The Presidents' Day brand is actually about a lot more than retail sales in the third week of February. Americans first acknowledged a President's Day at the time of the founding father, George Washington's Birthday on February 22. Yet Americans didn't observe this holiday until 1832, exactly 100 years after his birth.
The next President to gain reverence was Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12. His birthday was first celebrated in 1865, the year after he was assassinated. In 1968, legislation was enacted that affected several federal holidays. One of these was Washington's Birthday, the observation of which was shifted to the third Monday in February each year whether or not it fell on the 22nd. This act, which took effect in 1971, was designed to simplify the yearly calendar of holidays and give federal employees some standard three-day weekends in the process.
My education in US history was greatly enhanced as I read up for my Citizenship exam. I used this high school textbook that had a picture of the Statue of Liberty on the cover, and it was just perfect to get into the details from a US perspective -- you do realize that we study history as we look at geography from different perspectives in different parts of the world.
As I think about the significance of this day I cannot help but see the influence the global media had on each President and his brand -- yes, in this case, it's a definite "he". Washington was the first President and he could be memorable for that reason alone: he co-founded the United States of America. Abraham Lincoln is known for the emancipation proclamation. Those are the most enduring tales connected with their brands.
If we take a look at other Presidents: Watergate will forever be linked to Richard Nixon; Camelot and the fairy tale story of a 43-year old man guide the image of JFK, and Ronald Reagan will forever be known as "The Great Communicator". These are all taglines and attributes by and large given to these men by the press and the mass communication. The fact that Nixon's Presidency opened diplomatic relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China, JFK handled the Cuban missile crisis, and Ronald Reagan was an advocate of free markets are known yet somehow not as readily associated with each President's brand.
It was Reagan's administration foreign policy of boldness against communism and, most importantly, skillful diplomacy in embracing the reformer Gorbachev, that made the President popular in Europe. Presidential biographer Richard Reeves said that Reagan understood "how to be President, who knows that the job is not to manage the government but to lead a nation."
There are many more Presidents I could talk about here. My point was to give you a sampling of branding as associated with something as important as the leadership of a nation. As a European I've lived the Presidency from afar for many years; yet I consider myself forever changed on 9/11 when those airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center changed everything. I've read reports (there was an excellent in-depth description in Foreign Policy magazine this past 5-year anniversary) that explained why nothing really changed that day.
From an "old country" perspective, which is what I bring to this conversation, the change was enormous. The nation that stood for freedom and the pursuit of happiness stood there alone. Things have indeed changed since the times of The Great Communicator, yet the idea of leadership Reagan put forth is still a valid one to pursue. To paraphrase something the former President said: "The lessons of leadership are the same: hard work, a knowledge of the facts, a willingness to listen and be understanding, a strong sense of duty and direction, and a determination to do your best on behalf of the people you serve."