Surprisingly Or Not … The Wall Calendar Is Still King


Calendars have always been a part of people’s day-to-day activities. However, these days it seems like we need them more than ever to fine tune our busy lives and choreograph our dynamic schedules. The calendar has a pivotal role in daily life in so many forms—desk calendars, wall calendars, calendar magnets, wallet-sized calendars, computer calendars, online calendars, phone calendars—even days and dates on wristwatches.

Calendars are a mainstay in the promotional products industry, and PPAI has periodically studied the role of calendars and in particular advertising or promotional calendars.

A Comparison Of Usage Across 30 Years
Back in 1981, the Calendar Advertising Council (CAC) produced a study to get feedback on calendar usage among both households and businesses throughout the U.S. Phone interviews were conducted and findings from the household study showed that almost all respondents reported having one or more calendars at home. In terms of location, the kitchen was the leading area for calendars and most calendars in the home were wall calendars. Thirty-eight percent of calendars were located near a telephone and sixty-two percent of people carried calendars with them. When looking at advertising calendars in particular, the 1981 study found that 70 percent of calendars were received as complimentary gifts and 85 percent of recipients of promotional or advertising calendars planned to do business with the advertiser. Talk about ROI!

Fast forward to 2009 when advertising or promotional calendars made up a 7.14-percent share of the $15.64 billion pie of promotional products sales in the U.S. or approximately $1.12 billion in revenue. With revenues ranging from $1.07 billion to $1.43 billion over the past six years, calendars have continued to rank in the top five categories of promotional products.

When the Calendar Advertising Council first expressed an interest in a study examining usage of calendars in today’s average household, it was with extreme trepidation that I even considered the idea. In our office, my co-workers use their computers and ever-present hand-held devices to do practically every task imaginable including the mundane checks of dates and schedules.

I figured this behavior certainly spelled doom for the physical calendar let alone the free advertising calendar. However, the more I looked at my co-workers’ offices, the more I saw wall calendars, day planners and desk calendars. But being PPAI’s Headquarters (where promotional products are obviously prevalent), our offices are not quite a representative sample. To test the hypothesis that physical calendars are no longer as popular as they have been in the past, we needed to explore the topic with a truly unbiased sample of calendar users.

In fall 2010, PPAI and CAC undertook a research project to study the role of the traditional calendar, determine how it ranks and co-exists with all the other forms of calendars available today and also measure the efficacy of promotional or advertising calendars as an ad medium.

The study’s ultimate goal was to assist distributors and suppliers with information geared to answer critical questions such as “Should I carry calendars in my line?” “Do calendars make an effective promotional product?” and “How often do people look at calendars?”

And we also wanted to get the answer to the 300-pound-elephant-in-the-room question: What is the future for physical calendars? The good news is we got that answer and a whole lot more. Some selected highlights from the study are presented below:

Importance Of The Calendar In Daily Life
When asked how important a calendar was to people in their daily lives, almost eight out of 10 respondents said calendars were either important, very important or extremely important.

Reasons To Use A Calendar
When asked to specify reasons as to why they used a calendar, the predominant reasons reported were:

• To check dates—83 percent of people reported using a calendar to check dates
• To make a note of appointments—81 percent
• To keep track of special dates and holidays—78 percent

A little less than half of the respondents used a calendar to make notes or keep a record of events. Respondents’ open-ended comments revealed calendars are used for even more. Families with children tended to keep their children’s appointments, homework assignments and events on the calendar. Older people used the calendar to keep track of medications taken. Diabetics tended to track their sugar levels on a regular basis and keep a health log noted on the calendar. Others used the calendar to indicate monthly bill-due dates. It seemed like every age group had some very specific use for a calendar. Calendar suppliers may wish to be proactive by incorporating spots on the calendar that would accommodate some of these above-listed uses.

Kinds Of Calendars That Are Most Used
The majority of respondents reported using a wall calendar. In fact, the study indicated people still rely on the physical calendar to a large extent. A little less than a third reported looking at a calendar on their computer and a fourth looked at their cell phone calendars.

Computer Calendars
The use of computers to rule our lives is perceived to be mainstream for most people; and that is what we expected to find when asking how often respondents used a calendar on their computers. Surprisingly though, we found that 37 percent of respondents reported never using a calendar on their computer.

Since we did not define what exactly a calendar on a computer could be, their responses could include all kinds of calendars on the computer including those in contact and e-mail software (such as Outlook), or a calendar on the desktop found under “accessories” or other calendar software and time function programs or online calendars so prevalent on the web. The chart below shows how often respondents use the calendars on the computer.

While almost a third of the respondents could be considered regular users of calendars on computers, a third reported never using a calendar on the computer and a third could be considered as intermittent users. What all of this seems to point to is that people tend to use both printed physical calendars as well as calendars on their computers.

We were curious to see just how many people had printed a copy of their computer calendar. Doing so would make their calendars portable, provide a paper trail and allows people to carry their calendars to work so they could synchronize home and work activities. Results show that almost 60 percent of respondents have never done this—they obviously rely on other forms of calendars or are electronically savvy enough to synchronize their computer calendars with other devices such as cell phones and mobile devices.

Phone Calendars:
How often do people use the calendar in their cell phone? The answer surprised us. Half of respondent households had not done so. Six percent use a cell phone calendar once a day. Thirteen percent report using it a few times a week, six percent use it once a week and 12 percent use it once a month.

Portability Of Calendars
Portable calendars, those that fit in the pocket, wallet or purse, were some of the earliest calendars dating back to the early 1900s. But they originated even earlier than this. Examples of ancient portable monthly calendars were used by members of the Roman army and were carried from place to place or wherever the army was stationed. These calendars existed in the form of tablets and archaeological digs uncovered their presence in France in the late 19th century. It is ironic that now, centuries later, we have come full circle and use portable “tablets” such as the iPad to access a calendar. In this century, calendars have also become portable with the introduction of laptops, cell phones and dates on watches. We asked respondent households if they had a preference for portability. Forty-one percent of respondents stated they prefer to use both a physical calendar in conjunction with a portable calendar. Thirty-five percent prefer a calendar that is affixed at a central location. Twenty-four percent prefer to use a portable calendar.

Presence Of A Printed Calendar Or “Physical Calendar” In The Home
Before we asked about the presence of an advertising calendar, we had to find out if there was a printed calendar present in the house. The meaning of a “printed calendar” was illustrated by giving examples of different types such as wall calendars, desk calendars, magnetic calendars or calendars in day planners or diaries. The intent was to give them a sufficient number of examples of printed physical calendars so that they could relate accurately to the question posed. Eight out of 10 people or 79 percent reported having a printed calendar at home. In the calendar study done in 1981, 98 percent had one or more printed calendars in their home. With advances in technology and the presence of calendars in cell phones, laptops, PDAs and other portable gadgets, the fact that 79 percent of households have a printed calendar at home is a nice validation of the utility of calendars.

Prime Location Of Calendars In The Home
The kitchen remains the prime location for a printed calendar and is the leading area for the location of a calendar followed by the home office. Three-fourths (75 percent) of households reported having a calendar in the kitchen in contrast to 82 percent in the study conducted in 1981. This information is integral to advertising calendar suppliers, distributors and advertisers as other studies still cite the kitchen as the major buying decision area of the home. The average number of calendars in the kitchen was 1.15 with 80 percent reporting they had at least one calendar in the kitchen. In 1981, the average number of calendars in the kitchen was 1.25. In addition, the average number of printed calendars per household was 3.12 calendars. In 1981, this number was 3.98.

Types Of Calendars Present In The Home
When looking at the types of printed calendars present in the household, wall calendars reigned supreme. Eighty-nine percent of households reported having at least one wall calendar with an average number of 1.9 or two wall calendars present in the households surveyed. The second most popular by count were calendars in day planners with 41 percent of households having at least one day planner in their home. There was an average of 1.08 day planners present in households.

The Primary Calendar
Human beings are creatures of habit and tend to have a primary way of doing everything. So it was safe to assume that people also had a primary or habitual way of looking for information on dates and days and a preference for one type of calendar as their primary calendar. We asked about it and the results were indeed heartening. To more than half the households, the wall calendar was the primary calendar. Eleven percent used a calendar in their day planner as their primary calendar and nine percent used a desk calendar as their primary calendar. Only eight percent used their calendar on the computer.

The kitchen is the top location for the primary calendar with 34 percent of respondents keeping it in the kitchen. An additional 12 percent kept their primary calendar on their refrigerator, which implies they have magnetic calendars. Since respondents could only check one response this tells us the kitchen really was the location for the primary calendar for a total of 46 percent of households.

Sharing The Primary Calendar
When asked if they share their primary calendars with others:
• Thirty-five percent share the calendar with one other person who is allowed to add events to it.
• Twenty-eight percent share the calendar with more than two people and 16 percent with more than three people.
• Thirty-eight percent did not share their primary calendar with anyone else.

No matter how you add it up, the 63 percent who share calendar space offer an added influential opportunity for advertisers using calendars. Maybe it’s time to consider adding more familial information to ad copy in presentations made to clients.

When asked about their primary calendars at work, a third of respondents picked the wall calendar. Twenty-two percent of those employed had a desk calendar as their primary calendar at work and 13 percent had a day planner.

The Advertising Or Promotional Calendar
We see ad calendars everywhere and we assume people like them—but do they really? Yes! Eighty-two percent of households enjoy receiving calendars as a complimentary gift. Respondents were most likely to keep and use wall calendars, followed by desk calendars and the calendar in a day planner. Seventy-eight percent of households that had a printed calendar at home had at least one advertising calendar. However, when looking at the entire household sample, a total of 61.4 percent (or six out of 10 households) had an advertising calendar in their home. In 1981, this number was 70 percent. What’s more, the wall calendar is the most common type of calendar in 91 percent of households that had received an advertising calendar.

All this speaks well for the ad calendar and specifically for the promotional products industry. However, what is more important is whether calendars are an effective advertising vehicle and whether recipients remember the advertiser and the message. By all accounts, the advertising or promotional calendar is a very effective advertising vehicle. Based on recall statistics, of those who reported having just one advertising calendar:

• 74 percent could remember the name of the company advertised
• 72 percent could remember the product or service/message advertised
• 71 percent had done business with the company that gave them the calendar prior to receipt of the complimentary calendar
• 70 percent plan to do business with the company again
• 48 percent had a more favorable impression of the advertiser
• 41 percent have referred a friend to the company that gave them the calendar

Recall and reaction of those who had received two or three advertising or promotional calendars was also very encouraging. Below are “word clouds” of people’s actual verbatim responses based on what they remembered about the advertiser and the message on the calendar.

Recall of Advertiser

Recall of the Message

So What Does The Future Hold For The Physical Calendar And In Particular The Advertising Calendar?

All of what we found tells us that calendars are indeed here to stay and will probably remain for at least another three decades. The wall calendar is king and retains its regal spot of exclusive household real estate—namely the kitchen. So as long as the physical calendar is here to stay then so is the advertising or promotional calendar. I say this because in reviewing other literature that examines the use of physical calendars in light of alternatives via technology, I found some scientific research conducted on calendars that corroborate that statement.

A 2003 study by Crabtree, Hemmings and Rodden found that the household calendar is a unique animal. It has specific features that distinguish it from other types of calendars. One unique feature is its collaborative nature. By placing the calendar in a central location (i.e., the kitchen) it lends itself to collaborative use among family and household members. There is a certain innate understanding of how family members can coordinate and update the calendar to reflect schedules or show potential conflicts.

The researchers also point out that calendar sharing at home is different from calendar sharing at work. Sharing a calendar at home is not characterized by coordinating schedules on an hourly basis. To a large extent, for the home calendar, a family’s personal and social events are already intertwined by default or through agreement. Moreover, a home calendar can be annotated or customized in different ways by household members as long as each member of the household communicates his or her schedule to the others. An office electronic/computer calendar does not allow for such a free-form notation capability.

As long as these unique features of the home calendar exist, along with those requirements of the “ideal” calendar as expressed by respondents to our survey, the physical calendar will remain king. Technology, despite its wondrous capabilities, cannot replace the basic physical calendar with its unique ability to allow free form annotation and personalization capabilities.

Saritha Kuruvilla is PPAI’s manager of research.

Researchers Are The Biggest Skeptics
Being a researcher, I constantly seek clarifications and proof that validate research findings from any study I do. As one last test, I decided to conduct my own little experiment on calendars. The subject of the study? My boss.

Since I was working on the calendar research study in November, I decided to give my boss a calendar for Christmas. It wasn’t an advertising calendar or a printed desk calendar but a perpetual calendar that’s more of a contemporary sculpture. It shows months and days but no year and has a magnetic arm that requires the user to move it daily to advance the date.

I thought my boss could use it every day, year after year. Kind of neat, huh? And a fun change from all the advertising calendars he sees on a daily basis. Or so I thought. I gave it to him just before Christmas, and he opened it and eagerly set the date to reflect the day’s date—December 20.

I checked in on him a little more than a month later and found that the magnetic arm had not been moved. When I pointed it out, he laughed, got up and moved it to January 31 to reflect the current date.

On the day I finished this article, February 8, I wanted to do one last check. Nope, the date still showed January 31. As I laughingly pointed out that he hadn’t been using the perpetual calendar, he let me know the reason—this calendar requires him to get up and physically change the date. He would rather just look up at the wall calendar in front of him and, with one swift eye movement, get all the information he needs. And that wall calendar just happens to be an advertising calendar too. Now I have enough proof! The wall calendar is indeed king. Neither powerful technology nor stunning art seems to be able to displace it. —S.K.

Thanks To Study Co-Sponsor
Companies that comprise the Calendar Advertising Council, co-sponsor for this study, are:
Ad-A-Day Co., Inc. (UPIC: AD-A-DAY)
Beacon Promotions Inc. (UPIC: BEACONP)
Norwood Promotional Products (UPIC: NORWOOD)
Skinner & Kennedy Co. (UPIC: SKINNER)
Tru Art Advertising Calendars (UPIC: TRUART)

Get Your Free Copy Now
PPAI members can download the entire study for free from the PPAI website at by going to the tab “Inside PPAI” and then clicking on “Research Studies” to download a free copy. Watch for an additional report on Calendar Usage in U.S. Businesses to be released by PPAI later this month.

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