Welcome to the front-line of the promotional war zone, where high-volume, low-value products mean that every inch of high ground in the sales landscape is contested to the death.
It is fashionable nowadays to talk of the blurring between advertising and promotional objectives – the tactical and the strategic – with promotions agencies eager to prove they can be trusted with their clients’ sacred brand values.
Not here, though, in the confectionery trenches, where the overriding criterion for success is an extra five-tonnes shifted before the end of the year.
As in every closely contested battle, there is precious little room for manoeuvre. The unit price of a countline bar makes it impractical to reward every consumer. The collector scheme (let alone the full-blown loyalty programme) is unlikely to sustain the customer’s interest, particularly among the confectioner, tobacconist and newsagent sector (CTN), the heartland of the impulse sector.
Hence there is a rather bland and predictable promotional environment, with little evidence of real innovation, and difference established only by cosmetic, creative dressing.
Even this modest objective is hard to achieve: when it comes to placing point-of-sale material, the convenience store is even tougher than Tesco. And there are tens of thousands of them. So, notwithstanding any media support, the job must be done on the pack.
Here are the results of a recent survey:
Buy any product in the range and receive an instant discount on Penguin books and audio books.
A valuable offer – Galaxy prices start at just 29p, while a single wrapper could be worth 1. A strong pack flash and a freephone line provide details of the participating outlets, which include most of the major book retailers.
But do people read any more in the numbers necessary to fuel a big, national fmcg promotion? Presumably someone must have matched some profiles at some point.
When chocolate gets hot then cools down again, it develops this funny, floury patina that does nothing for appetite appeal. This is why confectionery manufacturers go to such lengths to get retailers and customers to keep their products in the fridge.
Jacob’s have come up with a neat twist to the old heat-sensitive ink trick – cold-sensitive ink on its Club biscuit. Cool the Club, and reveal the prize: you could win up to 5,000.
Nothing new or surprising in an instant-win cash prize, but then you can’t really go wrong with cash. It has a much broader appeal than, say, peat or polypropylene.
The principal criticism, however, is a rather fundamental one: the hidden message wasn’t hidden. You could read it while the product was displayed in a regular fixture at ambient temperature.
Another instant-win device. The prize this time is the somewhat unoriginal “exotic” holiday. Conventional wisdom has it that only three prizes have mass appeal: cars, cash and holidays. But this may not be true. Last year, three Trebor customers were sent into space in a Russian fighter plane.
Anyway, even if it couldn’t come up with anything more original than a holiday, it could have themed it more precisely to the Bounty brand advertising – two weeks in a tropical paradise festooned with dusky maidens clad only in small, irregular pieces of gauze. For a couple of beers, Richard Branson would have hired out Necker lsland.
What’s more, the on-pack proposition is misleading. The prize isn’t actually a holiday, but 2,000 towards a holiday. From what I recall of exotic holidays for two, you don’t get much change from 4,000. Which leaves a pretty hefty shortfall, especially for someone who hadn’t dreamed of taking an exotic break until they bought a Bounty bar.
Finally, you don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to work out that with only 25 prizes, you’re about as likely to win the lottery as a holiday.
A good scheme in principle – instant-win, again – with 1,000 complete satellite TV systems and six months’ free subscription to Sky.
And something for everybody – a 30-day free Sky trial, with just one wrapper.
The down-side is that, despite a toll-free information line, the terms of the offer are quite complicated (perhaps to reduce redemptions) and a 30 refundable deposit for the trial has to be stumped up.
It has a strong pack flash, however, and good use of Adshel sites to support the promotion.
Exploiting the brand’s sporting heritage, this promotion invites the buyer to watch the Euro 96 competition “free” by winning JVC TV and video equipment.
An added element is a self-liquidating Snickers football offer – 6.99 with three wrappers.
The pack flash is too busy and difficult to read and the whole promotion suffers from the Hawking effect – despite a prize fund of 100,000, there are actually only 260 items to be won.
All in all, the promotions are not a wildly-exciting bunch. But it is difficult to be exciting when economics, law and the physical constraints of the product are all conspiring against the brand.
Which is not to say any agency worth its fees should let mere reality get in the way of a bright idea.