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The golden age of promos

Friday April 4, 2014 at 11:34am
UK companies spent £55bn on promotional marketing in 2013 – buy only 26% of that was on value-added promotions, with the rest on price promotions. How can promotional marketers correct that imbalance, asks David Atkinson, managing partner of integrated agency Space? Last year UK marketers spent a whopping £55bn on promotional marketing: and only 26% of that was spent on value-added promotions, according to a recent market sizing study by the Institute of Promotional Marketing (IPM). The rest was channelled into discounts, which suggests that even with the worst of the recession behind us, it looks like many brands’ first thought is to discount. But discounts alone do not a successful promotional strategy make. Traditional value-added promotions (competitions and prize draws, free gifts, token collect schemes, charity partnerships and the like) generate interest in the brand and offer a real incentive to customers. Walker’s Crisps’ ‘Do Us A Flavour’ campaign is an excellent example – first aired in 2008 and now brought up to speed for 2014. The popular snack brand challenged members of the public to invent unique flavours, yielding some interesting results – Cajun Squirrel, anyone? – and over one million munching participants. For me, promotional marketing is the magic stuff and marketers should seriously consider putting it higher on the agenda. The recession prompted a rise in discounting – and it’s still welcomed by out-of-pocket shoppers. However, Paul Godwin, head of insight at the IPM and the man who put the market sizing study together, offers a sobering thought when he says that discounting “actively discourages brand purchase, unless there’s a deal.” To meet consumer demands, brands need to balance price discounting with more equity-based, value-added activity. A more balanced diet is what we’re after – perhaps alternating price promo, value promo, price promo, value promo. Great added value promotional marketing sticks in your memory. If you’re old enough to remember the Humphreys – ‘Watch out, watch out, there’s a Humphrey about!’ – you’ll know what I mean. If you’re not old enough, then Unigate’s sinister milk thieves made their first appearance on TV advertising in the 1970s and soon became a household name. A merchandising campaign promoted the ads and Humphrey-themed mugs, milk bottles and straws are now collector’s items. Sadly, the Humphreys are no more; but there are modern equivalents supported by top-notch promotional strategies. The Andrex puppy has to be one of the most iconic brand representatives ever created. Since 1972, the playful little scamp has made off with reams of toilet roll, cementing its place in hearts across the country. The loyal following created by the TV advertising carried over on-pack with an ongoing promotions scheme, Puppy Points. This clever adoption of the pup offers coupons that can be redeemed against days out with the family. Ongoing promotional activity from smoothie brand Innocent, meanwhile, is a fantastic example of promotional marketing that benefits the brand through conversation for a worthy cause. ‘The Big Knit’ has been running for over 10 years raising money for Age UK. Ordinary people can get involved by knitting little woolly hats that fit on top of the bottles during winter months. 25p from every 'hatted' bottle goes towards the charity. It’s a great message and a fun way to get people involved in the brand. There are also examples of iconic one-off promotions. In 2004 Ribena teamed up with the release of the box office hit sequel Shrek 2 to offer consumers the chance to win a donkey – based on the Eddie Murphy-voiced character. The winner got £1,000 to help with visits to The Donkey Sanctuary to meet their new friend, while runners-up could claim blow-up donkey toys with collected coupons and other Shrek 2 memorabilia was up for grabs. The campaign, which also ran across TV and included limited edition flavours of squash, resulted in a 37% boost in sales and a new audience for the brand. Another great campaign from the same year is the Nescafé Gold Blend ‘Hug this jar’. A tie-up with hit film Love Actually involved an instant win promotion through a run of four million limited edition jars of Gold Blend. Consumers were invited to ‘hug their jar’ to reveal a win or lose message, which was printed with thermochromic (heat activated) inks. The results were huge, increasing sales by 71%. There are also large-scale campaigns that seek to create maximum impact. In 2006 Eurostar, working with Space, was looking for a campaign to boost tourist interest in travelling between London and Paris. We took timely inspiration from the movie blockbuster The Da Vinci Code and the result was the ‘Eurostar Quest’, in partnership with Sony Pictures. We launched an online treasure hunt to intrigue would-be visitors to both cities, turning scenes from the film into online clues that could be solved over time to win cash and luxury travel prizes. The press launch was a world first, with the full cast of the movie joining 300 of the world’s leading entertainment press on a special branded train to Cannes. The result was an 11% rise in business ticket sales and a 6% growth in total sales in the first half of 2006. Furthermore, London and Paris were restored as the top European city destinations. And there are hundreds more examples that prove great value-added promotions are loved by consumers. While bargain hunting is now ingrained among Britons, brands need to consider the right balance between value-added and straight discount marketing. That’s how to save face, drive sales and encourage loyalty in the longer term.
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