By Jane Han
What do chocolate-dipped wafer sticks called Pepero, pork belly slices, apples, women's bras and cucumbers have in common? Each has a ``special day'' designated to it, but not anywhere else in the world _ just in Korea.
Beyond the conventionally celebrated days such as Christmas and Valentine's Day, locally invented unofficial holidays have often spurred sales of particular products.
The biggest winner of this practice is arguably Lotte Confectionery's Pepero, which rakes in about 55 percent of annual sales before and after Pepero Day (Nov. 11).
The sweets maker for the first time rung up monthly sales of 10 billion won in October 2004, and since then the figure continues to rise.
Lotte got lucky when middle and high school girls in Busan lined up four Pepero sticks on their desks one day. The chocolate sticks formed the date Nov. 11, and the girls decided to exchange the snack every year to remember their friendship.
However, because the story has so many variations, many wonder if it is a work of fiction created by Lotte.
Likewise, Haitai Confectionary's Ace Day (Oct. 31) aims to reap the same benefits, but isn't quite up to par.
The story originates in Gangwon Province area during the 1990s, high schoolers were said to be inspired by singer Lee Yong's song, which reminded them to appreciate their loved ones.
As they began exchanging Haitai's signature cracker Ace, the tradition has been passed along since then, said company spokesman Kang Jong-ho.
While private companies stir up their own marketing strategies to capitalize on ``special days'', some _ including the local pork, tuna and produce businesses _ made industry-wide efforts to trigger concentrated sales, which led to the creation of more than 50 product marketing days in the local calendar.
``It almost became an automatic practice to set aside one day for a businesses' front product,'' said a spokesman of the Korea National Council of Consumer Organizations, adding that because consumers' psychology drives them to purchase under pressure, companies know what they're cheap strategy is.
While other consumer groups make similar arguments, industry officials defend themselves, claiming that the ``day marketing'' is no different than any other promotion.
``Many times, the message behind the story is heart-warming and friendly, so it's not all for business,'' said a marketer of the country's leading snack maker, citing that even public campaigns are made using this strategy.
An example is Apple Day (Oct. 24), which encourages people to hand apples to those they owe an apology to. The word apple in Korean is ``Sa-gwa'', which is a homonym that means to apologize.
``Sometimes it's much more effective to send a message of love through a gift-giving campaign than a stiff television commercial,'' he added, noting that similar ``special days'' are set apart in other countries, too.
Sweetest Day, Friendship Day, Sister's Day, Boss's Day and Forgiveness Day are some of the popular days in the U.S.