50 BEST-PROMOTED BRANDS

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

PROMO salutes 50 products, services, and properties making the most noteworthy marketing waves.

Results are king. At the heart of every promotion marketing campaign is a need to increase sales, either immediately through purchase initiatives or long-term via brand-building and loyalty development strategies.

The editors of PROMO Magazine observe countless promotions from numerous brands each month. We consider them first on a visceral level, deciding which ones strike us as unique, motivating, and relevant to the brand in question. We then examine the effectiveness of the effort’s execution, and whether or not the original concept translated into actionable programs. And of course, we ultimately review the results based on the campaign’s initial objectives.

For the first time, we’ve decided to sift back through 18 months of coverage to select the brands that consistently have been doing the best job in those three areas: concept, execution, and results. In most cases, the brands chosen make the grade in all three. But we’ve also credited a few either for the originality of their strategy (“a little something for, like, the effort,” for you Caddyshack fans in the audience), and some others for generating strong results with tried-and-true formulas.

While we’re sure many of our choices will elicit nods of agreement, we’re fairly certain others may raise a few eyebrows – perhaps even ruffle some feathers. If so, all the better, because the nature of this business is to generate response. And yours is welcome.

Selecting these 50 Best Promoted Brands was difficult enough, so we didn’t attempt to rank them. Thus, Yahoo deserves as much praise as A&E in our alphabetical listing.

Submitted for your approval: PROMO’s 50 Best-Promoted Brands.

A&E Why: Because promotion turns its historical programming into marketing masterpieces, a la Reggie-worthy campaigns for Horatio Hornblower and The Crossing. “We figured out a while back that we could get a lot more from consumer promotions than [other marketing initiatives],” says Mike Mohamad, vp of consumer and on-air marketing. Classroom-based initiatives are key for the New York City-based cable network, as are strategic partnerships. But you’re more likely to find A&E aligning with an educational software manufacturer than a packaged goods brand that doesn’t jibe with programming. “The idea of the content and the promotion being homogeneous is extremely important,” says Mohamad. Vertical Mix Marketing, New York City, handles.

Amazon.com Why: Because so many tactics now considered essential online marketing tools were part of the Seattle-based company’s original business model. A customized shopping experience providing product reviews and recommendations. Personalized e-mail offers based on purchase behavior. Partnerships with other companies. (It has 430,000 “Associates.”) How about a 40-percent discount on the occasion of your first anniversary as a customer, or free overnight delivery for Christmas gifts ordered on Dec. 22? Yes, Amazon still bleeds money, and attempts to expand have been dicey. (Hello and goodbye, Living.com). But these folks do not live by price discounts alone, and they’ve set many a standard for cybermarketers.

American Express Why: Because millions of people still don’t leave home without it. New York City-based AmEx uses a bevy of strategic programs to endear itself to all types of consumers while holding onto its upscale cachet. Partnerships with merchants in virtually all channels keep folks charging, while creative sponsorships, sweepstakes, and other initiatives blanket the globe with consistent marketing messages. The new high-tech Blue card reeled in floods of younger members thanks to a hip music-flavored promotional tack. Millions of consumers pay to belong to the Membership Rewards program. And special perks get customers to splurge for the higher Gold and Platinum fees. Momentum, St. Louis, handles.

America Online Why: While the Internet explosion relegated most proprietary online services to has-been status, America Online, Dulles, VA, capitalized on the phenomenon to become one of the world’s most sought-after interactive marketing partners. Although it still relies heavily on massive software mailings to build the subscriber base, it is now able to pick and choose marketing partners both online and off to extend reach. AOL recently teamed with Target Stores to offer a CD-ROM featuring a co-branded version of the service that also offers 10 percent discounts at target.com. Even Internet heavyweights want access to AOL’s 23 million-plus members: Amazon.com is now partnering with several AOL outlets.

Ben & Jerry’s Why: It took sampling to new heights. Burlington, VT-based Ben & Jerry’s Homemade made its fortune blending two personalities: It’s counter-culture, yet mainstream, super-casual and super-premium. It’s owned by Unilever, but it’s independent. No surprise, then, that these folks eschew the airwaves in favor of making waves on the street. This summer’s in-house Stop and Taste the Ice Cream Tour brought a patch of Vermont countryside and hot-air balloons to office workers in 13 cities. Those “Urban Pastures” featured lounge chairs, up-and-coming bands, and nearly two million free scoops – including 2Twisted two-flavor combos, an eight-item line launched in spring. Deutsch, New York City, handles.

Blockbuster Why: Because it acts like a brand, not a retailer. The Dallas-based company transcends retail channels with Hollywood tie-ins, its own awards show, a bevy of online activity, and much more – all designed to drive traffic to stores. (Transaction-based revenues are up 30 percent since `97.) A rich database fuels such one-to-one programs as the new in-store Freebie couponing service and Blockbuster Rewards, which has six million members and is the fastest-growing paid loyalty program in history. New York City-based Promotional Resources Group handles. “People forget the Blockbuster brand is only 15 years old,” says executive vp-chief marketing officer Jim Notarnicola. “It has become part of the American landscape.”

Boise Cascade Why: It turned office supply direct-mail pieces into correspondence from a friend, and turned a distributor of other people’s products into a brand unto itself in the process. Using St. Louis-based Momentum as a veritable outsourced marketing department, the Idaho company has boosted sales and won accolades (Reggies and PRO Awards) with light-hearted campaigns that tapped into such nostalgia touchstones as the `70s (in 1998) and high school (’99). But perhaps more importantly, it’s established goodwill. “For us, promotions deepen relationships,” says marketing director Kevin Koertje. “They make customers happy, keep them happy, and keep them buying from Boise.”

Burger King Why: For chutzpah. The perennial No. 2 QSR is a giant, but plays scrappy underdog to great effect. It stirred McDonald’s into action – legal and otherwise – with Big Kids Meals in July ’99. With a dozen Big promos now under its belt (including this fall’s Backstreet Boys hook-up), BK has McD playing catch-up to court tweens. Showed true marketing mettle last January, when it recalled 25 million Pokemon: The First Movie premiums after two infants were suffocated by containers housing trading cards, then came back two months later with the same premiums (this time in polybags) for the film’s video release. New top brass may make the Miami-based No. 2 try even harder. Alcone Marketing, Irvine, CA, and Equity Marketing, Los Angeles, handle.

Cartoon Network Why: Working with a tiny budget may limit some marketers, but branders at this Atlanta-based cable network use their short stack of dollars to the max. Alternative avenues have proven fertile, uncluttered ground for successful in-house efforts. “Our budget is one-twentieth of what others in our category spend,” says senior vp-marketing Craig McAnsh. “We have to leverage our dollars to the hilt.” The mobile Cartoon Cartoon tour returned this year with better results than in ’99. Subway ran a Powerpuff Girls premium program (while Delta Airlines painted the Puffs on a plane) this summer. Scooby Doo is the top property, generating viewers (ratings have skyrocketed), merchandise sales, and piles of tie-ins.

Cheerios Why: For giving grade-school kids penny fever. General Mills staged one of the classiest and most brand-appropriate Millennium promos, putting newly minted 2000 pennies in 10 million cereal boxes that kids couldn’t wait to get their hands on. (Neither could grandparents, who bought a box just to give the grandkids a keepsake.) The first pennies of the Millennium came in a sealed sleeve with the Cheerios logo. “We wanted a good collectible for families, and coins are one thing that everyone knows has the date on it,” says Kim Williams, assistant marketing manager. Collectors are still hunting for 1,000 unredeemed certificates for new Golden Dollar coins also placed in boxes. General Mills, Minneapolis, handled its Gold Rush in-house.

Clamato Why: Because it lets consumers plan the marketing strategy. When it became clear that a combination of clam and tomato juice wasn’t tickling everyone’s palate, Stamford, CT-based Mott’s focused Clamato on the Mexican-Americans who were drinking it, then let those buyers dictate the promotion. The result is a joint effort with Anheuser-Busch that unites Clamato and Budweiser on customized cooler racks, making it easier for “Red Beer” imbibers to purchase both ingredients. In similar fashion, in-store coupon programs (via Catalina Marketing) reward repeat purchase, not trial. “We’re saying, `We know what you want, so here’s an incentive to get it,'” says product manager Marcel Nahm. Ryan Partnership’s Dallas-based PanaVista unit handles.

Coca-Cola Why: It rediscovered the can and regained its footing. After two years of way-cool ATM card and voice-mail promos, Coke went low(er)-tech with Discover Can. The proletariat promo linked game play with product, and losers at least quaffed a cold one. Momentum, St. Louis, handles. Atlanta-based Coke is rebounding after a tough ’99, with new ceo Douglas Daft reorganizing to localize marketing around the world. In May, Coke allied with America Online to go global with music, sports, movies, and holiday themes. This month, first-ever vp-consumer connections Nick Bishop joins to help establish “the world’s premier consumer relationship company” via local executions of top creative, says chief marketing officer Steve Jones. Coke works with multiple agencies including Momentum, St. Louis, Integer Group, Denver, CO, and Upshot, Chicago.

Days Inn Why: The value-priced lodging chain has parlayed year-round promotions into year-round customers. Parsippany, NJ-based Days Inn executes three four-month promotions annually in 1,800 U.S. properties: Spring and fall self-liquidating offers pitched to business travelers, and a summer sweeps for families. Recent ethnic marketing efforts (the chain ran a Family Reunion essay contest targeting African-Americans in conjunction with Temple University) are cultivating a new crowd of customers. The company runs separate promotions in 230 Days Business Hotels. Decker, Glastonbury, CT, handles. “Advertising only gets you so far,” says vp-marketing Nancy Poor. “We have to do something besides offer a clean room at a good price. Promotions are the tie-breaker.”

Dryel Why: While media bombardment has left many consumers indifferent to new products, Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble made sure the nation took notice of Dryel by putting the home dry-cleaning system into the public’s hands. The six-month Dryel National Mall Tour featured fashion shows, celebrity appearances, and demonstrations with full-sized dryers at 350,000 events in 275 U.S. and Canadian cities. Sororities from more than 30 colleges were recruited for the Dryel Clothing Drive, which collected more than a half-million pounds of clothing for charity. The brand also smartly played up the Good Housekeeping “GoodBuy” award it received. U.S. Marketing & Promotions, Torrance, CA, handles.

Dunkin’ Donuts Why: Because it became an international brand by staying focused on core products: coffee and donuts. The Randolph, MA-based company has diversified with such concepts as the Coffee Coolatta and the Box O’ Joe. To celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, it invited customers to vote for their favorite donut for a chance to win $50,000 and free donuts for life. The sweeps boosted store traffic by 51 percent. Sampling is the primary tactic, because “it’s all about the products. If we have that, the customers will come,” says sales promotion manager David Kennealey. The chain uses such agencies as Flair Communications, Chicago, WatersMolitor, Minneapolis, and GMR Marketing, New Berlin, WI.

ESPN Why: The once-insignificant Bristol, CT-based cable channel now boasts brand recognition equal to broadcast networks, has successfully expanded to magazines and the Internet, and has even created its own highly marketable property with the X Games franchise. “Our promotions work because we understand our audience. We’re like buddies – we never talk down to them,” says senior vp-marketing Leigh-Anne Daly. Successful partnerships have served sports-crazy consumers to such outside brands as Pizza Hut, Lender’s Bagels, Marriott, and Beck’s while boosting ratings for the network. Recent efforts for the NFL, NCAA basketball, and X Games programming helped earn it the Promotion Marketing Association’s “Marketer of the Year” award for 2000. Ground Zero, Santa Monica, handles.

Frito-Lay Why: Properties, ePloids, and cash. Frito-Lay served lettuce with the chips in its sequel to last year’s Star Wars uber-promotion. Magic in the Bag flagged 110 million big packages, some with $100 bills inside. Others had $5, $10, or chits for Disney toys and posters. It was a first for Frito and for the snack aisle. Added bonus: Disney characters on packaging and P-O-P. Plano, TX-based Frito ratcheted up the Planet Lunch kids’ loyalty program (kids save on-pack Ploids points to spend on computers, music, sports gear, and toys) with online auctions. The category leader will have to watch its back once Kraft gets the keys to Nabisco’s trucks. Frankel, Chicago, handles.

Gatorade Why: Quaker Oats’ thirst quencher leads where other non-carbonated beverages follow. In a cluttered category, the brand consistently reenergizes and strengthens its portfolio with extensions such as Fierce (stronger flavor) and Frost (lighter flavor). The empire grows larger with new products including fitness water Propel and extreme workout drink Torq, both rolling out regionally. Chicago-based Gatorade marketers must drink their own product, because they never slow down. Sampling, sponsorships, P-O-P, packaging, direct mail to coaches and athletes, sweepstakes, and coupons are used nationally and regionally. The Promotion Network, Chicago, handles. “Being widely available is critical,” says vp-marketing Cindy Alston. “We want to be wherever people are hot and sweaty.”

Got Milk? Why: Finally pulled off a national promo worthy of its advertising, and bagged Britney Spears to boot. Washington, DC-based MilkPEP and Dairy Management, Inc., Rosemont, IL, put their famous mustache under caps on 200 million gallons, coordinating 200 processors and 600 manufacturing plants in the process. McCracken Brooks Maier, Minneapolis, handled. Bozell Worldwide, New York City, is brand steward. The association has been reallocating ad money and persuading processors that in-store promos complement ads. Teaming with DMI gave MilkPEP the arms and legs for promotion. “Everyone in the dairy industry is learning how to do promotions. This isn’t the soda aisle,” says MilkPEP exec director Kurt Graetzer. MilkPEP walked into a dream deal last fall when sponsorship of Spears’ 2000 tour was offered.

Harry Potter Why: Kids stood in line at midnight for a book. A book! Sure, word-of-mouth (from which many a best-seller has been born) had already made the Harry series a worldwide phenom before Goblet of Fire hit stores in June. But credit publisher Scholastic and countless local book purveyors for fueling the fire with mystery (the title was a secret for months), well-timed p.r., and midnight parties. Scholastic gave bookstores an activity kit with party invitations, stickers, Quidditch patches for raffles, games, and party ideas. Goblet sales topped $50 million in the first month, and Potter is credited with boosting hardcover children’s book sales 15 percent.

Heineken Why: Because the White Plains, NY-based stuffy import dressed down in a bid to reach younger, hipper drinkers, and found that borrowed equity can go a long way. Rode a tie-in with New Line Cinema’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me to a 10-percent sales lift in ’99. This year, a tie-in with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame let fans vote for their favorite songs from three decades. “We’ve tried to do things that are really relevant to our [younger] target, and that’s where our growth is coming from,” says brand manager Scott Hunter Smith. Ethnic-flavored efforts include sponsorship of the Latin Grammy Awards. Ryan Partnership, Westport, CT, handles.

Hershey’s Why: The candy giant takes its sweet stuff to consumers around the nation with the popular Kissmobile, on-pack sweeps, and self-liquidating offers. It ties into only the biggest Hollywood blockbusters, with this year’s slate including The Road to El Dorado, Mission Impossible 2, and next month’s Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas for efforts inside and outside the theater. The Hershey, PA-based company will enhance its NFL sponsorship this season by teaming with pigskin partner Southwest Airlines on a national campaign. Holiday pushes are getting more creative, and are aggressively supported with line extensions and online campaigns. Marketing Werks, Chicago, handles the Kissmobile.

Johnson & Johnson Why: It has won the trust of parents and the enthusiasm of children with fact-laden and fun-filled promotions. The tagline says it all: “Just like you, we care about how your kids feel.” To back the launch of new Kid Wash body formula, New Brunswick, NJ-based J&J teamed with Nickelodeon to offer a mock car wash kit complete with foam shampoo bottles that inspired kids to look forward to the usually dreaded bath time. “We’re most proud of how we’ve been able to take the equity of our baby brands and extend them to the bath market,” says spokesperson Sarah Colamarino.

Kahlua Why: Whether conducting traditional on-premise tours or pushing its ready-to-drink extensions, Westport, CT-based Kahlua is always reaching out. The company keeps things fresh with smart promotions that generate trial and sales. The brand – which swears there are 238 different Kahlua concoctions – uses unique efforts to hype single-drink mixtures; a partnership with cable network E! supported Kahlua rum-cola last summer with a National Blitz night and a sweeps-finale concert in Miami. Westport-based Tuxis Promotion Group handles. “We haven’t increased our marketing budget, but we’ve gotten better about how we spend,” says Dan Roselli, vp-marketing for the Contemporary Spirits portfolio of brands. “We’re looking to make an impact.”

Kellogg Why: For the company it keeps. Battle Creek, MI-based Kellogg built an impressive team to help retake the cereal aisle from General Mills: Pokemon, Sesame Street, American Airlines, Cindy Crawford, E superscript *Trade, Disney, and U.S. Olympic athletes. Kellogg leveraged equities on its own boxes in single-brand promos, multi-brand offers, and new products. Then there’s the wacky on-pack/online loyalty program EetandErn.com. Still to come: How the Grinch Stole Christmas. DraftWorldwide, Chicago, is lead shop. Consumer promotions vp Kevin Smith views the box as real estate and knows the value of a good premium. “We’re competing every day with things like fast food, which has upscaled its premiums. We’re competing against a different bar.”

Kodak Why: It’s using a hearty dose of integrated marketing to lift its bottom line. Partnerships with America Online, deals with retailers, continued product-specific pushes, and a worldwide Olympic sponsorship let Rochester, NY-based Kodak cover all the bases. The company just ran its largest consumer promotion ever with the $80 million Picture Perfect Summer collect-and-win game. A mall tour with boy band Youngstown sent kids to Sam Goody stores to buy cameras. “We’re playing by a whole new set of rules,” says marketing communications director Diane Peterman. A Kodak Theatre, the future home of the Academy Awards, will be constructed in Los Angeles. Eric Mower & Associates, Syracuse, NY, handles.

Kraft Kids Brands Why: Glenview, IL-based Kraft united 25 brands under one marketing umbrella in the mid-1990s, turning already solid promotion efforts into industry bellwethers. The group only runs two major promotions annually – but they don’t come any bigger. Last year’s back-to-school Smell-O-Vision with perennial partner Nickelodeon encompassed 70 million packages across 11 brands and yielded a 7.7-percent increase in volume. A spring 2000 venture with Cartoon Network bested that with 100 million units across five multi-product brands – each carrying a unique incentive. Creating the kids brands unit has “given us a lot of leverage from retailers and partners,” says Wendy Kritt, director of corporate and consumer promotions.

Lincoln Why: The company severed marketing ties to parent Ford Motor Co. when it left Motown in ’98 for new digs in Irvine, CA, then rebranded itself as a hip American luxury car. Innovative local dealer events – an exclusive Circ du Soleil tour that gave tickets to dealers and customers was a sellout – are becoming de rigueur. So are standout programs such as ties to the GQ Man of the Year program and the activation of a new US Open tennis sponsorship. For the latter, Lincoln transformed an entire building on the Open grounds into an interactive walk-through “Immersion” to demonstrate its new definition of American luxury. Impiric, Irvine, CA, handles.

Lucky Strike Why: Because Lucky loves you – but only if you smoke. The Louisville, KY-based Brown & Williamson brand has made lemonade out of regulatory lemons, most delightfully through Strike Force guerrilla teams offering coffee, chairs, flowers (on Valentine’s Day), and cell phone use (at busy airports) to those poor, huddled masses of smokers lurking outside buildings. (Bates USA, New York City, handles; Gotham’s Big Fat Promotions executes.) Government restrictions have made marketing “more of a challenge, but also more exciting to work on,” says brand director Sharon Smith. “It’s forced us to be more creative.” Other touchy-feely efforts include a Band to Band new-music competition, which also features a compilation CD premium.

M&Ms Why: They’re everywhere, with attitude. None of them has a last name, but they all have personality. Using its cast of Red, Yellow, Blue, and Green, Hackettstown, NJ-based M&M is one of the few brands that can pull off one major promotion after another in a space smaller than a dime. From the 1997 Imposter sweeps (find gray to win) to the 1998 Millennium sweeps (find the candy with one “m” instead of two), from last year’s Grey mystery to this spring’s Color Mix Up, M&M makes its colors work overtime. Green – the girl – even got her own car for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. (This is M&M’s second year as NASCAR sponsor.) T.J. Paul, Rydal, PA, handles.

Maxwell House Why: Starbucks may rule the commuting coffee set, but White Plains, NY-based Maxwell House still owns the kitchen. To keep pantry shelves stocked, the brand relies on product giveaways at live events around the country. New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies fans who brought an unopened can to the stadium on July 4 received a free ticket for a future game. Consumers who toted an unopened can of Maxwell House or Yuban Coffee to the Universal Studios Imax theater or the Universal CityWalk received two free movie tickets. And the purchase of any brand in Chicago got free food tickets to the Taste of Chicago food festival.

McDonald’s Why: It’s early for the seven-year itch, but Oak Brook, IL-based McDonald’s’ Disney promos have hit a groove. The real creativity on McD’s calendar these days comes between Disney dates. Witness HitClips: Tiger Electronics launched mini-music players as premiums before rolling them into stores. That overlaid McD’s Summer Music Event with Britney Spears and N Sync CD and videos. “In toys, we can be ahead of the curve,” says vp-national marketing RJ Milano. Retro Barbie and Teeny Beanie Babies let moms bond. “Parents whose kids are Happy Meal age now grew up with Happy Meals,” he says. Disney tie-ins still outperform other promos. Simon Marketing, Los Angeles, is lead agency. The Marketing Store Worldwide, Oak Brook, IL, and Frankel, Chicago, also handle portions.

NASCAR Why: Once considered redneck territory, NASCAR now has Fortune 500 marketers banging down its doors to connect with one of the most-watched sports properties on TV and one of the most-loyal fan bases anywhere. “We have an incredible platform – whether its TV, radio, print, online – that allows us to talk to consumers 365 days a year,” says vp-marketing George Pyne. Coca-Cola once used Santa Claus on a line of collectable holiday bottles; today it offers NASCAR scenes that reach 60 million consumers. The Daytona Beach, FL-based association debuted its first national retail program last spring, partnering with Kmart’s 2,100 stores. Cyrk-Simon, Gloucester, MA, handles, although numerous promo shops have connections.

Nickelodeon Why: Because no other network consistently scores stronger partners or better retail presence. New York City-based Nick turns partners like Kraft, Mott’s, and Burger King into veritable family members with in-house promotions that succeed because they’re as much fun as the programming. “We put kids first in everything we do, and we try to deliver promotions that only Nick can,” says senior vp-promotions marketing Pam Kaufman. “Who else can go into schools and slime principals?” With more than half of all kids two to 11 now watching on TV, the Viacom-owned network has translated its formula into box-office and home-video bonanzas with The Rugrats Movie and the upcoming Rugrats in Paris releases.

Nintendo Why: Because it clawed its way to the top of the fiercely competitive gaming industry with edgy campaigns, shrewd partnerships, and a guerrilla mentality befitting the creators of Donkey Kong. Redmond, WA-based Nintendo launched its first adult title, Perfect Dark, with a national truck tour that traveled to college campuses under the surreptitious guise of the “Datadyne Corp.,” and didn’t reveal its true identity until Spring Break. “Experiential marketing is becoming our real core,” says Robert Matthews, director of advertising and promotion. “We try to engage the consumer rather than have them passively watch a TV spot.” Westcott Marketing, Redmond, WA, handles.

Olay Why: Its success lies in seamlessly linking one product to the next. “We have a heritage as a skin-care provider, but we compete in several areas,” says marketing manager Michael Kuremsky. “By using our packaging, we can convey that we’ve got other products to fill your needs.” The Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble brand relies heavily on in-store beauty consultations at mass merchandisers such as Wal-Mart and Kmart. Last year, an Olay holiday gift pack was the second-best moving set of the season at mass stores. In September, Olay Daily Facials will be included in a health club sampling program. Olay also partners with women-focused online content providers such as iVillage. Saatchi & Saatchi, New York City, handles.

Oreo Why: For turning cookies into gamepieces. It takes a distinctive, 88-year-old brand to morph its own product for promotions. Oreos stamped CAR or CASH (instead of the Nabisco logo) were prize winners in `99. Variations on the theme this year: Magic Dunkers turn milk blue (spring), Baseball Oreos with stitching around the edges (summer), and Mini Oreos (fall), the latter launched with a sweeps giving away a minivan to the person who guesses how many cookies the vehicle holds. A third year of stacking contests hit 15,000 stores. East Hanover, NJ-based Oreo also rides multi-brand promos like I’ll Take You to the Game, Win an N Sync Concert for Your School, and Nick or Treat. The Promotions Network, Dallas, handles.

Pepsi Why: Because the Purchase, NY-based soda giant has actually become more promotionally aggressive. (Even we didn’t think that was possible.) From the reincarnated Pepsi Challenge to a summer program that had consumers scurrying to make custom music CDs, to a Pepsi Stuff upgrade that added a dot-com to the effort through a partnership with Yahoo (and truly tied offline marketing to the Internet), Pepsi has turned up the branding dial. Add integrated activation of sports sponsorships such as the US Open and pro golf, and you’ve got yourself a well-rounded brand ready for whatever the 21st century brings. TLP, Dallas, handles.

Pokemon Why: This Nintendo-owned and New York City-based Leisure Concepts-managed property has been the kids tie-in over the past 18 months, having spawned dozens of tie-in promotions and a bevy of grocery and retail products from Kellogg, Burger King, Heinz, and Kraft. And it has done so while withstanding a barrage of negative press from sources who found the Gotta Catch `Em All tagline a bit too manipulative for kids. A relatively lackluster performance from the franchise’s second theatrical release this summer suggests Pokemania could be waning. But with more than 500 licensees on board, don’t expect the marketing frenzy to slow anytime soon.

Power Rangers Why: Because the 10-year-old kids show has not been the kids tie-in over the past 18 months, yet still has Wal-Mart hosting parking lot tours, McDonald’s running Happy Meal programs, and Campbell’s Soup adding canned SKUs. Los Angeles-based Fox Family Worldwide and its Saban Entertainment division keep the property annually refreshed with new themes and the marketing machine well-oiled with increasingly bigger ideas both on-air and off. Close relationships with licensees including Bandai America have kept product flying off shelves. “It’s not the hottest new show on TV, but at retail it is,” notes vp-promotions Gina Mace-Sands. Next up is an end-of-year effort with Loews Cinemas.

Skechers Why: It understands teens, and reaches them with relatively simple promotions. One common strategy involves sweepstakes with entries submitted via activation of phonecards delivered free with purchase; that provides added value as well as a database-building vehicle for future direct marketing initiatives. Manhattan Beach, CA-based Skechers places a heavy emphasis on partnerships, whether it be account-specific campaigns for retailers such as Nordstrom or The Sports Authority, prize donations for a McDonald’s sweeps or a Pizza Hut cause-related giveaway, or coupons distributed in-pack with Mattel’s Dancin’ Debi doll. “We don’t force-feed promotions. If they want us, we’ll get involved,” says marketing executive Jeffrey Greenberg. The Creative Couch, Los Angeles, handles.

Slim Jim Why: Because no one puts “Know thy self” into better practice than Raleigh, NC-based Goodmark Foods’ jerky brand. “We develop our promotions to forward the rebellion and irreverence associated with our brands,” says vp-marketing Jeff Slater. That irreverence is embodied in Slim Jim’s embrace of extreme sports, the darling of today’s teenagers. A current sweepstakes lets the winner become an animated character in the next videogame featuring BMX star Dave Mirra. One successful recent effort was an online sweeps that threw a hometown party for the winner and 100 friends featuring a personal appearance by WCW star and Slim Jim pitchman “Macho Man” Randy Savage. North Castle Partners, Stamford, CT, handles.

SoBe Why: In the alternative beverage market, originality is everything, and once-tiny SoBe has grown up (sales should reach $500 million by 2002) by keeping that in mind. A $15 million marketing budget is funneled into alternative sponsorships – it’s the official beverage of Major League Lacrosse – and events. “Love Buses” hit venues with samplers proffering tastes and Team Lizard-branded goodies. Norwalk, CT-based SoBe has a line of alternative endorsers, teams with bike maker Cannondale on efforts, and keeps giants Snapple and Mistic on their toes. The company is handling more efforts in-house and readying extension lines. “We have the right mixture,” says vp-marketing Bill Bishop, Jr. “We’ll stick with this plan and expand it.”

Toys “R” Us Why: The originator of the category-killer concept is looking to fend off the category-killer killers (Wal-Mart and Target) by re-endearing itself to families through, among other initiatives, grassroots efforts with Major League Baseball and sweeps linked to films such as Toy Story 2 and next month’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. “We’re looking to create a buzz,” says executive vp-worldwide marketing and brand development Warren Kornblum. “We’ll continue our promotion push in all channels.” This month, stores are running a Kid Vote 2000 in which little customers cast votes for president. Next year, Paramus, NJ-based TRU’s first global promotion will run in 26 countries. Simon Marketing, Los Angeles, handles.

The U.S. Mint Why: For making Sacagawea a household name. The U.S. Mint got Congress to pass a law to let it market coins, then ponied up $40 million to launch the Golden Dollar. General Mills, Wal-Mart, entertainment venues, and transit groups helped put the coins into circulation. “We want it to be more than just what the Tooth Fairy brings,” says Stan Collender, senior vp at Mint agency Fleishmann-Hillard, Washington, DC. Coins hit Wal-Mart registers first – not reluctant banks. Commuters in Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Diego got free coins from radio stations. After adding more partners this year, the Washington, DC-based Mint will quietly encourage retailers to use the coins in 2001.

U.S. Postal Service Why: Because it has learned how to market like a private company better than most private companies do. Washington, DC-based USPS has endeared itself to consumers by letting them in on the stamp-selection process, and made philately more entertaining with tie-ins to Looney Tunes and the Grinch, among others. Sponsorship of the U.S. Cycling Team has translated into $10 million worth of new business. Industry accolades continued this year when it put mobile marketing on the rails like never before with a Celebrate the Century Express train tour. “In the future, we’ll be promoting alternative access to stamps and be including more multi-cultural marketing,” says spokesperson Jerry Kreinkamp. Frankel, Chicago, handles at retail.

Virgin Atlantic Why: Because its ceo gets involved in promotions. The iconoclastic Richard Branson this summer stood up as best man for the winning couple in a sweeps touting Virgin’s new service to Las Vegas. Last year, he willingly allowed his own head shot from the `60s to be used in marketing that compared his sartorial style with that of Austin Powers. (Virgin’s randy Austin tie-in produced 200,000 qualified leads.) London and Norwalk, CT-based Virgin treats its upper-class passengers like royalty with free limo rides to the airport and on-board manicures and massages. Business-travelers this summer got a hand-held computer free with a round-trip flight and membership in the frequent-flier program.

Visa Why: Strategic partnerships with retailers. Some of the highest profile sponsorships (Olympics, Tour de France, the NFL) on the planet. Solid cause efforts. And localized programs that engage consumers. Smart marketing has created a brand as ubiquitous abroad as it is domestically. At a time when they say you can’t be all things to all people, San Francisco-based Visa sure is trying. Online and offline, the company is truly everywhere it wants to be. “It’s amazing how many good ideas you come up with when you stay focused on the customer,” says Bob Pifke, senior vp-marketing services. A plethora of shops handle Visa efforts.

World Championship Wrestling Why: WCW goes beyond TV and merchandise to grapple with consumers anywhere it can find them. Spring Break tours taking wrestlers and Nitro Girls to campuses have been hits, as have mobile efforts featuring partners such as Gateway and top wrestlers like Goldberg and Booker T. “We know we have tough competition,” says vp-marketing and creative development Aaron Blitzstein. “So we have to work that much harder.” Licensed items fly off shelves, stadium seats sell out, and 12 million viewers tune in each week. Atlanta-based WCW later this year will tie in with an Artisan Entertainment film and launch a rebranding initiative to attract new fans.

Yahoo Why: Because the Santa Clara, CA-based company has become one of the few Internet brands with mainstream recognition and a bottom line in the black (more often than not, at least). It has capitalized on its role as an Internet portal to become an online marketing mecca – both for itself and its numerous partners. In August, Yahoo teamed with c-store chain 7-Eleven to produce co-branded Slurpee cups promoting the Yahoo Greetings card service. An alliance with Pepsi-Cola for PepsiStuff.com, Purchase, NY, spawned an under-the-cap effort that put the Yahoo logo on 1.5 billion bottles and encouraged consumers to set up a Yahoo shopping account.

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