St. Urho’s Guide to Breaking into a Crowded Market

Chances are, even if you are not Irish, you’ll acknowledge St. Patrick’s Day by wearing a bit of green. 

But did you know that hundreds of people celebrate a whole day earlier in honor of St. Urho, the patron saint of Finland?

[Cue record scratch.] 

That’s right, St. Urho. Legend has it that a long time ago in Finland, grasshoppers invaded the countryside, threatening its grape crops. Urho, using his extraordinarily loud voice, scared the grasshoppers away, thus saving the grape harvest. 

Problem is, the St. Urho legend is a bunch of hooey. St. Urho wasn’t a real person, there are still grasshoppers in Finland, and they don’t grow any grapes. The legend was concocted in the mid-1950s by Richard Mattson, a self-proclaimed Finnophile living in Minnesota. 

Yet the story grew and spread, and now St. Urho is celebrated as a hero on March 16 by Finns across Washington, Oregon, Montana and Florida. There’s even an “Ode to St. Urho” and a 12-foot-tall oak statue to honor him in Menahga, Minn. 

But there are already hundreds of obscure holidays popping up in our Facebook feeds. National Frozen Food Day. National If Pets Had Thumbs Day. What’s more, Urho’s competing with a much more established holiday – one that’s actually based on a real historical figure.

So why did St. Urho’s legend catch on? 

It’s like the Easter Bunny or Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World. Or the country of Turkey. It doesn’t claim to be real – and it doesn’t have to be a real experience – to effectively capture an audience and convey a message. St. Urho’s little fairy tale has the foundational components of great creative:

It fills a need. Richard Mattson dreamed up St. Urho when a co-worker goaded him about how there weren’t any Finnish heroes like St. Patrick. Becoming a champion for a group of people who feel underrepresented can build your following fast. Just like Dove did for dads with Dove Men+Care

It uses story. Story is one of the most powerful forces on Earth, and the St. Urho legend includes the five important elements of a story: character, setting, conflict, plot and theme. Urho’s tall tale is quirky enough to be fun to tell, and includes enough information that it could be true – all the makings of a great urban legend. Something like Dodge does in its Dodge Brothers spots.

It has an element of rebellion. People seem more inclined to join something that challenges the status quo. St. Urho sort of becomes the anti-Patrick – with all the same elements of the original holiday, but far enough outside the mainstream to be cool. It’s the same reason Apple still brands itself as a rebel, despite being one of the leaders of its industry.

It’s easy to join in. Part of creating a message or image that can spread means using elements your audience can easily copy. It’s Urho tradition to wear royal purple (representing the grapes) and Nile green (representing the grasshoppers) to celebrate St. Urho’s Day, just like pink for breast cancer awareness or Go Red for Women.

It’s fun. Great creative makes your face move, makes you smile or cry. Urho may be fake, but the celebration is real, and it brings smiles to countless faces. Kind of like when Taco Bell airlifted 10,000 tacos to a remote Alaskan town that had been disappointed after learning that news of a new Taco Bell location was a hoax.

Of course, movements don’t happen overnight, and no one can predict what will and won’t spread. But with clear goals supported by strategies like these, you’ll have a powerful plan to move your audience.

Want to learn how to use elements like these in your own branding? Drop us a line.

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