It doesn’t take a genius to work out why January might be a rubbish month.
For some, the anti-climax of Christmas will have brought looming bills and the departure of loved ones, while others will have to contend with grey, cold weather while taking on New Years resolutions that bring about more boredom than satisfaction. These rubbish feelings all form part of one timelessly controversial calculation: the Blue Monday formula. The formula claims to calculate the most depressing day of the year, and typically puts it at the third Monday in January. But how much scientific clout is behind the theory, and why is it such a big hit in marketing circles?
Time to book a break
The Blue Monday formula was created by Cliff Arnall. Arnall, who was a psychologist at the time, was contacted by now-defunct TV channel Sky Travel. “Sky Travel asked me what I thought was the best day to book a summer holiday. That question got legs as I considered the motives for why people wanted to book such a holiday. That’s how we ended up with the most depressing day of the year, Blue Monday,” Arnall said. “I had no idea the formula was going to take off like it has.”
Fourteen years later, the idea of Blue Monday has travelled across the world, infuriating scientists and giving marketing departments a chance to boost the post-Christmas sales figures.
The formula takes into account the following factors: weather conditions, debt level (the difference between debt accumulated and our ability to pay), time since Christmas, time since failing our new year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and feeling of a need to take action.
As one scientist noted to Broadly, adding weather to debt is as useful as “add your running speed to the colour of an apple”.
“These scientific equations are unscientifically informative, and driven by money,” wrote doctor and critic of bad science Ben Goldace in The Guardian in 2016. “It is corrosive, meaningless, empty, bogus nonsense that serves only to caricature and undermine science.”
Mental health marketing
But though the theory was debunked just a year after it was created, it is going strong fourteen years later.
And the formula – which has travelled around the globe and has been written about in publications ranging from USA Today to Bradford Telegraph and Argus is still being treated as gospel by some.
Mental health charity Mind have actively decided to distance themselves from the formula, saying that it “trivialises” people with mental health issues.
Philippa Bradnock, information manager says “The third Monday in January is often dubbed ‘Blue Monday’, the so-called most depressing day of the year. Despite the fact the phrase originates from an advertising campaign and there is no credible evidence to show that one day in particular can increase the risk of people feeling depressed, the myth of Blue Monday continues to persist.”
Time to move on
As companies line up to sell their wares on Blue Monday, one marketing expert thinks it’s time for them to knock the formula on the head.
Chris Daly, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Marketing said: “As marketing professionals, we must also reflect and ask ourselves whether news hooks like these still serve the best interests of our customers and their expectations. We know that increasingly consumers are interested in brands doing good – and while topical discounts and offers may boost reputation in the short-term, there’s growing concerns from consumers that the day trivialises issues relating to mental health.”
“Marketers should be careful about alienating their customer base by pinning promotions or social content to Blue Monday. More consideration is needed otherwise it is seen as just adding to the noise.”
My view? January is a tough month, especially these days. Shame on those who monetise misery.