Are you aware of Awareness Week?

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The Independent Culture
HAVE YOU checked your diary today? To save you the trouble, it's Pink Lady Day, the last day of British Speciality Food Month, day four of Anti Angling Week, Relief of Glaucoma Week and Green Transport Week.

It doesn't take much to merit a special day, week or month nowadays. Ramblers, naturists, biscuit dunkers and prunes are honoured, as are the left-handed, diabetics and people who snore. There's even a National Kevin Day (in honour of Kevin Costner, in case you didn't know).

Ridiculous. And now the PR "experts" responsible for turning what was once a clever idea into a tedious epidemic think so too. In what must be the apotheosis of this Nineties marketing fad, this week was also designated Awareness Campaign Week.

"The number of these awareness campaigns and the growing use of them by marketers to sell products risks confusing and boring consumers - the very people these organisations are so desperate to reach," says Robert Barclay, managing director of The Profile Group, a PR-based consultancy which publishes forward events listings. He has launched Awareness Campaign Week - you've guessed it, to raise awareness about the potential problem of too many awareness weeks.

He insists there is a serious message behind the initiative. Awareness campaigns, first developed by Christian Aid in 1957, were traditionally used by charities with limited budgets to publicise a good cause. By bagging a particular day or week, they invented a hook for the news media to address a worthy issue. It was, of course, completely free. And by picking dates during the "silly season" summer months, media coverage was virtually guaranteed as desperate news editors eagerly pounced on anything that was going on.

Never ones to miss a trick, marketing experts in big business quickly joined in, and along came National Breakfast Week "supported by" Kellogg's, Quaker's Oats' Porridge Day and Chip Week - courtesy of those nice people at the Potato Marketing Board.

More than 375 awareness days, weeks and months will take place this year - twice the number staged two years ago. And now it looks as if the notion of awareness days may have become too popular. Response among the potential audience for these campaigns is decidedly mixed. Not only is there widespread confusion about just what's going on when and why, there's also a distinct scepticism about the value of many manufactured events.

In a random poll of a dozen people, 11 had never heard of Pink Lady Day while the other thought it was about drinking gin. (In fact it's a marketing wheeze to launch an Australian apple in the UK.)

"I'm aware of things like Red Nose Day and Breast Cancer Week but all the other rubbish goes right over my head," says Angela, 34, a recruitment consultant from west London. "Meaningless puff" is her flatmate Mary's conclusion: "I don't need a topless model to tell me to eat prunes - if I want to eat them I will." Both add that attention deflected away from a good cause by trivia and commercialism is a bad thing.

Mr Barclay agrees: "PR and marketers should act now to safeguard the charities and other organisations whose messages are non-commercial." He advocating an official register to encourage commercial interests to pitch their marketing weight behind rather than against charity campaigns to avoid upsets like the one caused by Wonderbra when it hi-jacked Breast Cancer Awareness Week.

"We have to separate in people's minds the serious causes from the lightweight," Mr Barclay adds. "Very clear plugs are easy to spot but there are a number of serious campaigns which have got lost. Journalists are increasingly telling me their editorial policy is now to cover less of these campaigns because there are so many."

A formal register would also encourage organisations to guard against unfortunate clashes of events, which has been a bit of a problem. Next year, for example, National Parenting Day coincides with the beginning of National Condom Week.

All of which might solve the PR people's problem - and then again, it might not. While the professionals still view such stunts as a powerful communications tool, many consumers feel they've had their day.

Campaigns in June

(Quality British Turkey Month)

June 1-6

National Vegetarian Week

Animal Pride (Day)

British Speciality Food Month

Pink Lady Day

Grow Your Own Organic Fruit and Vegetable Campaign

National Focus on Food Week

June 7 was:

Amen - A Day to Pray

World Naturist Day

Arthritis Research Week

National Diabetes Day

National Cinema Day

June 15-19

Green Transport Week

National Anti Angling Week

British Speciality Food Month

For the Relief of Glaucoma Week

Spinal Injuries Awareness Week

Awareness Campaign Week

June 22-27

Twins, Triplets and More Week

Child Safety Week

Minerals Week

National Mencap Week

Pensioners Day of Action

National Arts Day

United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

International Anti Arm Trade Week

RNLI National Lifeboat Station Open Day

Family Rambling Day

National Piers Day

and

National Focus on Food Week (sponsored by Waitrose)

July 24-31 National Ice Cream Week (sponsored by the ice cream alliance) clashes with National Potty Training Week

October 1 is McVitie's National Dunking Day and National Continence Day

On 13 November National Curry Day clashes with Oxfam's Big Fast

Source: The Profile Group

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