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Pi Day Calls for Pie, Pizza, and Promotions

Feb 17, 2022
New research from Vanderbilt Business measures the effectiveness of non-traditional holiday promotions

By Lacie Blankenship

Do you have dinner plans for Pi Day (March 14)? 

In recent years, the annual celebration of the mathematical sign pi (π ≈ 3.14) has come with discounts on pizzas and pies. It’s an opportunity for consumers to save and for marketers to flex their creativity to drive sales. 

Pi Day isn’t the only non-traditional holiday that has recently inspired themed promotions: Star Wars Day (May 4), National Dog Day (August 26), National Food Day (October 24), and company-originated holidays (i.e.: anniversaries), among others, have all been leveraged. But are they effective? New Vanderbilt research finds that promotions associated with creative non-traditional holidays are an effective strategy to drive sales.

Kelly L. Haws

Promoting Pi Day: Consumer Response to Special Day-Themed Sales Promotions, a study by Kelly L. Haws, the Anne Marie and Thomas B. Walker, Jr., Professor of Marketing, finds that consumers are more likely to make a purchase when offered a unique non-traditional/special day themed promotion versus a traditional/unoriginal sale.

This study, co-authored by Daniel M. Zane of Lehigh University and Rebecca Walker Reczek of The Ohio State University, uses field and laboratory studies to look at “consumers’ reactions to special day-themed sales promotions” and “perceptions of the marketer’s creativity.”

Researchers partnered with a small firm to test a company-specific special day promotion via email for a component of the study. Customers received one of 2 email versions. The first was a special day-themed discount celebrating the anniversary of the company’s founder rescuing its mascot, Cooper; the subject line read “Save 25% Today As We Celebrate the Anniversary of Cooper’s Rescue,” and the body of the email further explained Cooper’s story. The second version of the email had the same 25% discount and mentioned celebrating dogs but did not specifically mention the anniversary of Cooper’s rescue.

Through analysis of different ‘shop now’ links in the emails, the researchers found that customers receiving the special day-themed discount were nearly twice as likely to click through to shop at the website.

“Our results demonstrate that consumer perception of marketer creativity is influential on click-through rates and purchase intentions,” says Haws. “In a way, it rewards marketers for their creativity.”

For obvious reasons, this study has implications for understanding marketing practices in the retail world, where promotions are a regular practice. Marketers trying to drive click-through rates and increase sales should consider applying the concept of unique special day promotions to their messaging, at least under certain conditions.

“We found that the positive effects of special day promotions were most likely when the link between the company’s products and the day was creative, yet appropriate, and when other competitors were not using the same approach,” says Haws. “Like many other marketing approaches, if everyone is doing it, Pi Day promotions are unlikely to stand out.”

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