Summer, sunshine and sales

Field marketing in the sun can create a dramatic increase in sales. But, considering the UK’s reputation for unpredictable weather, isn’t this a bit of a risky strategy? asks Steve Hemsley

Towards the middle of July rainfall will increase to above average in the southern half of the UK, although it will remain warm in the West, South-west and South-east. It will be cooler in the North.

Every other Friday the Met Office releases its long-range weather predictions for the UK. The above forecast was published on June 19.

For brand managers whose products are traditionally more popular in the summer, it is useful to know if the sun will shine when planning field marketing activity.

The success of a campaign can literally be as unpredictable as the weather because sampling a new ice cream or cold drink at an outdoor event, when the rain is falling and the wind is blowing a gale, is never easy.

Promotional predictions

This summer was billed as a potential scorcher in May and, wisely or not, marketers have acted on the Met Office’s long-term calculations by booking large number of sampling days at outdoor events, from county shows to music festivals.

Many companies even subscribe to the Met Office’s Monthly Outlook, which provides details on everything from temperature and rainfall to the hours of sunshine expected. The report also outlines how confident the forecasters actually are about the accuracy of their information.

“A brand’s marketing team needs to understand the possible implications of the changeable British weather in the summer,” says CPM business unit director Sam Blunt. “We will always have a contingency plan such as hiring a covered area from which to sample if it does rain. In fact, if you are clever, the bad weather can sometimes increase sampling numbers because people are looking for something interesting to do while they wait for the rain to stop.”

Increasingly field marketing agencies are persuading their clients to invest in insurance to reduce the financial risk of summer activity being washed out. “We include the cost of insurance in the budget. Some clients will debate whether it is necessary, but in our view it is common sense,” says Blue Water managing director David Louis.

Blue Water samples brands such as Pimms and Baileys and Louis chooses outdoor venues including Cowes Week and the Henley Regatta where he knows he will reach a large number of his client’s target audience. “You can really capture the moment with a brand like Pimms if the weather is good but outdoor sampling must link with activity in-stores so, if there is a really hot day, there is enough product on the shelves to meet the demand,” he says.

Brand-owner Diageo is certainly aware of the potential for strong sales of Pimms if temperatures rise. It employs agency LoewyBe to distribute samples in the supermarkets during the summer months and, despite this work taking place indoors, LoewyBe will still adapt its activity to maximise sampling opportunities on sunny days. “The shops may be quieter in hot weather but when the sun comes out people want to buy Pimms for their barbecues and picnics. Our team is there to educate consumers about the different variants available as well as to check there is sufficient stock,” says LoewyBe personnel director Louise Dyer.

Contingency planning

There is little room for error when operating in remote locations during the summer so planning is vital. To ensure things run smoothly field marketers are gradually taking more control of the supply chain when sampling away from retail surroundings. While getting samples to a city centre supermarket is usually quite straightforward, it can be a different story ensuring food or drink arrives on a beach in Cornwall early on a Sunday morning in August.

Agencies also need plenty of refrigerated storage on site to ensure products are at the correct temperature and the quality is maintained for the day. This usually means ordering back-up generators to avoid running a lorry’s engine for hours.

There are many other factors which can push up costs at this time of year. Clients always want the most well-trained brand ambassadors to represent their products, yet field teams may be depleted and require extra training because staff are on holiday.

Hot weather hazards

Health and safety must also be considered when asking people to distribute samples for hours in soaring temperatures. Too much heat can cause fatigue, put extra strain on the heart and lungs and cause dizziness and fainting due to loss of water and salt. Too much hot and dry air can also increase the risk of eye and throat infections.

Anyone sampling in extreme temperatures should be given regular breaks, access to cooler rest areas and water to avoid dehydration. A promotional costume must be appropriate for the conditions or should only be worn for a few minutes at a time.

The provision of a shady area can help the sampling staff function more effectively and encourage consumers to visit a brand’s stand as people seek respite from the sun.

“When sampling in hot weather it is advisable to split the responsibilities of your team. Customer-facing reps should concentrate on targeting the correct audience while others should be making sure the quality of the food remains high. Has the food been cooked properly, is the ice cream frozen and are the drinks chilled at the correct temperature?” says FDS field marketing managing director James Moyies. “Measuring return on investment based purely on the number of samples given away will not give an accurate assessment of the success of a campaign if the quality of some of the items distributed was poor.”

There is certainly a greater choice of environments in which to sample products in the summer, even if the rain does fall. Field marketing at a sporting or music event should never be a complete waste of money, because tickets are usually pre-sold; consumers will attend whatever the weather.

The most high-profile summer occasions will charge higher rates for sampling rights, however. Event organisers offering a live forum for brands have realised they can package and sell space like any other medium. This means clients that expect an agency to provide details on the cost per sample must also take into account the marketing value of being associated with a live experience, such as a pop concert, which is dear to the heart of their target consumer.

During July and August a Café Met roadshow will visit five summer outdoor jazz and swing concerts to reach sophisticated urban professionals. The work is carried out by i2i Face to Face Marketing will take in Kew Gardens and Kenwood House, where artists such as Jamie Cullum and Jools Holland are due to perform.

Commercial director Tim Medcalf argues that targeting specific groups of consumers can be easier in the summer. “Summer events tend to draw together like-minded people with similar interests. In that respect they are tribal. The challenge for brands is to find ways to interact with these tribes in a credible and relevant way,” he says.

Whatever the weather

Ultimately if field marketers are to remain one step ahead of the weather they must be proactive and accept that the British climate can be erratic, even during the supposedly hottest months. Most agencies will employ tactical teams that can turn campaigns around in 12 hours based on the very latest weather forecast.

They will even take the decision to change the whole focus of a campaign if there is continual rain throughout the scheduled sampling period. If thousands of samples have still to be distributed the field team may take the activity back into stores at short notice or switch to another of its client’s products. For example, experiential agency Closer is sampling Green & Black’s ice cream this summer but will change to promoting the brand’s organic chocolate if the weather gets too bad.

Despite the risks of taking sampling outdoors, being away from the in-store marketing constraints set by the multiple retailers does give brands the chance to be more creative.

For example, Diageo and brand experience agency RPM are bringing real snow to the Wireless and Creamfields music festivals to promote Smirnoff Ice. The drink is being backed by an ATL campaign featuring “Uri” the Smirnoff Ice fan and RPM is recreating Uri’s garden using real snow and encouraging consumers to take part in a real snowball fight at the height of summer.

Meanwhile agency Impetus has teamed up with the Scout organisation to sample Robinson’s Fruit Shoot Tropical at county shows until September and is installing a climbing wall to attract the attention of children and young adults.

Mark Twain once commented that everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it. That is certainly not the case with field marketers, who know from experience they must be willing to adapt their summer sampling activity at the last possible moment to react to the changeable British climate.v

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