Advantages Mobile — September 2010
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Wacky Promotions That Really Worked
Alex Palmer

Taking creative risks with marketing solutions can offer major returns.

There are plenty of savvy sales reps bucking trends and trying off-the-wall solutions – and getting results. Their powerful returns are showing the industry how unconventional approaches can reap big rewards, and may encourage customers to get a little more courageous.

With November elections right around the corner, let’s start with a politically charged promotion that really turned heads. While politics may not be a topic to discuss in polite company, it can certainly get the attention of consumers and make a big impression. That’s what Marty Stanchfield, president of Realm Promotions (asi/305338), proved when he began working with the St. Paul Saints minor league baseball team on a bobblehead doll concept.

In May of last year, the Norm Coleman-Al Franken election recount had gotten underway in Minnesota and was generating a lot of press and attention from observers of all political persuasions. Stanchfield’s contact at the Saints knew that a giveaway related to the ongoing recount would generate buzz and make a nice collector’s item for the fans. While a matching pair of bobbleheads could have gotten the message across, it seemed too cumbersome to require attendees to collect multiple items, so Stanchfield worked through possibilities with his supplier. With a few tweaks to the design, he was able to turn a bobblehead into a spinning head.

With two faces looking opposite directions and a count’s dramatic black cape (conveniently coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street and its beloved character, The Count), “The ReCount” doll was an instant hit when it was given out to the first 2,500 people to arrive at the Saints’ stadium on May 23, before the senatorial race had been decided. “They had people lining up at six in the morning, and they sold the game out,” says Stanchfield.

With such a clever name and a concept already getting national attention, interest in The ReCount did not stop after the ninth inning. Amused coverage of the giveaway by CNN, ABC News, USA Today and several other outlets soon followed. TDS Metrocom, which had sponsored the giveaway in exchange for prominent logo placement on the dolls, was thrilled.

“Every time it showed up on a news station or there was a picture of it in a magazine, there was TDS’s name,” says Stanchfield. “They said it was one of the best uses of money they’d ever spent.”

Now may be a time for distributors to see if they can draw some humor and attention from the more entertaining local or national contests. Topical or political promotions such as this can have a strong resonance, particularly with younger audiences, according to Carter Schimpff, president of Garraty Group Marketing Ltd.

“For the younger generation, it’s extremely important to make it funny – legitimately funny – and to tie it into current events,” Schimpff says. “They say the 18- to 25-year-old generation is less active, but we’ve seen – especially with the 2008 election – that they can be charged up if it’s cast in the right way.”

The partnership between the Saints and Realm Promotions has resulted in other less political, though perhaps more politically incorrect, promotions. When another team changed its name to The Pheasants, Realm sought out Elmer Fudd-style hunting hats to give out at games. After a series of wild cougar sightings in the St. Paul area a few months ago, Realm created a bobblehead that was a cross between a suggestively dressed woman “cougar” and a wild cougar. Demonstrating that few rewards come without risks, the doll got press attention, but also its share of complaints.

“The promotion director of the Saints said he knew it was good when at least four people complained,”

Stanchfield jokes. “If our clients allow us, we love to be creative and take it beyond what is traditional. As I like to say, ‘Try to think outside the pen.’ ”

The Cherry on Top

When getting creative about promotional products, it can be effective to think through the specific attributes of what you’re selling and what it is that you want to get across to consumers. For example, in a campaign that Nema Associates Inc. (asi/282191) recently put together for its client, Dell’s, a clever product got recipients to rethink the company’s maraschino cherries.

“They needed to get an edge in their marketing campaign,” says Juan Carlos Lopez, president of Nema Associates. “Their cherries are a bigger size than most everybody else’s, and they wanted to emphasize that, so they sent a ruler; it offered a tool to their customers to measure the cherries that they were being sold.”

The 9-inch rulers included images of cherries on one side and the tagline “How BIG is your cherry?” on the other. About 5,000 were mailed out at the beginning of July this year, to current and potential customers at restaurants, bars and other outlets that might use the cherries. Most unusual was that the ruler also included circles to measure diameter, from 16 mm to 25 mm, with the suggestion that recipients could compare the cherries they were currently buying to Dell’s and see for themselves which were larger.

“It ended up a tremendous success,” says Lopez. This was not the first promotion Nema had done with Dell’s. Prior to the ruler, Nema created a set of poker cards for prospective clients who expressed interest in Dell’s. The cards featured the company logo and whipped cream with the Dell’s cherry on top, accompanied by a letter saying, “Don’t gamble with your cherries.”

“It forces the consumer to actually visualize having the physical product,” says Byrne Hobart, marketing consultant for Blue Fountain Media. “There’s the gap, when you create an ad, between convincing the consumer that this is a good product and this is something they should have, and getting them to think of themselves as someone who would actually have it.”

Hobart says that we typically think of highend- brand advertising doing this, with glamorous images of fast cars and luxury lifestyles that try to get consumers to imagine themselves living that life and using those products.

“But, people don’t realize you can do that with something a bit more prosaic, where you are getting someone to just imagine having the physical product with them,” Hobart says. “It does it in a very simple, very effective way.”

A Team of Suppliers, and a Bit of Luck

Sometimes off-the-wall means getting outside the comfort zone of tapping just one or two suppliers for a project. When Marsha Senack, owner of Ad- Centive Marketing (asi/104935), was asked by a large law firm to develop a gift to give out at its upcoming 50th anniversary celebration, she worked to come up with something fun, but also poignant.

Eventually Senack, working with her contacts at the law firm, came upon the idea of a Chinese fortune cookie. They created a golden, metal “cookie” with a hinge in the back that could open, revealing a “fortune” with a message of gratitude and good wishes from the law firm.

To make it even more memorable, they placed the cookie in a plastic Chinese takeout container.A ribbon was tied around the container, and a note was written on it in special lettering. Getting all these disparate elements together to create a final product the firm would be pleased with was a challenge, and Senack had to reach out to six different suppliers to get all the pieces in place.

“I was looking at all these possibilities for takeout containers – you’d never believe there were that many,” says Senack. “Everything was a separate operation, from the ribbon to the lettering, so we had to sort of manufacture the desired end result.” A total of 250 were given out at the party to existing or potential clients and other friends of the firm, and proved a huge hit with the recipients and client. “People just loved it,” she says.

Sewing Up a Successful Promotion

Emily Schroeder Orvik, president of Pro Re Nata Communications, also discovered the creative value of collaborating. Working with a pair of clients – one, a doit- yourself sewing studio called Sewtropolis, the other a “style concierge” called Fabuliss – Orvik helped develop “The Summer of Skirts,” a campaign targeted to women in the Twin Cities, MN, area who were having trouble finding the right things to wear to work in the hot summer months.

“Office dressing in the summer for women can be a challenge,” says Orvik.

“The Summer of Skirts” campaign targeted women in the Twin Cities, MN, area who were having trouble finding the right things to wear to work in the hot summer months.

“With all the appropriateness questions – ‘Is it too short or too long? Do you look good? Do you look frumpy?’ – women are very critical of themselves sometimes and how they look.”

The clients decided to combine their offerings, with Fabuliss providing a style consultant for women who came in to Sewtropolis on July 10, the day of the promotion. The hope was that attendees would find or be able to make something they really loved and felt confident wearing.

A $10 reservation fee got participants a 15-minute personal style consultation, $25 toward future style services, a $10 discount on a sewing class and 10% off class supplies. Orvik promoted the event through Facebook, YouTube videos and e-mail newsletters, but also through outreach to the media. Press kits included layer cakes from a local bakery decorated with a frosting “skirt” and the release headline, “Finding the Perfect Summer Skirt is a Piece of Cake.”

The press releases were sent to outlets that would reach the St. Paul and Minneapolis female audience, and the cake, name and promotion succeeded in getting the attention of the media players Orvik was targeting. One of these targets was myTalk 107.1, a female-focused radio network with a high number of female listeners in the desired demographic, particularly for its afternoon show, “Drive Time Divas.”

“The cakes worked – we had people coming in saying, ‘We heard you on Lori and Julia,’ ” Orvik says. Summer of Skirts was a major success, with both companies seeing a boost in customers, thanks to the concerted media and promotional effort. They are now looking to create a wine-and-cheese event, as well as fall and winter campaigns, “so women can be looking good in the fall and winter,” Orvik says.

A Comfortable Branding Experience

VIP attendees of the Chippewa Valley music festival, a twice-yearly event that takes place in Wisconsin, receive a lot of great perks – branded drink holders, T-shirts, flashlight keyrings, food and more. But the main reason they pay top dollar is for a good seat – not only from which to view the show, but thanks to Gary Garton, owner of Garton Specialties (asi/202132), to take home as a souvenir.

Every year the festival planners order captain-style camping chairs. Made of comfortable canvas material and branded with the name of the festival, the chair makes for a fun, and practical takeaway, allowing attendees to actually “take their great seat with them,” Garton says. He created 2,500 chairs in the summer of 2008 and has been supplementing the festival planners’ supply with new ones each season as needed. This year they will be shaking things up with a completely new batch in a different color and style.

The festival has two genres – a Country Fest and a Rock Fest – which attract different fans. “At least the Country Fest is in competition with another country music festival nearby, so they’re pushing a little extra-hard to offer something to attendees,” says Garton. “They treat them well.”

Schimpff says a promotion such as this is in many ways the opposite of the “ReCount” spinning-head doll. While both are given out as memorabilia at large-scale events, these are targeting a very different market and appeal to different emotions.

“That’s the perfect deal to do if you’re targeting baby boomers or older audiences, especially if they’re in a higher socio-economic bracket and can afford the VIP tickets,” Schimpff says. “That’s something they can throw out on the back porch for barbecues or take out to the ranch. When their friends see it, they’ll ask questions.” Schimpff emphasizes the importance of this last point, saying that “other than putting videos on YouTube, that’s how real, physical, viral marketing happens.”

While these promotions all show a huge range in their style and target market, according to Issamar Ginzberg, CEO of business consultancy Monetized Intellect, they share one thing in common which helps set them apart from more traditional marketing: novelty.

“We are sold to so often these days and we see advertising so many thousands of times a day that we have an awareness that we are being sold to at all times,” Ginzberg says. “What novelty offers is the curiosity of the prospect to be so strong that it overcomes the instinct against being sold to, and allows you to get your message across.”

Generating Creative Taglines: Priceless

Though Jeroen Bours, the founder of New York City-based Darling Agency, may not be a familiar name, readers are likely familiar with his work. The co-creator of MasterCard’s “Priceless” campaign and co-creative director on Liberty Mutual’s “Responsibility. What’s your policy?” effort, he has helped coin some seriously memorable slogans. Here he offers tips on devising out-of-the box taglines to help make promotions stick.

1. When you have a product or a message to tell, brainstorm what you know of that product, and write down what it’s all about.

2. Talk to the people who help create the product, from the ground level to the top. “I love talking to people who actually make the gadgets, who put it in the box,” says Bours. “Before you know it you’ve got great market research right there.” He gives the example of working on a brand message for Hamilton Beach. Its engineers work on familiar products (like coffee makers), but often while making useful improvements (such as the no-pot coffee maker that keeps the coffee fresher). A typical compliment among engineers – not prone to effusive congratulations – was “good thinking.” That became the company’s successful tagline.

3. Dig into the details of the product and the company, and you’ll find a story. Bours gives the example of going to a baseball game with his son: “I spent a lot of money – the tickets were a little expensive and I wanted to spoil him with popcorn and all these things,” he says. “But, out of all this we have the kind of conversation where the kid looks at you and they say something and you say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the next level of childhood I just witnessed.’ ” From this evening, Bours came up with the idea for “Priceless.”

4. Look at the story and find the one or two or maybe five words (if you’re lucky, it’s one word) that tell you what the product, the company or the service stands for. “It’s like a pyramid – it’s hidden in there,” Bours says.

5. Don’t make it a claim. “Make sure that the tagline is saying something,” Bours says. “Don’t make it, ‘We’re better than everybody else.’ ”

6. Consider the line, but don’t fall in love too fast or too slow. “It’s dangerous to fall in love with something too fast, but also dangerous not to fall in love with it – there’s a danger that you have something really good but you throw it away, because you’re over-thinking it,” Bours says.

7. Make the promotional products as high-level as the brand message. “If I send you a pen for Liberty Mutual, maybe it will say on the pen, ‘This is the pen with which you’ll sign a contract with your parents that you will not text while you drive,’ Bours says.“Now the pen is not a pen anymore – it’s a challenge.”