It’s not their fault. They never claimed to have e.s.p. and the ability to forecast spring, or anything else. They were forced into it by a bunch of pagans millennia ago – human beings who in their feeble cognition had a need to know. And even now in our modern arrogance, we still rely on sophisticated hoaxes to try to foretell the future. We dress them up as computer models and complex mathematics, but they are far from perfect forecasters, not much better than the groundhogs.

So when the poor subterranean marmots get it wrong, we shouldn’t blame them.

Modern day pagan prelates are now called city fathers and they seize any opportunity to call attention to themselves through some gimmick. This is why every other obscure town across North America has some shrine to a poor suffering marmot and every February 2 they stir him out of his cozy lair to force him into service and face the cameras and the sun, speculating on whether he will see his shadow or not. (You’d think they could do this for themselves!) No doubt many of you saw the news clip of Jimmy the Groundhog of Sun Prairie Wisconsin (“The Official Groundhog Capital of the World”! (The nerve!)) biting the ear that feeds him. Serves that smug mayor right.
(If you didn’t see it try this:

It’s all in innocent fun until someone gets hurt.

So it turns out AFS Consulting and its principal proselytizer, Doug Jordan, are as guilty as those self-promoting city fathers when it comes to Groundhog Day. Every year in late January we send out about 650 greeting cards (~275 physical cards and 375 e-cards) to friends, colleagues, associates, suppliers, past present and prospective clients and sponsors. It’s a pretty obvious marketing ploy.

As a promotion strategy it meets a bunch of tests: Unique, surprising (it’s not a Christmas card), use of humour, repetition, subliminal messages, possibly politically incorrect (but hey, it’s not a Christmas card!) … Business Schools would surely love to write up the AFS GHD campaigns for a Marketing case study. Psychology Departments too, I suppose.

But why Ground Hog Day? Surely this sort of attention seeking won’t be taken seriously.

I had a client tell me this once and I thought, too many people in organizational life are too tightly wound, especially managers. A sense of humour is actually a management competency, but I’m not sure he gets it.

Groundhog Day is just the opposite. It’s supposed to remind us we are human and not to take ourselves so seriously.

But maybe he’s got a point. Despite the evident brilliance in these cards I’ve also had indications over the years that the receiver didn’t quite ‘get it’, either in general, or perhaps in particular with a given card. (And if one person gives you feedback you can bet ten others are wondering in silence. Hence this note.)

I have to admit, my sense of humour can be a bit eccentric, if not to say esoteric.

So why Groundhog Day cards?

I’ve had a fascination with Groundhog Day for as long as I can remember. Although it is a (very) minor event in the calendar of noteworthy dates, it has always ranked high for me; even as a teenager, it was right up there with April Fool’s Day! The morning radio always made a bit of a show of it – groundhog sees his shadow: six more weeks of winter! (Only six more weeks till spring if he didn’t!) And this was long before Bill Murray’s movie, Groundhog Day. (Hey, I’m a lot older than Bill Murray’s movie!)

I think it’s because I’ve never been much of a fan of winter and Groundhog Day was a signal that the end was nigh, even if he did see his shadow.

As I said, it’s not their fault when they get it wrong. (Well, actually, they always get it right, sort of. Groundhog Day is a pagan holy day that marks the mid-point, almost, between the first day of winter, December 21, and the first day of spring, ~March 21. (For more on the wonders of the pagan calendar you might like to study the 2005 GHD Card: In fact spring is a bit more than six weeks after GHD but most people don’t notice: except one accounting friend (?), naturally, who actually did the arithmetic (let’s not flatter him with ‘did the math’) and complained to me that GHD is actually 43 days from December 21 and it is 47 days from February 2 to March 21, 6.71 weeks!. How could I continue to sponsor such a fraud?!?

And worse, this same accountant, bitter man that he is, has also complained about this never-ending winter, following as it has the never-ending winter of 2014; and the terrible winter of 2013. (In this he is not alone. The outrage was so widespread in 2013 that AFS Consulting on behalf of Wiarton Willi was obliged to post an apology, of sorts, if not a retraction. For more on this you might want to look at Why Groundhog Day Cards, page 14, 15.) To him it is unconscionable that AFS Consulting continues to promote that unholy rodent.

This, in part, was the reason the 2015 GHD Card is somber, some would even say dark: Humour with a message. Even dark irony can be funny. Most regarded it as a lament for the long and dreary winter of 2014; and dread for a 2015 repeat. That was my intent for the casual reader. But for my more astute followers, or those who know me a bit more intimately, there is awareness that these GHD cards are sometimes (all the time?) autobiographical, at least to some degree. The ‘hidden message’ in this year’s card is that Willi’s spouse is suffering with a serious disease, the future of which is uncertain. In these circumstances the wait for Spring is the least of Willi’s concerns. The reader is now in suspense for what news the Lammas Day Card 2015 will bring, or Groundhog Day 2016.

Still, I have to admit, it is getting harder and harder to support this icon as my celebrity representative when followers increasingly disdain him. It’s kinda like Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong falling from grace. Should AFS Consulting actually stick with poor Wiarton Willie? Or abandon him?

There may be a fine line between notoriety and morality: a major sin is unsupportable but a minor sin is in many ways admired. The advertiser must determine if his ad remains memorable (and therefore having marketing value) and yet not reprehensible. The buying public is swift to judge, so better get it right.

I wonder if my accounting friend is giving me market intelligence without even knowing it? How many others, so exasperated with winter, need someone to blame and so turn on that poor blameless groundhog; or more knowingly, turn on me? Maybe he is right, and I can’t defend the indefensible, or take the commercial risk.

But I think I will take my chances. Most people are not so bitter, or even aware, and most are merciful.

After all, the genius of advertising is not to be clever, necessarily, but to be repetitive!