Gotta Get Down On Friday: 13 Triggers Used in Marketing

Samuel Hum
Samuel Hum
February 3, 2020
2 min read
Gotta Get Down On Friday: 13 Triggers Used in Marketing

In this article

The second principle of Jonah Berger's STEPPS list is Triggers.

When you look at a peanut, you might think of peanut butter. You might also then think of jam.

The peanut acts as a trigger for the consequent thoughts of peanut butter and jam.

Triggers are reminders around you that spark off related thoughts and ideas.

So the goal is to associate your brand with a trigger that people will encounter often.

Here are a few ways you can do that:

A. Specific Days

Associating your brand with a specific day ensures that your customers will think about your brand periodically,

The more frequent the day arrives in a year, the more your customers will think of your brand!

Many of these examples are linked to localized culture as well, so take advantage of that.

1. Geico's Caleb the Camel - Every Hump Day (Wednesday)

In some countries, Wednesdays are referred to as Hump Day.

It is the middle of the week, where one has to get "over the hump" before looking forward to the weekend.

This ad has Caleb the camel walking around the office, celebrating the arrival of hump day.

By associating the humorous camel with Hump Day, people will naturally remember this video whenever Hump Day arrives.

True enough, the original video received more than 6 million views, and they spiked every Wednesday!

The best part about the choice of Hump Day is that it occurs every 7 days.

2. Pi Day - Every 14th March (3.14)

Google Doodle Pi Day 2010 Triggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Pi (π) is an infinite mathematical constant that begins with 3.14.....

Unsurprisingly, Pi Day falls on the 14th of March.

Because pi rhymes with pie, pie makers take this chance to boost their sales, with great results.

Pi Pie Triggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
Fancy a Pi pie for Pi Day?

3. Star Wars day - May the 4th be with you

Star Wars Day May the 4th be with you Triggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Star Wars Day falls on the 4th of May; a play on the iconic phrase "may the force be with you".

It was started by fans of the series, but many brands take the chance to reveal their playful side and celebrate the iconic series:

Paypal Star Wars Day Triggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Kit Kat Star Wars Day Triggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
Kit Kat

Slim Jim Star Wars Day Triggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
Slim Jim

4. Pepero Day - Every 11th November (11.11)

Pepero Day by Cute in KoreaTriggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Unlike the previous examples that associated themselves with existing events, Pepero Day was created by Lotte, the company behind the stick biscuits Pepero.

Pepero resembles the number "1", so Pepero day falls on the 11th of November.

The original purpose of exchanging and eating the snack is to grow taller and slimmer.

According to a Korean article, the best way to achieve that is to eat 11 packets of the snack on 11th November at 11:11 am and 11:11 pm, at 11 seconds.

It also functions as a Korean Valentine's Day.

This day is so successful, Lotte earns 50% of all annual Pepero sales between September and November alone!

Focusing on the desires of girls to be slim and tall, plus the idea of romance shows that Lotte really understands Pepero's target demographic.

B. Seasonal

Why focus on a single day when you can associate your brand with seasonal triggers?

The longer the trigger lasts, the more chances there are for your customers to think about, and act on your brand.

5. Christmas in Japan - Kentucky for Christmas!

Christmas isn't a national holiday in Japan, but since the 1970s, the Japanese have been flocking to KFC every Christmas.

That's because KFC had successfully created the association that KFC = Christmas.

The campaign, which began in 1970, initially focused on foreigners who couldn't find turkey during Christmas.

This became a big hit, and now everyone in Japan wants some KFC during Christmas:

Everyone wants some KFC (photo credit: Danny Choo)
Everyone wants some KFC (photo credit: Danny Choo)

KFC had successfully created a cultural trend exclusive to Japan.

6. Coke and the red Santa Claus

Classic Coke Haddon Sundblom Triggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Contrary to popular belief, Coke didn't make Santa red in color; he was already in red before they added him in their ads.

But Coke created a strong association with the Christmas icon, by including him in ads since as early as the 1920s.

The legacy was created by Haddon Sundblom's Santa paintings, and even the Santa drawn today bears a strong resemblance to the original.

Santa by Haddon Sundblom
Coke's Santa by Haddon Sundblom

Coke's Santa in 2014
Coke's Santa in 2014

It also helps that the red robe Santa wears remind you instantly of the red in Coca Cola.

7. Autumn - Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte

Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte Triggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Pumpkins are especially popular in the USA and Canada during the Autumn seasons.

Starbucks rode on the trend by selling the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL).

Since their first cup in 2003, PSL has become a popular drink during fall.

The drink even has its own Twitter account:

Pumkin Spice Latte Twitter Triggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

C. Common words/phrases used in conversations

8. "Great!" - Greats


"Great" is a very common word in daily language.

Choosing a word commonly used in a daily speech for a brand name increases the chance that your customers will constantly be reminded of you.

9. "What time is it? It's Tiger time."

Tiger beer comes from Singapore and is predominant in Southeast Asia.

An ad in 1999 featured the slogan: "What time is it? It's Tiger Time!"

They hijacked a very common question "What time is it?", causing us to constantly remember the ad that was stuck in our heads.

Even now, that reply is the first thing that comes to mind whenever I am asked for the time.

10. Just do it - Nike

Nike Just Do It Triggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Coined in 1988, Nike's slogan aimed at everyone, not just fitness enthusiasts

The slogan aimed to inspire everyone to have a can-do attitude; to push on with determination and passion.

It became internationally recognized, and helped Nike to increase worldwide sales from $877 million to $9.2 billion in just ten years!

D. Activities and events

11. Have a break…Have a Kit Kat.

Kit Kat Break slogan Triggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Kit Kat was designed to serve as a snack for breaks, and the slogan, coined in 1958, complimented it very well.

Up until today, Kit Kat remains synonymous with the act of taking a break.

12. Mars Bars x NASA Pathfinder mission

Mars bar Triggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

In mid-1997, the sales for Mars bars spiked.

The company was confused: they didn't spend extra money on advertisements or campaigns.

Eventually, they realized it was thanks to NASA's Pathfinder mission to Mars.

The media attention given to the exploration mission had helped trigger thoughts of Mars bars.

It wasn't intentional, but it worked in their favor after all.

13. Snowstorms x Canadian Icons

Canadian Icons Goose Parkas Triggers Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Canadian Icons found that their customers tend to buy their goose jackets during snowstorms.

Utilizing that information, they started providing 90-minute deliveries to all major Canadian cities during snowstorms.

This helped them solidify an association that was already there.

The best brand associations ultimately merge with the original trigger altogether.

No matter what association you create, it's important to ensure that no other brand shares the same trigger.

Customers will get confused by multiple triggered associations, just like how peanut butter brings to mind multiple peanut butter brands.

In this case, perhaps focusing on your brand name instead of your product category might be more effective.

Ultimately, the holy grail of trigger-based marketing would be when your product becomes one with the trigger.

Memorable and consistent association key.

Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, states:

"Over time, this loop–cue, routine; cue, routine, rewards–becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges."

This creates a habit, and is the reason why we no longer say, "go search it on the Internet."

Instead, we say, "go Google it."

Professor Jonah Berger has spent a decade investigating what makes things go viral. Triggers are just one of his 6 part formula of virality (STEPPS):

Contagious: Jonah Berger's 6 STEPPS to Viral Marketing

  1. Social Currency – We share to look good in front of others.
  2. Triggers – We share what’s at the top of our minds. [You are here!]
  3. Emotion - We share what we care about.
  4. Public - We imitate what we see people around us doing.
  5. Practical value - We share what has value to others.
  6. Stories - We share stories, not information.
Samuel Hum
Samuel Hum

As a finalist in Esquire's Best Dressed Real Man contest, Samuel is ReferralCandy's fashion eCommerce expert and resident sartorialist. He is obsessed with human behavior, social psychology, and handstands. He is also the lead calisthenics trainer at Weightless.

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