Toy Ploys

Tying a promotion to the latest movie may give a product clout – but the cost tends to be huge. Equally long-lasting loyalty can be attained by using games. Martin Croft finds that favourites such as Monopoly or Cluedo have strong appeal – and

Anyone who has organised a sales promotion campaign with a response mechanism will know how difficult it is to get the consumer to complete and mail back a coupon. With direct mail, the challenge is even greater – consumers often don’t even open the envelope.

One trick is to wrap the promotion around a familiar theme, often importing characters from a well-known book or movie.

But marketers realise that popular games can provide the same sort of emotional hooks.

A number of promotions over the years have used board games such as Monopoly, Cluedo, Trivial Pursuits and Scrabble, not just to provide themes for competitions and promotions, but also as part of the incentive.

Earlier this year, Abbey National launched its Abbey National Bank Account by sending a direct mail pack to 750,000 customers. The aim was to persuade them to make their Abbey account their primary account, and to pay their salary directly into it.

The mail pack was plastered with imagery drawn from the game Monopoly. Account holders who entered a free draw were sent Monopoly cards – like the game’s Community Chest cards – inside a sealed envelope. The cards represented prizes – “cheques” for between 1 and 3,000. The copy on the cards reflected the Monopoly theme, with messages such as “Your boss has given you a month off work – collect your salary and pass Go”.

An Abbey National spokeswoman explains why the bank decided to use the Monopoly theme – put together by its sales promotion agency, Communicator – rather than a generic promotional game. In addition to encouraging customers to switch their main account to the Abbey National, “the campaign was also used to increase the awareness of the new bank account and to be as fun, exciting and eye-catching as possible – hence the Monopoly theme, which is instantly recognisable”.

Car manufacturer Volkswagen has linked with Spear’s Games, and is using the word game Scrabble as an incentive to get consumers to test drive the “N” registration Volkswagen Passat.

Existing and ex-Passat drivers have been mailed with packs offering them a free Magnetic Pocket Scrabble set if they test drive the new cars.

Spear’s marketing director, Ray Perry, suggests that magnetic Scrabble perfectly complements a new car, as “there is no better way to take the boredom out of travelling”. Since the driver is unlikely to be playing, VW is targeting drivers with families.

This is not the first time that the car manufacturer has used Scrabble sets in its promotions. Stephen Duval, senior account director at VW direct marketing consultancy Barraclough Hall Woolston Gray, explains that the relationship goes back 18 months to when the new Passat model was launched.

The test drive incentive had to have a family link, and it had to be affordable, but with a perceived high value – dealers get worried if they think they are giving away tat. It also had to be a brand with values which fitted in with those of VW.

“We thought it would be a nice thing to have a Scrabble set in the car for the family on long journeys,” says Duval.

He admits that it is the only promotion that Barraclough Hall has ever created which uses a game: incentives are more usually items such as torches, first aid kits or weekend breaks.

Although it is too early to establish what the response has been this year, last year’s mailing drew a response rate of between five per cent and six per cent.”

Cluedo was the choice of Associated Newspapers to promote its wares. The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday have been running a Cluedo-themed scratch card game since the end of April. The promotion, which is planned to last 20 weeks, involves the distribution of 8 million game cards in the newspapers and through 45,000 CTN outlets. Associated is supporting the game with advertising in its titles and a 1m national television and radio advertising campaign.

Des Nichols, promotions director of Associated Newspapers, says that the company chose Cluedo because of the familiarity of the name, the logo and the characters.

“The way the original game works gives us the scope to

adapt it to fit in with the fast-moving world of newspaper promotions,” he says.

Cluedo is the third best-selling game in the world, after Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit: it has been estimated that one in five UK households owns a Cluedo set. “It’s so well-known that we didn’t have to spend any time explaining the background or the characters,” he adds.

He admits that Associated conducted no research to check the socio-demographic make-up of the typical Cluedo-owning household, but believes that anybody who owns a family game like Cluedo is highly likely to fit in with the Mail’s target readership.

Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Cluedo are owned by giant US toy company Hasbro, which acquired the last UK company when it bought Waddingtons Games last year.

Hasbro has recognised the power and the extendibility of its games brands for many years, although such extensions more usually take the form of computer game versions, TV quiz shows or licensing the graphic identities for use on clothing and other consumer products. Spear’s (now owned by Hasbro’s arch rival, Mattel) is also active in licensing its game products, particularly Scrabble.

But marketers who want to use board games in their promotions face a rather limited choice. Toy industry experts say thousands of board games are launched every year around the world. Very few of them survive for more than a couple of years, while only a handful have achieved the status of Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit.

There is little point to a marketer using a game as a theme for a promotion unless that game has the sort of almost mythic dimension which these games have achieved: Monopoly, Cluedo and Scrabble have all become an ingrained part of most people’s childhood in the UK. It could be argued that the ubiquity of Trivial Pursuit – despite its youth compared with the other three, which are 50 years old or more – means that it is just as instantly recognisable to anyone under the age of 35.

Not everyone involved in marketing thinks using well-known games are the best choice for a promotion. The managing partner of one promotions agency (who opted for anonymity since he did not wish to be seen to be criticising potential clients) says that his company has shied away from them, preferring to use videos when a family audience is being targeted.

“We’ve steered clear of using such games in promotions,” he says. “I’d question whether something like Cluedo is actually the right thing for the Daily Mail to be using, although I admit that’s very much a personal opinion.

“If we want to appeal to parents with kids – the sort of people who might be in to playing games like this – we prefer to link our promotions in to new films or videos.”

One reason, he says, is that new films or videos tend to be supported with massive marketing budgets: while using them for promotions will be expensive – typically ten per cent of the total cost of a promotion – the advertising hoopla surrounding them will increase the impact of linked promotions enormously.

He points out that the client giants of the promotional world – the likes of McDonald’s and Burger King – tend to tie in with blockbuster movies or major toy concepts.

Batman Forever or Pocahontas may not last as well as Monopoly, but he argues that they achieve a far better impact, albeit short-term.

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