Should marketeers ignore Blue Monday?

Hannah Gallop

Hannah Gallop


Altogether January can be a bit of a rubbish month. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s no longer acceptable to eat cheese with every meal and a few New Year's resolutions have already been broken. January is basically one long post-Christmas hangover, and there are many reasons why someone may feel particularly down during this month. But every year most media outlets fixate on one day in particular - the third Monday in January. Also known as the most depressing day of the year, it has become known as Blue Monday.

Blue Monday was first coined by Sky Travel in a press release published in 2005 after the travel company had worked with psychologist and life coach Dr. Cliff Arnall - a self-styled freelance ‘Happiness Guru’, who had claimed that by using a mathematical formula that he devised, he could tell which day of the year is the saddest.

This formula takes into consideration a range of factors, including weather conditions, debt level, time since Christmas, time since potentially failing our New Year’s resolutions, overall motivational levels and other arbitrary variables that are impossible to quantify and largely incompatible.

To make it seem more appealing and scientific, Arnall even designed a formula describing how to identify the most miserable day of the year.

Dr. Cliff Arnall formula

But is it really the most depressing day of the year?

Although the formula looks impressive at face value, many academics have labeled the algorithm as pseudoscience due to its nonsensical formula. No matter how you look at it, the formula is made up from the beginning to the end, and there’s no way to get any conclusive results using it.

Let’s face it, Blue Monday doesn’t really exist. This Monday is no more or less statistically or verifiably depressing than any other Monday, and Sky Travel only ever created this term as a vehicle to sell more holidays at a time when escapism seems to be the only answer.

Cliff Arnall has also since admitted that it is meaningless. Curiously, he also devised the happiest day of the year as a 'thing’ for Wall's.

Innocent summed up the idea of Blue Monday in one simple tweet:

Today is Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. Thankfully, it isn't real and was just invented by someone in marketing.
— innocent drinks (@innocent) January 19, 2015

How marketeers have hijacked Blue Monday

Nevertheless, it is one of the best examples of a marketing stunt going viral – 15 years later, Blue Monday is still a hook on which content, social and experiential activity hangs its hat, giving marketeers from across the world an opportunity to promote their services in an attempt lift those January blues.

A range of brands have hijacked Blue Monday over the years to try and make an emotional connection to their audience, but some brands seem to have missed the mark. Feeling the January blues? Enjoy some couscous and make sure your home isn't filling with carbon monoxide.

Blue Monday 2020

In recent years, the conversation around Blue Monday has had a lot of extra focus on mental health, which is perhaps the most obvious conversation that should be had on supposedly the saddest day of the year.

There is a range of mental health charities that are seizing the opportunity to discuss important mental health issues in mainstream media. Including Samaritans, who offer an integrated content approach to getting those conversations out in the open with ‘Brew Monday’, which aims to support the public to reclaim the conversation around what feeling Blue might actually mean. The likes of Mind and Macmillan have also used this day to discuss the real issues surrounding the connotations of Blue Monday.

It's time to get smart with timely events

The whole concept seems to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy; the fact Blue Monday exists is causing people to still talk about it. However, it’s time to get smart with timely events and associate quality work that matters or makes a difference. Whether that’s doing something for mental health charities beyond this one day a year, or a simple, clever and emotive hook that brightens up the end user’s day rather than capitalising on mental health issues to try and generate revenue.

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