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Keep us free of marketing days and devote quality time to the needy.

Byline: By STEVE GROVES

A letter exploded on my desk and opened my eyes to the market value of celebrity and to the power of public relations. I was newly installed in popular journalism when the editor threw me a piece of paper and suggested I pull my finger out and give him 100 words on 'this pile of old toss' by five o'clock. It was a letter signed by Spike Milligan.

Spike Milligan? Yes, Spike Milligan.

In our quiet Valleys newspaper office we were used to getting letters from the great and the good: communications of complaint from the Mayor, invitations to court - from the chief of police, not Her Majesty.

But here I was, barely a month out of uniform - school uniform, that is - and handling a letter from the greatest Anglo-Irish-Indian comedian.

Such was the power of my admiration for him that it took a good 20 seconds to realise that of course he wasn't just writing to us. Indeed, he hadn't written the letter at all; he'd just allowed his name to be attached to a marketing campaign. The letter was announcing National Mustard Day or something like that. It was definitely to do with a condiment.

So Spike had earned a few bob by allowing his name to be associated with the campaign. And an industry used the notion of attempting to sell itself by converting a sales pitch into something that seems like a day of action for a greater good.

Now, of course, we're swamped with days and weeks designed to raise awareness - from the totally worthwhile to the totally worthless. National Mustard Day clearly fell into the latter category.

I'm told it all started with the first Christian Aid week in 1957. But now that there are some 500 of them a year, we have to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Who could forget National Balloon Week? Oh, you had forgotten. I'm sorry to be the one to remind you.

Already in the calendar, alongside weeks aimed at raising social, health and education awareness, are National Bramley Apple Week, National Pubs Week and the ever popular International Turn-Off TV Week. I've yet to receive conformation that National Balloon Week - 'a lot of people don't know how versatile balloons can be,' a spokeswoman says - or National Barbecue Week are on in 2005. Look forward, however, to National Potato Day on January 30. It's the 12th time it's been celebrated! Missed it before? What a fool you must feel.

But in view of the overwhelming events generated by the Indian Ocean earthquake, isn't this the year to cut out all the fatuous marketing days, weeks and months which have no social worth? Shouldn't we be concentrated on raising awareness of the enormous humanitarian disasters - whether man-made or caused by nature - which afflict this planet?
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jan 3, 2005
Words:471
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