A shopper is most likely to pick a product if it offers the chance of a trip to sunny climes, but not before casting a weather-eye over the marketing hype that goes with it.

In the age of the sceptical consumer, marketers are taking exceptional care to reduce small print and increase instant gratification: the aim is to avoid an avalanche of conditions and provisos and to make individual booking straightforward rather than an obstacle course.

Landround Marketing’s Whitbread Pub promotion last year set out a clear-cut offer which bore the new rules in mind. Each visit to a Whitbread pub restaurant allowed consumers to collect a stamp on a card.

Eight stamps equalled a mini Spanish cruise on P&O’s new Bilbao route. Admittedly, if you didn’t fancy Bilbao then there wasn’t a lot to motivate you but what it lacked in choice, it made up for in ease of participation and redemption. On the eighth visit customers received their cruise voucher on the spot, avoiding the tedium of sending off forms. The simplicity of the promotion could easily attract people who otherwise might not have bothered.

Whitbread’s promotion also incorporates the fashionable phenomenon of loyalty schemes, which make a natural partner for travel incentives. Air Miles is the biggest and most established operation in this field. It has recently launched promotions offering products and services for the homeowner. MetroRod, which provides drain-cleaning services, is one of the ten participating companies.

Unlike the Whitbread promotion, Air Miles requires you to be something of an aficionado, since it is very much a promotional “universe” which one either enters wholeheartedly or not at all. I am sure Air Miles collectors become obsessive and having the presence of mind to phone MetroRod rather than DynoRod in one of life’s most stressful domestic situations is certainly to be admired.

As Air Miles marketing director Stephen Taylor says: “Our collectors are constantly on the look-out for new ways to collect Air Miles awards.”

They must be keen, as you only get one Air Mile for every 10 spent on unblocking your drain, although if you are canny enough to time your problem for July or August, you’ll be awarded two.

FSC’s recent campaign for Mazda lightbulbs did not offer the limitless travel options of Air Miles, nor the cast-iron certainty of Whitbread’s cruises. In fact, if the campaign were a lightbulb it would be described as a 40-watt pearl rather than a 100-watt long-life.

Five weekend breaks in New York were prizes for a competition in which one proof of purchase was needed to enter. Based on a single and daunting question requiring participants to predict the number of visitors to New York – based on figures for past years – they needed both the mathematical skills of Stephen Hawking and a degree in travel and tourism to be in the running.

However, while many travel incentives seem to have only a gratuitous link with the product, the Mazda campaign did at least take the trouble to engineer a connection by using the tagline of “A Taste of the Bright Lights”.

If clarity is to be the priority in promotions then Protravel, specialist travel agency for the sales promotion industry, is attempting to lead the way with an apparently “stringless” mechanism which is likely to turn Hoover executives green with envy.

The concept consists of “100 off a holiday” and applies to bookings with any travel brochure produced by the top 50 travel agents, from Abercrombie & Kent to Virgin. The idea has already been used by Sun Alliance and Duckhams and SP consultancy Chris Russell & Associates has adopted it in the current promotion running for Wonderbra.

Apart from having to buy 25-worth of products, there appear to be no conditions: no minimum spend, no minimum duration, no minimum number of passengers or any exclusion dates.

For the increasingly sophisticated consumer who is wise to hidden extras and “obstacle marketing”, its disarmingly simple formula almost represents the ultimate travel incentive. Almost? Well, it’s a shame about the obligatory travel insurance.

Chris Knight is creative director and managing director at the Business Development


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