Forty riotous ten-year-olds are crowded, without seat belts, on to half a dozen benches balanced perilously on the back of a speeding lorry. The tottering cargo careers through the streets in reckless convoy with similar precarious loads of infants. They’re screeching with delight as they cling on with their fingertips and soak up the exhaust fumes.
The drivers sound their horns repeatedly, parping like demented ducks every time they pass their mates, who cheer and raise holiday pints outside pubs along the way.
The destination? A scrubby recreation ground furnished with rudimentary amusements of the coconut-shy, swings and roundabout type, plus a roped-off section for three-legged, egg-and-spoon and sack races.
The occasion? The Whitsun Treat. It was second only to Christmas for primary schoolkids in the South Wales of a few decades ago.
And what gave the day its star quality was not so much the fair as the death-defying trip on the back of the lorry.
The feast of Pentecost didn’t loom large in the infant mind, but the Bank Holiday itself had an identifiable character. It was Whit Monday. You knew you were in for a bumpy ride to a rickety roundabout. You recognised the brand.
But the Bank Holiday we experienced recently suffers from a lack of that very thing. It has a brand identity problem, and that gives the whole occasion a curiously half-hearted air. It has no personality. It’s the last Monday in May – that’s it.
What’s it all about?
Whit Monday still exists in the church calendar, but it’s no longer a national day off. The associated holiday was re-positioned in 1971, and May’s final Monday became the Spring Bank Holiday. But where’s the USP? This holiday needs a brand consultant to look at it.
How does it compare with the others?
Well, Christmas, of course, is the Apple of Bank Holiday brands. Spiritually and materially, it leads the field in brand recognition and imagery. We can throw Boxing Day and New Year’s Day in here, too. Let’s face it, they’ve all merged. It’s a superbrand.
Easter is officially the biggest date in the church, but we’re talking about Bank Holiday consumers here, and down in the profane world the Easter break comes a creditable second to Christmas. It’s the Google of Bank Holiday brands.
August Bank Holiday? That’s undeniably summer. It used to be all seaside and ice cream, now it’s barbecues, cold beers and garden centres. The brand’s still strong even if the reality isn’t. It’s the Coca Cola of Bank Holiday brands.
Then there’s May Day. It’s traditionally the start of spring, and you can still be embarrassed by Morris dancers in the shopping centre or delayed by a May Queen procession in the High Street. It just about qualifies as the Microsoft of Bank Holiday brands.
We’re never too bothered about a grey Easter or a drizzly Christmas. Even a wet Summer Bank Holiday brings out the Blitz spirit as the Pimms goes down under canvas. It’s the occasion that counts.
Which leaves us with the last Monday in May. Yes, it makes a pitiable claim for spring as a theme, but – let’s face it – May Day has already nabbed that.
It used to be Whit Monday, but the link is broken. There’s a vague idea that it used to mean something or other, but the significance is gone. It’s a half-remembered advertising jingle for a long-gone product. In brand terms, it’s the John Collier of Bank Holidays. The Dewhurst of days off. The Kardomah of leisure time. That’s why, even for a holiday, it seems flat.
Name that day
A smart image consultant could help the government revive this brand and give it a recognisable character. What it needs is a good sponsorship deal. We’re used to seeing commercial brands attached to sports grounds, entertainment venues and events, so why not a Bank Holiday?
As for emotive keywords , how about ‘light’, ‘sparkling’, ‘refreshing’? The last mundane Monday in May could become an intoxicating mix of distraction and delight as it leads us into the sunshine of early summer. With a substantial promotional budget his could be Moet et Chandon Monday. We needn’t worry too much about the substance. It’s the perception that counts.
But OK, we’re in the age of spending cuts and uncertain returns. Moet may be the ideal, but they might demand more than the occasion can deliver in terms of image. Perhaps we’ll have to settle for less. Maybe the government could tempt another name to stump up the cash for a more credible concept with lower expectations.
Babycham Bank Holiday, perhaps? McDonald’s Monday? Lidl Big Time? Every household gets two for the price of one that day only. Net cost about £20M to the sponsor, in return for stupendously increased footfall and total, nationwide brand awareness.
And at least we’d know what we were celebrating.
Let’s face it, a Bank Holiday needs a proper identity, and somehow the fact that Barclays are having a day off isn’t enough to raise the national spirit.
So – Burger King Break? Findus Funday? DFS Day?
On the other hand, we could simply bring back Whit Monday. Let’s get those kids back on the lorries.