I am very proud of one of my babies. No, not one of my two daughters (of whom I’m immensely proud!) Rather, one of my creative off-springs, a meme – ‘Blue Monday’. It is a source of great happiness – but also some unhappiness.
For the last 7 years I have been promoting the third Monday in January as ‘Blue Monday’ – as now symbolically the most depressing day of the year, associating the concept with a call to promote better mental well-being and mental health issues.
Psychologist Cliff Arnall in 2005 originally devised a formula for ‘the most depressing day of the year’ in support of a public relations campaign (which I had nothing to do with).
I responded to the initial story and obtained some great media coverage. Everyone involved in the original story had no plans or use after its original use, but I recognised its meme potential, as a regular annual story.
I then took command of the opportunity, gave it a brand name of ‘Blue Monday and sought to link it with mental well-being and mental health causes and since 2006 have run with it. Note: I don’t own ‘Blue Monday’; if you learn more about memes, you will find, like the concept of brand, they reside in other people’s minds and networks.
I have been doing Blue Monday for no payment – I haven’t wanted or received a bean for my efforts with it. I do it partly as part of an academic interest in memes, using the world as a real-life laboratory, and it has real potential to do social good. I also do because I’m Britain’s oldest teenager.
If you know teenagers there are two ways to motivate them to do things: one is to pay them, the other is to say ‘No’.
And because a network of highly influential scientists who have done the equivalent of saying ‘No’ it has actually spurred me to keep going. More of them later! So, why am I proud of ‘Blue Monday’?
1 .As a symbolic day it is now being used by a number of good causes to promote their message, generate activities and crucially raise valuable funds. Potentially, if Blue Monday could just generate less than 1% of that raised by say Comic Relief it could raise £500,000 a year for good causes.
2. It creates a precious talking point and potential media hook for subjects which face difficulty getting a hearing, such as mental health, depression and suicide.
3. It creates a welcome opportunity for positive well-being and asserting happiness and joy in the world.
Today, I listened to BBC Radio Wales which not only played a series of uplifting, good mood enhancing songs, but also had a live outside broadcast from a school where youngsters had their jokes aired, (“Why did the chicken cross the playground? To get to the other slide!” was a typical effort.)
The show later got a text from a woman, who was foster mother to one of the children who had their jokes broadcast. She was delighted how it would boost the youngster’s confidence and self-esteem.
Doesn’t that make you feel good?
4. Blue Monday also serves as an example of a ‘meme’ – a fundamental aspect of communications which most people in PR don’t even know about.
A feature article in a very respected public relations journal about the ‘Movember campaign’ failed to even mention the word ‘meme’ in its 2,000 words, yet meme-power is central, at the heart of communications campaigns such as Movember and Blue Monday.
A meme is a body of information or cultural activity that is able to replicate itself and be readily passed on. The fact the Blue Monday campaign cost just £26 for a domain and hosting renewal yet is a #1Twitter trend and has global media coverage is indicative of the power of a ‘sticky’ potent meme.
Don’t you think our industry should maybe learn more about memes?
Thanks to Blue Monday I now have a great case study, along with my other work in promoting Twixtmas and National Nostalgia Day on February 15th to share with students.
I now also have a great example to share about how the PR industry is incredibly wasteful when it comes to creative content, often failing to exploit he lifetime value of an idea, mistakenly thinking having been used once it is no longer ‘creative’.
5. As a result of falling foul of an influential network of scientists through Blue Monday it sparked an interest in the subject of the communication of science.
My views are that ‘scientific illiteracy’ is one of the biggest issues professional communicators should be addressing, but is only currently being tackled by the scientific community, who are part of the problem.
Thanks to Blue Monday I am planning to produce an e book called ‘Science Phobia’ later this year, highlighting how non-scientists cannot leave it to the nerds to tackle this problem alone.
So, the third Monday of January, Blue Monday is cause for celebration. But why is it also a source of unhappiness?
Firstly, I am angry that mental health charities could have easily raised over £2million of valuable funds were they to fully embrace ‘Blue Monday’. Thanks however, to a network of influential scientists, who bullied the charities about Blue Monday being ‘bad science’ they have until recently stymied significant fund-raising.
Secondly, so-called scientists and science journalists who pride themselves on facts and being rational don’t check their data when it comes to Blue Monday.
In any promotional material about Blue Monday it is positioned as ‘symbolically’ the most-depressing day: not the most depressing day, nor scientifically proven as the most depressing day.
As the great newspaper editor CP Scott once observed: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”.
Thirdly, I have yet to read an article by anyone looking for evidence and facts to substantiate the existence of Blue Monday to take into account the existence of the meme of Blue Monday as a ‘fact’.
The prevalence and perpetuity of Blue Monday shows both an inherent resilience as a form of viral, word-of-mouth communication, and that it is possibly feeding off an underlying reality.
Inadvertently, we may have uncovered a 21st century Zeitgeist created by people on monthly salaries getting paid early in December result in being more impoverished in January, plus the factors Cliff Arnall identified in his original equation. People want it to be ‘Blue Monday’.
The prevalence of the meme is a fact. For anyone doing research on evidence for Blue Monday include that in your evaluation!
Anyway, I’m still getting a buzz from hearing about episodes like the young foster child on BBC Wales. It has sparked my enthusiasm for getting more behind Blue Monday for 2014. (This year I just did the very bare minimum having my hands full preparing to launch my new book ‘Tubespiration! – how to get your next brilliant idea by using the London Underground as a creative tool’)
On balance, I’m very happy about the symbolically most depressing day of the year!
I hope you have had a good Blue Monday. If you haven’t already, do visit www.beatbluemonday.org.uk (I want to get my £26 worth!)
Creativity is the ability each of us has to create something new by bringing together two or more different elements in a new context.— Andy Green, Creativity in Public Relations
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