Promoting from Within

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

I’ll be honest with you. I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.

I had a little background in advertising and marketing when I came to promo at the end of 1998. And I think I’ve learned a lot in my short time here. But as the saying goes, a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. I often feel like a consumer who’s been given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Great Marketing Machine. As a reporter, I understand why brands market the way they do. But as a consumer, I don’t always understand why it has to be that way.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being manipulated if it’s done the right way. I recently began buying gas and cigarettes exclusively at a Mobil near my home, simply because I always get a “Thank you. Have a nice day” from the clerks there. I’m willing to pay more for a book at (though the company usually has great prices, too) because they upgraded my holiday purchases to overnight delivery for free two years ago.

But this little bit of knowledge I’ve gained has me more than a little suspicious of promotions. I still want to view the world like Henry Aldrich, but I end up feeling more like Ratso Rizzo most days. Here are a few of the cynical thoughts I’ve had lately.

Five consumers win a trip to London every hour: This message is brought to you by someone who finds promotions to be frighteningly ubiquitous. I know, you never realize how many fires occur until you become a firefighter. But it seems as if I can’t move more than five feet without tripping over a promotion. Reading a magazine? There were six sweepstakes pitched via ads in a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly. Listening to the radio? Please. I’m expecting an “All Giveways, All the Time” format to emerge any day now. Watching TV? One need no further evidence than the fact that TBS ran a sweeps for the TV premiere of National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation (cinematic proof that Chevy Chase’s career is as dead as Generalissimo Francisco Franco ever was) to see the perverseness – whoops, I mean pervasiveness – of promotions in that medium.

Scamming the choir: Coupon strategies are insidious. I am pained by the knowledge that loyal brand users get coupons of lesser value than new customers. I know, it’s smart business, and necessary to keep the brand from losing its equity in the eyes of the faithful. But to me, it’s like charging your mother an extra buck for those Boy Scout candy bars when you know she’s ultimately going to buy half the box.

Speaking of maintaining price value, does Kellogg really expect me to ever again pay more than $3 for a box of Apple Jacks (my personal favorite for 29 years) now that I’ve discovered the company can charge as little as $1.99 – proclaimed boldly right there on the front panel – like it did a few months back? Forget personal history, from now on it’s Apple Jakes or Apple Smacks or whatever cheap private-label knockoff I can find.

I just stepped in a pile of slippage: After enduring about a dozen of the worst puns ever created this summer, I finally found a “Winner” message under a Snapple cap. We had covered Snapple’s The Joke’s On Us campaign in May, and I was more than willing to take some time and send away for my free Snapple Sipper Bottle prize. That’s rare for me, a man whose motto usually is, “Gratify me now or never.”

I should have known better. To get my prize, I had to send the bottle cap “in a padded envelope via certified mail return receipt requested,” according to the label. It doesn’t take that much effort to evict a tenant.

I know, that’s the whole idea. Offer a bazillion prizes, because the typical consumer isn’t going to bother redeeming them anyway. But if I’m going to be confronted with reptilian sales practices like these, I might as well buy a SoBe. And that’s what I’ve been doing since.

I can be as brand-loyal as anyone. But I’m not above a little brand vindictiveness now and again, either.


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