At first blush, “Hi, I’m Shavuot, Nice to Meet You” seems like an odd slogan for a campaign to market a brand that’s been around since Moses. But an unclear brand image and a competitive market have seen observance of the holiday marking the giving of the Torah decline in recent centuries. Too many people don’t know what the holiday is about, or are altogether unaware of its existence, say industry experts.

“For a long time we’ve been behind the market leaders, holidays like Passover, Yom Kippur and Chanukah,” Chandra Sinai, director of marketing for Shavuot, admitted when I talked in Shavuot’s corporate home. “We decided that we had to do something dramatic to turn our product around.”

Selling Shavuot is just a matter of getting the word out.

To improve their brand’s performance, the Shavuot people hired The Shank Bone Group, a successful boutique marketing firm specializing in Jewish holiday accounts.

“I was skeptical at first, but the more I thought about this product, I realized it really has a lot going for it,” recalled Evan Lewis, Shank Bone’s president and CEO. “It celebrates the giving of the Torah, something that touches everybody; it represents the culmination of a 49-day period of self-refinement, which is quite intriguing; and it’s the only holiday to my knowledge that mandates the eating of cheesecake, and who wouldn’t like that? I soon realized that selling Shavuot is just a matter of getting the word out.”

To test whether consumers would warm to the Shavuot story, Shank Bone deployed a thorough market research plan. A key finding of the initial, benchmark survey was discouraging. When respondents were asked how they felt about each holiday, Shavuot ranked last in name recognition and popularity, trailing even Shemini Atzeret. But when the question was modified so that it described the Jewish holidays but hid their names, something astonishing happened.

“When we asked, ‘Would you like a holiday that gave you the opportunity to hear the Ten Commandments, read from the Torah and eat ice cream and cheese blintzes?’ Shavuot shot to number one!” Lewis said.

Shavuot’s link to dairy goes way back to the organization’s founding, noted Brad Markel, professor of marketing at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. “Numerous explanations for the custom have been given. For instance, the numerical value of chalav, the Hebrew word for milk, is 40, the number of days and nights Moses spent on Mount Sinai before he received the Tablets. According to another theory, dairy goes great with Shavuot because the scriptures liken Torah to milk, an allusion made in Song of Songs: ‘Honey and milk are under your tongue . . .’”

Shank Bone felt that consumers would respond positively if exposed to the Shavuot themes. The firm assembled a focus group to gauge the depth of the buying public’s interest.

“First we told them Shavuot is the apex of a seven-week period of self-improvement beginning on Passover,” Lewis related.

“We count each day, starting from the second night of Passover, and the suspense builds until the purpose of the Exodus is realized with the giving of the Torah on Shavuot. According to Kabbalah, each of the seven weeks corresponds to a different character trait, and each day to an aspect of that trait which we strive to refine. We asked the focus group participants if they would be interested in hearing more, and they answered, ‘Yes.’

Shavuot is the apex of a seven-week period of self-improvement.

“Next we recounted how when the time came to give the Torah, early on the morning of the sixth of Sivan, Moses had to wake up the Jewish people, who were sleeping. On the first night of Shavuot we stay up until dawn studying Torah, as a corrective for the past and as a preparation for receiving the Ten Commandments. Again they wanted to learn more.

“We then informed the focus group that at Mount Sinai G‑d gave us not only the Ten Commandments, but the entire Written Torah, and its explanations, commentaries and laws that constitute the Oral Torah. A third time they indicated they wanted additional information.

“As a test, we asked them if they wanted to learn about term life insurance. When they answered, ‘No,’ we knew they weren’t just being polite when they said they wanted us to tell them about Shavuot.”

Based on the market research, Shank Bone created three alternative commercials.

The first commercial portrayed a young man sitting at his kitchen table holding aloft a fork spearing a glistening cheese blintz. A narrator intones, “Got Shavuot?”

Lewis said that the focus group expressed weariness with the “Got . . . ?” theme, so “Got Shavuot?” was tossed in the reject pile.

In the second spot, a man sits in his living room playing a crossword puzzle with his little daughter. She says, “Twelve down: ‘A fun holiday where you get to eat your favorite ice cream and stay up all night.’” He answers: “There’s no Slumber Party Day. You’re making this up.” And she responds: “No, Daddy. It’s Shavuot!”

Lewis said the focus group didn’t care for this ad either, considering it misleading.

The final commercial depicted a series of Shavuot scenes: a family eating lasagna; the same family eating brisket later in the afternoon; and a congregation listening to the Ten Commandments being read from the Torah. At the end, a narrator with an accent that sounds vaguely Texan says, “Hi, I’m Shavuot, nice to meet you.”

The focus group thought that this spot reintroduced Shavuot in a warm, congenial manner, Lewis said. He related how he conceived the slogan:

Shavuot’s CEO said so far he has been pleased with the campaign.

“I was watching the news one night, and they were showing a politician shaking hands outside a bowling alley. He said: ‘Hi, I’m Ron Paul. I’m running for president.’ About a month later I noticed that he almost won the Iowa caucuses. I figured, if a straightforward, unassuming approach could help that guy, it could help anybody.”

The commercial has been running in major TV markets throughout the United States, on late-late-night television, to attract the kind of people who are willing to stay up all night. Shank Bone also devised a cross-marketing plan with the American Dairy Association.

Barry Lerner, Shavuot’s CEO, said so far he has been pleased with the campaign.

“I feel that we’re finally getting the Shavuot story out,” Lerner asserted. “Look, we’re not going to overtake Chanukah in popularity in one year. But if we pull even with Shemini Atzeret, I’d say the sky’s the limit.”