100 years of Promotion

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

If some 21st century Durkheim wanted insight on how Americans lived in this century, he could do worse than visit the Pillsbury archives, Bake-Off division. Since its start in 1949 – when Eleanor Roosevelt called it “a healthy and highly American contest” – the consumer culinary competition has mirrored the march of society. Almost all Bake-Off finalists were homemakers plying basic recipes in the early years. But by 1956, contestants slinging Best Flour hadprogressed from cakes to gourmet dishes. Pillsbury sought shortened recipes for busy lifestyles in 1966, and refrigerated dough was allowed for the instant-everything generation in 1969, but more sophisticated palates brought the Bake-Off menu full circle in the ’80s, sending in pull-out-all-the-stops recipes with costly ingredients. Gender equality touched the contest in 1996, when a man won the grand prize for the first time.

In one sense, promotion tactics are old ideas that adapt to new thinking and lifestyles. Since most of life is monotonous, people are addicted to excitement. And what is more exciting in life than winning, in coming out ahead, of being surprised by a gift of undeserved luck? Just as a hundred years ago, people thrilled to win a prize or leapt at the chance to get something for free, people feel the same feelings of joy today. Instances of triumph give life its zest and savor, moments that it might otherwise lack. Though the onset of new media such as radio, television, the Web, and even pagers brought with them new styles of execution, the basic promotional tactics behind them remain remarkably the same.

Why do we bring you a review of 100 years of promotion now, two years before the end of the century? We want to stand alone. By January ’99, retrospectives will clog the media, and creation being the soul of promotion, we decided we want to be first.

We are also keenly aware of the looming threat of the Millennium Bug. By the year 2000, many PCs will be telling their owners that they are back in the year 1900, which would have left us very little to write about. So what follows is an account of some of the great moments of promotion history. Enjoy.

Hopping to it “Attention is the key to action,” said the philosopher William James, and no one knew this better than a certain beerseller from St. Louis in the early 1880s. As he parked his beer wagon in front of a saloon and went inside with his samples, a saloon employee would often put a broom out front on the sidewalk – a signal to the townsfolk that free beer was being served.

Adolphus Busch not only earned good will by offering free samples of his beer, he gave each customer a spectacular gift – a two-bladed red, blue, and gold pocket knife with a glittering gold corkscrew on its back. Beer in those days was corked, and the knives served as useful tools to barkeeps. In the handle of the pocket knife was a small glass eye. Peeping into it, one saw a picture of Adolphus.

Adolphus Busch seemed to have an instinctive understanding of promotions. He liberally distributed dime-sized beer tokens (to be exchanged for a free Bud), jewel-encrusted watch fobs, stick pins in the form of the company’s A and Eagle trademark, match safes, playing cards, and even sheet music for songs about Bud.

One of the first employers of POS materials, Busch distributed posters of the Budweiser Girl, who attested to the beer’s wholesomeness and “special place as a ladies’ drink.”

The legacy of Adolphus Busch is also proof-positive that some things do change in marketing. It’s doubtful any ’90s companies could get away with handing out free beer and knives.

Of S&H, C.W., and B.T. Loyalty programs, couponing, premiums, rebates – all got their starts before the dawn of the 20th century. Stamp plans for retailers came into being before the supermarket did, in 1890 to be exact, when Edward Schuster of Gimbles, not famed Macy’s rival Gimbel’s, began issuing Blue Stamps. The concept was simple. Consumers received stamps in exchange for a prescribed amount of purchase (usually one stamp for every five-dollar buy). As stamps were saved and put into a “saver book,” they accumulated more value. Consumers could redeem them for gifts, available through a catalog or a gift center, an appeal to the imperishable craving of humans for free stuff.

The idea soon spawned an industry. New York City-based Sperry and Hutchinson, established in 1886, became the biggest of the stamp companies, hitting its peak in the 1970s when the company made $850 million through 800 operating redemptioncenters nationwide, dealing in literally billions of stamps. Programs with names like Top Value and Blue Chip also made appearances on the trading stamp scene.

Stamps were well established by 1930, when Procter & Gamble salesman Curt Carlson developed Gold Bond Stamps and placed them in food chains like Red Owl, Super Value, and National T stores. The Gold Bond business formed the launch pad for Carlson Cos., Inc., a Minnetonka, MN-based giant deriving $20 billion in annual revenue from hotel management and ownership, travel agencies, incentive catalogs, and a spectrum of other marketing services. At 84, Curt Carlson still presides as chairman.

Coupons trace a hoary history back into the 19th century. Asa Chandler, the druggist who bought the formula for Coca-Cola for $2,300 in 1894, gave out handwritten tickets for a free glass of his new fountain drink. By 1895, the idea had spread. C.W. Post distributed the first grocery coupon, good for one cent off his new health cereal, Grape Nuts. Coupons would come of age in the 1930s, when America was going through the bleak despair of the Depression.

Back in the 1880s, B.T. Babbit pioneered the use of premiums and event marketing. He gave away lithographed prints to folks buying his Babbit soap products, and promoted the offer with the Barnum Bandwagon, which traveled throughout the country 100 years before Oscar Meyer’s Weinermobile.

Adolphus Busch advanced the giveaway concept with the trade in 1896 when his company distributed 15,000 prints of a wildly fanciful depiction (the painter related the battle as he imagined it) of Custer’s Last Fight. Busch acquired the 16 ft. by 9 ft. painting from a bankrupt St. Louis saloon and made reduced-size copies that proved formidable tools to Bud salesman. They offered barkeepers free prints in return for selling Bud and wound up riding one of the most storied losers in military history to big wins in expanding Western markets. The print was reissued 19 times during the next eight decades with more than a million copies going into circulation.

The earliest known example of a rebate program occurred in 1914 when the Ford Motor Co. offered $50 back on a Model T costing about $490. The rebate offer lasted from August 1914 to August 1915 and was essentially a profit-sharing idea. Ford planned that once it reached a certain level of profitability, it would share that revenue with new purchasers.

What characters! Marketers in the century’s early years must have grasped some essential, irreducible truth about promotions. Classic promotions appeared that struck deep chords with the consumers of the day, and then were reprised by the brands for decades thereafter.

Seventy years before McDonald’s licensed movie and cartoon characters to help move kids’ meals, a shoe company borrowed the name of a comic strip character and changed the shoe-selling game forever.

Buster Brown wasn’t your run-of-the-mill comic strip. It was one of the first, started in 1902 by Richard Outcault for the New York Herald. Two years after its debut, the strip’s characters, which included Buster’s dog Tige and his sister, Mary Jane, were licensed to more than 200 consumer products. Young boys for decades wore Buster Brown haircuts and suits, and girls wore Mary Jane shoes, notes Rod Taylor, senior vp at The Optimum Group, Cincinnati, and a promotion historian. “Shoes didn’t have brand identity then,” says Taylor.

Buster Brown Shoes advertised “a picture of a boy and his dog inside every shoe” and offered an in-pack, low-cost premium that youngsters ached to have.

The shoe’s sales exploded after World War II, and by the 1950’s Buster Brown was among the brands sponsoring the Saturday morning kids shows of that era. The brand continues to be sold.

Cereal vendors were offering premiums such as spoons and rag dolls when Kellogg introduced animal cartoons in one of the first copyrighted novelty premiums aimed at children. By the spring of 1912, two years after its debut, the Jungleland Moving Picture book had a circulation of 2.5 million. Children could interchange cutout sections of animals’ heads, torsos, and legs featured in a six-page folder in the first offer. The premium was reprised in 1921, 1922 ,1932, and, in a modernized version, in 1948.

Another promotion that would endure for years emerged in 1924, when Ed Bernays, public relations man extraordinaire, saw an interesting property in Procter & Gamble’s Ivory soap. Unlike other brands that flaked or powdered when carved, Ivory was shavable. Bernays suggested a soap carving contest.

The resulting promotion would focus mostly on school art classes, with famous artists hired as judges. In the eighth annual event in 1932, 96 prizes worth $1,950 were awarded. The contest ran until 1961. According to some written correspondence of the time, P&G scotched the promotion because “they thought they could spend the $50,000 a year better in some other ways.”

Early 20th century cigarette brands went on premium kicks and ended up inventing the baseball card. These collectibles would come to overshadow the product they were promoting when gum companies like Goudey and Topps took over from the butt boys. By 1990, Topps dropped gum altogether and the cards stood alone.

Sweet Caporal cigarettes in 1915 pulled its Honus Wagner card from the market after the slugger complained he didn’t want kids to see him associated with tobacco products. (Revisionist theory says the penny-pinching Wagner was upset for not being compensated for his photo’s use.)

The set’s Wagner card is one of the two most desirable pre-war cards on the market today, and one recently sold for $600,000.

Goudey created what today is the second most valuable pre-war card when in 1933 it failed to issue card number 106 (Napoleon Lajoie) in a 240-card set, forcing people to write in to get it, Klein says.

Radio waves The golden age of radio spanned the ’30s through the ’50s, and promotion added a lot of the sparkle. As early as 1925, Betty Crocker was making offers to listeners of radio’s first cooking show, Betty Crocker’s Gold Medal Flour Radio Cooking School. For $1, a consumer received the box with an initial set of recipes. Consumers received new recipes four times a year by sending in Gold Medal Flour sack coupons.

But it was cereal makers from Quaker Oats to Ralston that ruled the radio waves – promotionally speaking. General Mills distributed more than seven million Lone Ranger Atomic Bomb rings from 1948 to 1957.

This blitz of airborne promotion petered out when war erupted in 1941, however. Brands didn’t need to create demand when war rendered many basic goods unavailable to consumers. Most essential goods were rationed, and restrictions on metals forbid the manufacture of superfluous products such as toy cap pistols.

“We didn’t need promotion in this country until well after the Second World War, when manufacturers started over-producing products,” says William Robinson, founder of Chicago’s William A. Robinson Agency, now Robinson and Maites.

There she was . . . Miss Rheingold There was still plenty of competition in the beer industry in New York City, where local brands such as Schaefer and Ballantine had loyal followings. Rheingold beer responded in 1939 with one of the most successful promotions ever – The Rheingold Girl campaign.

The campaign was a groundbreaker in customer participation and duration. Perhaps because people were open to simple diversions in a difficult time, they lined up in bars, restaurants, and supermarkets to vote for the next year’s Rheingold Girl.

The promo worked because Rheingold had virtually 100 percent distribution in the greater metropolitan area, and sales and delivery forces made sure displays were up and collected the ballots. “This was an expensive promotion. We had to have control over our delivery system. The kids loved it. And retailers loved it because it built store traffic,” says Terry Liebman, who was assistant vp of merchandising at the brewery, which his family then owned.

By the 1950s, 25 million people were voting in each contest, making it the country’s second largest election after the presidential race. The campaign was among the first to lift sales promotion from its prevalent focus in stores’ displays. Advertising and the interactive voting aspect kept people involved with the brand all year.

The first Rheingold girl was model Jinx Falkenburg, and Bob Wechsler recalls calling on Philip Liebmann at Rheingold with color photos of the model to propose her as the first girl. Einson Freeman, where Wechsler was then employed, worked with a succession of ad agencies over the years on the campaign, recalls Wechsler, still a senior vp at Einson today at the age of 85.

“The P-O-P was extensive,” he recalls. Wechsler is “Pennants showing all of the Miss Rheingold finalists were strung across the back of the bar. There were promo displays in the windows and ballot boxes on the counter.”

Rheingold girls would be chosen annually for 25 years until 1963. (Grace Kelly and Tippi Hedren were among the also-rans.) By the ’60s, winners were being paid $50,000 a year, but they earned it.

“It was the nearest form of legal slavery there was. The winner had no life of her own,” says Liebman.

Consumers turned out to vote by the tens of thousands, with no other incentive besides having a say in the outcome. The Rheingold Girl helped vault the beer to No. 1 in New York, where it stayed for 30 years.

March of the cardboard salesmen In the early 1950s, promotions started to re-emerge as manufacturers began to produce more than consumers could buy in the go-go, post-war economy.

“The concept of giving away a free stand to put your TV on was a breakthrough,” says Robinson. “Much of what we did in the early days was trade-related.”

Robinson calls the ’50s the Decade of Cardboard Salesmen. Clients did most of the promo strategizing and execution and display companies like Einson Freeman and Rapid Mounting ruled the promotion industry, producing cardboard displays, sales aids, flip charts, and anything to help move the wave of new products flooding stores. It was a point-of-sale paradise.

On the male-dominated business scene, marketers often sought creative input from their wives or secretaries, Robinson recounts in his 1991 book Promotional Marketing. As television proliferated, display creators took ideas from advertising and translated them into cardboard. Displays were often functional, showing people how the products worked. One motion unit demonstrated the workings of the agitator on a Frigidaire washer, for example. Life-sized cutouts of TV spokesmen like Ronald Reagan appeared in stores’ aisles. “Bombastic products claims were standard,” notes Robinson.

As Uncle Miltie helped sell TVs, brands like Kraft’s Parkay Margarine found tie-in opportunities. Parkay produced a promo with RCA color televisions in 1955 involving one of the most common promo tactics of the era: a complete-the-jingle contest. Trying for one of 45 TV prizes, contestants put pen to paper to complete the syntax-challenged stanza: “Kraft Parkay won’t tear fresh bread, even ice cold it will smoothly spread. It tastes delicious as can be . . . .”

Going tubular Television succeeded radio as the mass forum for promotions in the ’50s. Manufacturers, often through celebrity spokespeople, came right out and told the viewing audience what prizes were waiting for them if they bought their products. Advertising agencies hadn’t yet convinced product vendors that TV was supposed to be a brand-building medium.

“In the Fifties, everything was aimed at driving you to the shelf. The prizes were of paramount importance,” says Taylor.

Cereal sales grew by leaps and bounds as children participated in ritual Saturday morning sit-downs with the glowing box. Howdy Doody, Andy’s Gang with Andy Devine, Circus Boy with Mickey Dolenz, and Fury with Peter Graves, were followed, after lunch, by war and sci-fi movies.

“Saturday morning TV was like organized religion,” says Taylor. All the programs were closely identified with brands that sponsored and effectively owned the shows, just as they had in radio.

Texas Rangers sponsor Ovaltine told kids to mail in labels for decoder badges they could use to unscramble secret messages flashed on-screen at the end of broadcasts. The entire promotion was delivered via television.

At the end of every broadcast of The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (sponsored by Nabisco Shredded Wheat), Rusty, the young protagonist, told kids how they could acquire show-related premiums in a continuity mail-in. Kids could send box tops for a uniform like Rusty’s, complete with pants with yellow leg stripes and a kerchief. Fifty cents and a box top got a Rin Tin Tin televiewer with 24 3D adventure slides, and $1 and a box top brought an official T-shirt.

The promo turned kids into fanatics for the cereal as they identified with Rusty’s adventures with cavalrymen such as Captain Rip Masterson. “It was every boy’s fantasy to be accepted as one of the men on the western frontier,” says Taylor.

Kids in the ’50s were the first to demand cereal brands based on what premiums were inside the boxes. Sales of Wheaties soared in 1953 when miniature license plates were offered. They were one-sixth normal size, steel, and detailed replicas of actual plates. General Mills followed that same year with 31 foreign plates in-pack or available through a mail-in offer.

Wheaties sales tripled in some markets. Collections decorated rumpus rooms and dens. Police departments used the plates as instructional aides for traffic officers.

Cheap trick One of the early criticisms of promotions was that they deflected interest from the product itself to the means used to sell it. Promos, it was said, relied upon external attractions and amusements. They sugarcoated and surrounded the product with artificially exciting features and inducements. Sounds like good old-fashioned marketing to us, but brands responded by trying to make promotions more relevant to their products.

When cigarette advertising was banished from television in the ’60s, Philip Morris moved Marlboro’s brand image from people’s TV screens and onto their backs. The Marlboro Company Store used point-of-sale materials, print offers, and in-pack leaflets to hawk genuine Marlboro Man clothing and gear via self-liquidators. Sheepskin jackets, cowboy boots, shirts, leather chaps, and 10-gallon hats soon had Marlboro literally reaching out and touching consumers.

Characters emerged in force as brands sought to make advertising more tangible and intrusive. Exxon (then known as Esso and a variety of other regional brands) urged car owners to “Put a Tiger in Your Tank,” and 30 years later, Exxon’s plush Tiger Tails are still hot SLOs.

Pillsbury had its Doughboy and General Foods, now part of Kraft Foods, had its Kool-Aid smiley face pitcher. There was Snuggle Fabric Softener’s Snuggle Bear premium and the popular Quaker Oats Captain Crunch cereal quiz, “Where’s the Captain?” Pillsbury managed to ho-ho-ho the willies out of a generation of young children in its Jolly Green Giant TV spots, then cuddled up to them with Little Sprout doll premiums. And the California Raisin Council’s claymation raisin characters later became a phenomenon in their own right, floating a boatload of licensing deals.

Fragmentation and explosion In the 1950s, they were known as sales promotion agencies, and their roles in product marketing remained limited at a time when advertising agencies could use network TV and print to reach most people. But by the late1960s, with lifestyles in flux, all eyes were no longer glued to Ed Sullivan on Sunday night. Brands had to reach people by other means than TV, and promotion began to add a strategic edge to its tactical sword. Firms that could offer expertise in consumer marketing, retail merchandising, premium sourcing, and fulfillment were drawing more attention from brand marketers. The full-service promotion marketing agency began to take root.

Ralph Glendinning founded Glendinning Associates in1959 in Westport, CT. In Chicago, Bud Frankel founded Frankel & Co. in 1962, and Flair Communications opened shop in 1964. Meanwhile, Einson Freeman sprouted beyond its display roots into a full-fledged agency.

The rise of cable TV in the late 1970s and early ’80s hastened the growth of promotional services as manufacturers went out in search of their audiences.

“You can see the promotion industry exploding as cable came in and television started to fragment. Before cable, you had to be all things to all people,” says Taylor.

Cable handed promoters target audiences on a family-room platter. Promotions could tie in with popular cable channels like Nickelodeon and reach a kids audience far more cheaply than through network TV.

With ratings on the skids, the networks saw they had to reach out beyond their own audiences to promote themselves. By 1988, CBS teamed with KMart to introduce its fall shows in nationwide “sampling.” One in 20 American households played a watch-and-win game in which numbers shown during CBS programming could be matched with numbers delivered via 72 million Kmart circulars. Prizes were redeemed at Kmart.

Clients were soon grappling with a new challenge: how to integrate ads and promos. John Scully of Pepsi-Cola, and later Apple Computer, would coin the term “power marketing,” in which all marketing forces work in the same direction in integrated fashion. The concept reached full flower with the 1976 Pepsi Challenge, whose centerpiece was a massive wet sampling campaign that asked consumers to “let your taste decide.” When it was over, Pepsi had reached parity with Coke in supermarkets.

Trial balloons Sampling rose to new stature in the ’70s and ’80s as marketers set off on hunts for incremental business through new and coverted users. Back in 1991 Nielsen estimated that more than 70 percent of coupon redemption came from current users and figured that 20 percent was fraudulent, so something besides coupons was needed to bring new blood to the brand. Product trial was deemed crucial to building business for scads of new products and line extensions, and sampling companies became the beneficiaries.

Big brands were best positioned to bear the high cost of extensive sampling programs: General Mills, Taco Bell, Miller Brewing, Kraft Foods, R.J. Reynolds, and Dunkin’ Donuts were some of the heavy hitters in handouts.

Among the campaigns that enjoyed enormous success:

* The Test Drive a Mac! Macintosh computers invited consumers to use the Mac free in their home for 30 days; the program tripled sales.

* First Products Glad-Lock Zipper bags sampling program had 35,000 customers redeeming program coupons within two weeks of receiving the samples.

* The 1994 General Mills campaign to distribute cereal samples to kids via shopping mall Santa Clauses.

Carded When the disco ball stopped spinning at the end of the ’70s, marketers faced a world undergoing profound change. Chain store retailing was at its peak, and consolidation was rampant. By the end of the ’80s, the supermarket and drug chain industries would be turned upside down by mergers. New Age discounters such as Wal-Mart sucked business away from dottering old-timers like Woolworths and JC Penney. Chains like Kroger and Walgreens brought in scanning (to be discovered 20 years later by a mystified George Bush). Eventually, some marketers started tracking product movement and promotion effectiveness in real time. Loyalty cards opened the door to mass marketing with offers tailored to individual households.

Ukrops in 1987 would become one of the first chains to issue a loyalty card. It was offered by mail to 5,000, but 7,500 customers signed up. Within three months, sales volume in test stores had jumped 10 percent, two-thirds of that from card customers.

Today brands are developing their own data systems to work with retailers in areas like predictive modeling. “Is there more pulling power in an on-pack offer or a price-driven end-aisle display. Should you license, or support a charity event? Retailers know what works, but the brands are catching up,” says Bob Petisi, president of MCA Promotions in Westport, CT.

When retailers began to feel their oats in the late ’70s brands had to sit up and notice. In those days manufacturers offered trade allowances or case rates hoping the retailerwould offer deals to consumers and erect displays. Local marketing had been around for a while. Regional sales managers were given money to throw around. Take the vice president of sales at Acme to a ball game and you might sell in more scouring pads.

But powerful mass merchants were less satisfied with one-size-fits-all national promotions, and vendors began to notice. In the late ’60s, P&G’s Field Activated Promotions Plan offered key accounts their choice in promotions.

As early as 1979, Pepsi-Cola went further, differentiating promos first by channel and then by account in one of the first forays into account-specific marketing. The approach lent itself to the soft drink business because of franchised bottler networks, says Einson Freeman ceo Jeffrey McElnea.

“We created a centralized, pre-approved, pre-fabricated set of promotions from which the local bottlers could chose,” he says.

By the mid-1980s, account-specific or menu-style marketing had spread to packaged goods, and had become a way of doing business. New agencies like MGR, Wilton, CT, Reach Marketing in nearby Westport, and J. Brown/ LMC Group, Stamford, CT, sprang up to offer account-specific marketing expertise, and existing agencies formed new divisions dedicated to the retailer oeuvre.

If menu marketing got everyone to focus more on solutions, co-marketing moved the focus all the way to the consumer. It also got vendors and retailers to work as a team and begin conceiving of promotions that drove volume and bolstered brand image. The possibilities were intriguing and have yet to be fully plumbed.

The promotion industry gallops toward the new millennium on the shoulders of technology. Magnetic stripes of one form or another have enabled phonecards and loyalty cards. The Coke Master Card ATM offer gives consumers the cash they want the way they are accustomed to get it. The Internet remains unproven, but can’t be ignored. Hertz this year rolled out its Hertz Exactly Rewards incentive program for rental agents with a stored value card offer with American Express. Interactive phone programs make one-to-one promoting economically and logistically feasible.

Yet this is also an age in which tobacco marketers are being forced to retreat from mass media altogether. So they’re out in bars across the land, advertising their products, staging events, and handing out samples and premiums. Smart databases notwithstanding, the tactics of old Adolphus Busch remain alive and well.

Rewarding loyal customers through continuity programs got a huge lift in the 1970s when American Airlines debuted its AAdvantage Frequent Flyer program as an attempt to fight back against regional carriers taking away its customers. American’s Platinum program successfully fought off a challenge from Delta’s Medallion program when Michael Gunn, American’s senior vp of marketing, wrote a letter to consumers that directly contrasted the benefits of both. By 1981, American had replaced United Airlines in leadership of total passenger miles, and according to James Feldman of James Feldman Associates in Chicago, American’s frequent flyer program was mainly responsible.

The American program included special discount offers, tie-ins with car rentals, hotels, phone and credit card usage. By the early 1990s, American had 11 million people in its program out of an industry total of 13 to 18 million. Other airlines and hotels and rental car companies soon followed as they saw the sense in rewarding frequent customers.

The granddaddy of all event marketing is probably the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Begun in 1924 as the Macy’s Christmas Parade, Macy’s employees – many immigrants eager to celebrate their new American heritage – went all out in putting together floats, professional bands, and 25 live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. Rubber inflatable animals were added in 1927 after real lions and tigers had frightened children in the audience the previous year.

Some “modern” event marketing milestones:

1975 The Bud Bowl. According to Dan McHugh, Anheuser-Busch’s director of sales promotions, the Bud Bowl “was built from the ground up. What A-B saw, he says, was that there was a big event, the Super Bowl, that A-B didn’t have the rights to, but needed a presence at. “The Super Bowl is a big beer-selling window,” says McHugh. By A-B’s creating its own event – spots showing bottles playing bottles – the promo attracted huge interest and “really took off” within the industry. “It’s built a spike in our January sales ever since,” he says.

1977 The Ford Motor Co. presents The Rockets rock-and-roll band in the Midwest to cultivate the college market.

1978 Jovan Cologne Presents the Rolling Stones, another smash hit.

1989 P&G Presents Barry Manilow. The brand marketing pioneer sets exacting goals for displays and incremental cases. Era and Ivory Liquid are the sponsoring brands. The promotion was so successful it was expanded to 20 markets.

1991 Borden Snacks Presents the Beach Boys. The concert tour promotes 16 brands in 75 markets. The biggest and most successful promo ever for Borden Snack’s.

1993 Swift-Eckrich Presents Meet Greats of Baseball, a 27-market mall tour featuring Major League baseball alumni. It includes a one-of-a-kind photo exhibit, baseball clinics, photo session, and autograph signings by former stars. Tie-ins with local deli counters include free photos, autographs, and chances to win tickets to spring-training games . More than 90 percent total trade participation.

A number of premiums that sprouted from the minds of the century’s promoters have become cultural and historical artifacts, worth thousands of dollars to collectors. Indeed, modern marketers often consider the collectibility factor when choosing giveaways and self-liquidators.

Collectibles don’t have to be pricey to succeed but they do need to offer a high perceived value and capture consumers’ imaginations. Procter & Gamble got a 14 percent average sales increase across six brands with a 1989 promotion that offered a $240 train set to retailers who bought 180 cases containing six products. Consumers could get the set for $79 and proofs of purchase. Participating retailers bought an average of 220 cases (compared with their usual under 200-case order) while P&G moved 15,000 train sets.

In 1992, Nabisco paid homage to Sweet Caporal cigarettes when it offered customers autographed baseball cards from retired greats.

Perhaps the most successful and enduring collectible program was launched by the Woodbridge, NJ-based Amerada Hess Oil Company in 1964, when the company boosted sales 20 percent by offering a toy Hess truck at filling stations for $1.39. That truck is worth between $2,000 and $3,000 today – roughly the cost of a small new car back then. The market price for the entire collection has soared to an astounding $28,000.

The company distributes approximately two million toy trucks per year through its 350 gas stations. Chairman Leon Hess’s idea has become a legendary promo, copied by many other gas station chains and other retailers such as supermarkets.

Collector frenzy reared its head in 1997 when McDonald’s ran out of the Beanie Babies it offered with Happy Meals.


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