Sales promotions pioneer Alan Toop has died aged 88

The former Marketing Week contributor started his career as an FMCG marketer, before making his mark on the industry as co-founder of one of the “foremost” specialist consultancies for sales promotions.

Alan Toop, founder of one of the earliest sales promotion consultancies in the UK and author of five books on the subject, has passed away at 88.

Toop also contributed numerous articles to business and marketing industry press from the 1970s to 90s, including Marketing Week. He is credited with producing “the most concise study of promotional techniques and consumer attitudes written by any individual in the industry” by director of the Institute of Sales Promotion (IPM), Peter Kerr.

Toop started his career as an FMCG marketer at Unilever, working initially on Wall’s ice cream before becoming a brand manager for Persil. In 1965 he resigned from a deputy marketing manager position across the company’s clothes washing brands to write a book about sales promotion, which until then had been undervalued as a marketing tool next to advertising.

Published in 1966, ‘Choosing the Right Sales Promotion’ codified the basic principles behind the full range of sales promotions and demonstrated how each could be applied to different marketing scenarios. Toop argued: “In no other marketing activity is there greater scope for creativity and in no other can creativity produce commercial dividends so cheaply.”

Four years later, following a short stint at ad agency J Walter Thompson (now Wunderman Thompson), Toop co-founded sales promotion consultancy The Sales Machine with Christian Petersen.

Alan Toop’s Marketing Week column, September 1983. 

According to the IPM’s Kerr, the consultancy was “one of the foremost UK specialist promotional marketing agencies, which helped establish promotional marketing as a distinct professional practice”. Based on Bond Street, The Sales Machine worked with brands including Unilever, Schweppes, Quaker, Lego and Co-op.

Subsequent books included ‘Crackingjack’ in 1991, which responded to the growing association of brands with lifestyle and the fragmentation of press and television, followed by ‘Sales Promotion in Postmodern Marketing’ in 1994, a co-authored book with Petersen which encouraged the use of sales promotion as a key strategic element in building brand.

After expanding the Sales Machine into Italy in 1986, ‘European Sales Promotion’ (1992) analysed the successes of campaigns from across the EU. Toop opened another office in India in the 1990s, before co-writing a book on Indian sales promotion with Pran Choudhury and Ricky Elliott, also published in 1992.

His contributions to Marketing Week over the years explored the “gentle art” of promoting sales, how marketers were wasting their sales promotion budgets, how they could get more out of the function, and the debates within the field.

Toop was awarded a lifelong fellowship of the IPM, acknowledging his “exceptional work in educating a generation of promotional practitioners” and the time he dedicated as a director of the institute, Kerr says.

He died of Parkinson’s disease on 19 December 2022.