the moment to introduce the Perfect Pan Pizza. The tag line: “One Giant Leap for Pankind.”

A Papa John’s spokesman, Chris Sternberg, said that his company was guided by the calendar in creating many of its promotions. “We’re always looking for opportunities for folks to try our product,” he said. “Leap day leaped out, as 7-7 did last year,” he added, referring to July 7, 2007.

Papa John’s will give customers whose birthdays fall on any of the other 365 days of 2008 other special online offers on Friday, like three large pizzas with three toppings, all for $29.29.

“There being an extra day this year it means Americans are being asked to work an extra day,” said Mr. Sternberg. “So the thought was that we would take care of dinner with a great deal on pizza.”

Atlantic City's 29 Ways to Enjoy the Boardwalk

The Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority has come up with 29 ways to enjoy the boardwalk and beyond. One inducement is a leap year package from the Atlantic City Hilton that includes free parking, a $50 dining credit, a $21 credit at one of the hotel bars and overnight accommodations for $229.08 ($275 is the usual Friday night rate for a standard room, according to Hilton reservations)

Meanwhile, Virgin America, a San Francisco-based carrier that started up last August, just wrapped up a weeklong “Why leap when you can fly” fare sale. “The idea,” said spokeswoman Abby Lunardini, “is that leap year comes around only so often, and fares this low only come along so often. We wanted to tie those thoughts together.”

Some thoughts seem to tie together better than others. When, in 2007, the staff of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums realized that 2008 was a leap year, “we decided it would be a good time to focus the public on amphibian conservation,” said a spokesman, Steve Feldman.

Thus, 100 association members are participating in what has been named the year of the frog, and Feb. 29 will begin months of educational events. “The idea is that we need to make a leap in our understanding of the fragility of the situation,” said Gail Eaton, chief marketing officer for the Palm Beach Zoo.

An outreach by Dove, however admirable, seems a bit more of a reach. On Feb. 29, as an extension of the company’s Campaign for Real Beauty (women of all ages, shapes and sizes are featured in soap ads), Dove will be holding self-esteem workshops for pre-adolescent boys and girls around the world.

Why Feb. 29? “It’s an extra day in the year, so it’s linked to our mission,” said Fernando Acosta, senior vice president of the Dove brand. “Our mission is to make more women feel beautiful every day.”

Allen P. Adamson, director of the New York office of Landor Associates, a branding firm, said that marketers must think carefully before trying to turn leap day into a quasi-holiday. “Feb. 29 is one of the few remaining days in the calendar that hasn’t been overbranded and overmarketed,” he said. “Even Groundhog Day has become overexposed.”

But he cautioned that leap year wouldn’t be appropriate for everyone. “For certain brands, it perks things up,” he said. “Fun products, snack products make sense. But it wouldn’t fit with anything serious like insurance, financial services or medical things. Using leap year in those instances could really undermine the rest of the message.”