Promotions are no longer simply short-term initiatives to lift sales – they are increasingly being used to reinforce brand values. But with only a few seconds to capture the public’s interest, they must communicate the offer clearly, concisely

Memories of the disastrous Hoover free flights offer in 1993 send shivers down many a promotion executive’s spine. However, it seems that lessons have been learned and communicating the finer details of promotions has come a long way since then. It is not just about point-of-sale material anymore – it is about combining creativity and exactly the right media support.

The London-based marketing communications agency Perspectives knows Hoover well. It took on the account following the disaster and has changed the way the company conducts its promotions, developing a successful holiday link-up between Hoover and Cosmos.

Perspectives defines a promotion as taking the core brand and building a promotion on top of it that communicates something more about the brand.

“You need to stick out like a sore thumb and yet not compete with the brand. It’s the ability to balance the need to stand out and to be tasteful,” says Perspectives managing director Mark Beasley.

Independent sales promotion consultant Tim Arnold says promotions are undergoing a massive facelift. “Originally, promotions were seen as a below-the-line, short-term impetus,” he says. “That is changing.”

Objectives will be set according to the status of the brand. For example, if you have a dominant brand and you want to increase purchase among existing customers, you may choose to do on-pack promotions only. If you have a strong brand, and you want to introduce new users, you may choose to do on-pack promotions and use some form of advertising.

The most popular promotions are instant win, in-pack promotions, watch-to-win promotions, technology-led promotions (such as products that are heat or cold-sensitive), multi-buys, loyalty schemes and scratchcards. Less popular and more traditional promotions include free offers, collector schemes, competitions, and free prize draws.

“The days of collecting proofs of purchase are over. Everyone wants to know immediately what they’ve won,” says group account director for The Marketing Store Andrew Kingham.

Triangle Communications represents some of the major brands in the UK including Cadbury, Guinness and TSB. Chairman of Triangle Kevin Twittey is responsible for the Cadbury/Coronation Street broadcast promotion, which won this year’s Institute of Sales Promotions 1996 Best Promotion Award.

Twittey says: “Any major brand or company must have a tactical campaign and some form of media support, either television or radio. For the Cadbury/Coronation Street promotion we introduced collectable purple icons on the product wrappers. The consumer would then tune in to Coronation Street to see if their purple icon matched the one on TV.

“The problem with running an interactive promotion like this is the cost of the medium and the short duration of it. The reason why this promotion was so successful was that the TV exposure did not have to be purchased – the sponsorship deal was already in place. We didn’t have to invest in the media, we had the exposure on prime-time four times a week and we also had 350 million wrappers in circulation carrying the message.”

But Kingham believes that broadcast promotions are not all they are cracked up to be. “We feel that broadcast sponsorship is a step backwards, because it forces the consumer to watch on a particular day or particular time. There’s no other way to see it if you’ve missed it. Consumers want to know immediately if they’ve won.”

Kingham is responsible for the below-the-line work for Walkers Crisps. He says a successful promotion must have a powerful but simple on-pack communication and it must be based on a big prize or value hook. “Walkers’ objective is pure mass coverage. We need as many people seeing the promotion as possible,” he says.

Music promotion is also used as an effective way to get mass coverage. Mercury One2One launched a music promotion with EMI Records in mid-February to increase sales of the One2One service in the last six weeks of its financial year. Customers who signed up with One2One received five CDs of their choice.

The campaign was handled by LGM, which developed in-store display cubes, information leaflets and hanging boards. Customers who purchased the One2One service received an information pack, which included a welcome CD. The CD gave details of how to use the phone, and how to fill in the free CD forms.

LGM director Lisa Jones says they wanted to get consumers to switch at the point of purchase. She says: “Most mobile phone promotions are price-related and confusing. The EMI/One2One promotion was a high-value offer because of the perception of how costly CDs are. Customers are making a significant investment when purchasing a mobile phone and they are getting a tangible investment back.”

The promotion attracted 75,000 new subscribers, making it the best performance in a quarter for gross sales .

Although identifying a bad or ineffective promotion can be tricky, there are some examples which are generally considered to be bad promotions.

Personalised prize winning letters which claim the recipients have won huge cash prizes or luxury cruises, are one of the worst offenders. Secretary general of the ISP Sue Short says: “These promotions are very well put together and they imply that you’ve won, but they greatly exaggerate the chances of winning.”

Car dealerships are also classified as some of the worst offenders. They try to lure consumers into showrooms by offering a free test drive along with a gift. “From the dealer’s point of view, it doesn’t work because people come in for the freebies and it encourages those who aren’t interested,” says Short.

The Granada Hospitality/Alton Towers promotion, which was a small part of its national media campaign, has been singled out as one of the less well-communicated promotions. The promotion offered a free entry for one child with every paying adult, when the customer spent 10 in a self-service Granada restaurant or purchased specially-marked CDs and books. The premise of the promotion was that people who go to Alton Towers are family-oriented, like to travel, and stop for petrol and food.

According to Granada spokeswoman Alison Davies, the promotion “satisfied all our marketing objectives with a 2.5 per cent redemption rate”.

Kits containing leaflets, posters, “toilet talkers” (promotional items placed on the back of every toilet door), and banners were given to all service station managers. The campaign was promoted on Granada FM, the internal service-stop radio station. Managers were briefed, in a memo, but according to Andrea Dearden, account director at Mercier Gray who handled the campaign: “There may have been some managers who didn’t get behind the promotion.” At a service station in Manchester, for example, there was only one poster placed adjacent to customer flow, making it difficult for anyone to see it. Staff were uninformed and unaware of the promotion and its rules.

Despite the problems, however, there do seem to be widely agreed methods in overcoming some of the more obvious obstacles of communicating a promotion.

Space is vital. Some messages are as small as one square inch, and in a competitive environment, words are crucial. “A brand gets two seconds from the consumer. Some promotions are trying to communicate too many things. This can be overcome by simplicity,” says Kingham.

“The amount of words can only realistically be a dozen. It comes down to good copywriting in a format that the consumer can understand,” says Short.

Clarity of a message is also a problem which copywriters face. What happens when a consumer interprets the message differently to what was originally intended? The best advice is to get as many people to read the message before the promotion goes live.

It is important to fit the promotional concept to the brand: if the message doesn’t fit the personality of the brand the consumer will spot the anomaly.An obvious example of this is the reliance on media such as pop groups, movies or television programmes.

“There is a real desire to maximise the chances of success by tying a brand in with a major property,” says Kingham. “The problem is that the brand buys the rights to a property and then thinks of the brand objectives later. It just doesn’t work like that.”

The most important factor however has to be the ability to sell the promotion to retailers and educate them. As in the case of the Granada Hospitality/Alton Towers promotion, it is often forgotten that in order for consumers to see the promotion, it first needs to be sold to the retailer. If the retailer doesn’t understand the promotion, neither will the consumer.

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