Lincoln and Washington: Still Marketing Gold

Presidents’ Day weekend is intended to honor both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and provide a three day break. More of us know it as a long weekend filled with mattress and appliance sales.

The origin of Presidents’ Day dates back to the 1880s, when the February 22nd celebration of Washington’s birthday was first named a federal holiday. Disneyland capitalized on the day off, releasing a print ad using cartoon characters playing the fife and drum to invite families to spend the day at Disneyland.

Washington’s birthday was celebrated on the day of his birth for almost 90 years until passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill, which in 1971, moved many federal holidays to Mondays. The change was designed to create three day weekends through the year to give workers scheduled time off, though opponents pushed to have the holidays be celebrated on the day they commemorate. A compromise was struck, when it was suggested that Washington’s birthday be renamed Presidents’ Day to honor Lincoln’s February 12 birthday as well.

The official bill passed by Congress named the weekend Washington’s Birthday, but Presidents’ Day has became the commonly used name, thanks in large part to retailers’ use of the Presidents’ Day name to promote sales.

Big ticket items such as mattresses and appliances typically require more than one member of the family to evaluate and purchase. That is one of the key drivers behind stores and brands having big sales on Presidents’ Day weekend. Enough time has passed since the December holidays that consumers tend to be ready to shop again. And with the three day weekend, entire families are together.

Mattress Firm executives told the Chicago Tribune that they expect increased business on Presidents’ Day weekend. They said that it is a time of year when consumers refresh their living spaces, take advantage of the holiday to shop, and get good deals.

Many families take advantage of the three day weekend as a travel occasion. Holiday Inn was one of the first marketers to seize on the three day travel holiday, in this ad (right) using a tropical take on George Washington’s classic bust.

Though the holiday was initially intended to honor Washington, Lincoln has come out on top as leading pitchman in more recent years.

More than 150 years after his death, Lincoln is only growing in stature as a corporate icon. Within the last few years, Lincoln has appeared in ads for Diet Mountain Dew, Geico, prescription drugs, Overstock, Quicken Loans, and is popular among restaurateurs – Applebee’s, Denny’s, Pizza Hut, and Sonic. He brings an aura of prestige, and of course, the Honest Abe mantel.

He wouldn’t be wearing L.L. Bean boots if he didn’t believe in them, right?

He has been in Presidents’ Day ads for many mattress companies, automakers Toyota and Honda, as well as the eponymous Lincoln Motor Company.

Sociology professor and author of “Lincoln, Inc.: Selling the Sixteenth President in Contemporary America,” Jackie Hogan said:

Lincoln is every bit as recognizable today as the Golden Arches or Mickey Mouse. He is an instantly recognizable icon, which is what businesses want. But he’s even more useful than the Golden Arches or Mickey Mouse because of what he stands for. He has come over time to stand for all-American values: courage, integrity, common sense. But I also think that in the last five years or so, Lincoln’s image has had some added appeal because of the American Dream he exemplifies.

The first brand to use Lincoln’s name and likeness, and the only company to get explicit permission to do so, is the Lincoln Financial Group. In 1905, Lincoln’s sole surviving son, Robert Todd, allowed the company to use his father’s image.

Lincoln has few rivals among historical figures as far as commercial icons go – his reputation for honesty puts him in a class by himself.

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