Finding a premium wasn’t such a big deal 10 years ago. You handed your parameters to the manufacturers’ premium sourcing departments, they knew how to take the promo’s theme and budget and zero in on an appropriate premium offer. They could find that die-cast car model, custom-designed cork extractor – even get great bargains on branded goods like Sony earphones or Samsonite tote bags.
Through the miracle of corporate downsizing, however, uncertainty and doubt, if not fear, were introduced into the premium sourcing industry. After companies like Quaker Oats and Clorox eliminated in-house premium sourcing offices, if you were a marketer needing one million self-winding teddy bears in silk screened shorts for a bath tub cleaner, you were on your own.
Distributor middlemen and promotion marketing agencies that rushed in to take on the outsourced premium business often lacked the expertise in premiums possessed by the in-house corporate buyers and the premium reps with whom they worked directly, argues George Kling. The president of Potential Profits Group in Branford, CT, Kling says the industry has yet to fully replace that lost acumen.
“The distribution process right now is in disarray. It is not as simple and straightforward as it has been,” says Kling.
Promo agencies are unlikely to have a single-minded commitment to premiums for one thing. QLM, Princeton, NJ, hosted a department dedicated to premium sourcing until a few years ago when it was phased out. The agency found there was too much work involved. “Our clients sent us on too many searches,” says QLM senior promotion planner Ira Casel.
Suppliers may not have the unfettered access to clients they once enjoyed, but distributors are evolving from product-handlers to idea-jugglers. They appear to be headed toward an ultimate goal of providing marketers with turn-key solutions for premium promotions, from product selection to promo structuring, and even toward generating concepts.
Brand managers and promo agencies meanwhile are finding different routes to premium success. Following are accounts of some recent explorations.
NO NONSENSE CD HUNT You expect a straightforward premium idea from a brand like No Nonsense, which positions itself as a value alternative in panty hose. But in searching for the perfect offer for this Christmas, Neal Stevens got fussy.
“We hunted. We give ourselves a lot of lead time,” says Stevens, trade marketing manager for the brand at Kayser-Roth Corp. in Charlotte, NC.
Steven’s quest for prizes for a back-to-school sweepstakes this year went quicker. The brand wanted to offer top-of-the-line computers as grand prizes and other electronics as second and third prizes in the national promotion that started shipping June 1, so it picked Sony.
Stevens simply lifted the phone and called the manufacturer. Sony referred him to Wayne Plybon, president of The Plybon Co. in Charlotte, its premium rep in the area.
Plybon helped the brand structure the sweeps, with five grand prizes of top-end Sony personal computers, and 4,000 Walkmans as third prizes. Plybon, with warehousing facilities, handled the fulfillment.
For this year’s fourth-quarter promotion, there was no obvious choice of supplier when Stevens decided the brand should offer a CD of seasonal songs.
“It’s a very competitive industry. Everybody offers fine products at good prices. But there is an awesome variety,” he notes.
Stevens contacted previous supplier partners, and checked the Internet. “I called at least 30 companies.” He shopped around at the local premium show by Fletcher, Barnhardt & White, the Charlotte-based Ha-Lo, Inc. division. The distributor featured only one music vendor – PolyGram -with the type of product Stevens wanted.
“My objective was to provide recognizable talent,” but at a cost the brand could afford. CDs with contemporary name singers were out.
Out of the blue, Stevens received a call from EMI Capital’s special products division in Atlanta. “I don’t know how they knew to call. They heard I was in the market,” he says.
EMI offered a CD of old chestnuts featuring tunes by crooners such as Dean Martin and Mel Torme. Stevens tapped the vendor after inviting written bids from EMI and three other suppliers. The brand enlisted PFC, Clinton, Iowa for fulfillment.
Consumers with two proofs of purchase in the fourth quarter will get a free Tunes for the Holidays CD, a premium as no-nonsense as Santa himself.
DURACELL’S ACCOUNT-CHARGED IDEA Last year, Duracell needed an idea to help get more displays in Wal-Mart, where an every-day-low-price approach discourages promotions. “We’ve tried for many years to get them to use our promotions,” says John Malone, director spe cialty channel sales for the Bethel, CT-based battery manufacturer.
In charge of trade marketing for mass accounts in 1997, Malone received an idea for an account-specific promo that would turn the tide with the discounter. Tap into the NCAA’s March Madness tournament craze by offering a premium of a specially logoed Final Four Rawlings basketball. Consumers got the ball free for buying any four packs of batteries. The battery giant gained 90 percent display distribution, and the stores sold through four times the usual Duracell order, says Malone.
Duracell expanded the program to 11 other chains including Kmart and Target this year, with balls offered for both men and women in two sizes.
Duracell sourced and fulfilled the balls through All Star Incentive Marketing, a Sturbridge, MA-based distributor that reps Rawlings in New England. The promo concept came from All Star, a fast-growing distributor seeking to become a one-stop source for clients’ promotional and premium products needs.
Its trade division has worked with All Star for years on account specific promotions while the brand group typically runs one or two national promotions of its own, says Malone.
The promo helped Duracell capitalize on its sponsorship of the NCAA, by tying in with NCAA licensee Rawlings, says Malone.
“We depend on companies like All Star to give us ideas. They understand what our customers are looking for. I know they won’t drop the ball on fulfillment,” says Malone.
All Star senior account manager Brian Galonek describes All Star as a “bridge company” combining a premium rep business and a distributor business, where new client services from catalog printing to fulfillment have been incrementally added.
“We want to be more of an idea company and expand out of New England,” says Galonek.
THE ULTIMATE FLASH OF RECOGNITION When Amoco Corp. needed a consumer promotion to increase sales of its top-end Ultimate and Silver gasoline lines, it once again turned to Chicago neighbor Frankel & Co. to put the pedal to the metal.
In 1996, the agency’s four-person premium department had helped put together Amoco’s prepaid calling card offer, sourcing four million cards directly from carrier Sprint. The promotion boosted the department’s premium dollar purchase volume by 700 percent from the year before, claims Jeanne Novak, Frankel’s premium supervisor.
As before, the agency sought a premium with a high perceived value that could exploit Amoco’s tie-in with the Batman and Robin movie. Novak’s staff worked with a creative group to devise the idea to give motorists their own Bat Light, a flashlight.
The premium staff tapped into the Advertising Specialty Institute’s database to find a quality light among the 3,500 supplier members. The department tapped Mag Instrument Co.’s Mag Lite flashlight for the promotion.
Consumers who bought four fill-ups of the premium gasoline got the free Batbeam light and a Batman-logoed case custom-made by the Ontario, CA-based manufacturer of heavy duty flashlights. Frankel made an initial order of 600,000 lights, and 100,000 more in increments to meet demand as the promotion rolled along .
Novak estimates the premium department sources premiums from ASI for about 80 percent of the 200 or so projects referred to the department. Frankel has been a distributor member for 10 years.
Frankel gets the supplier/product list on CDRom. Though Frankel sources many namebrand items direct from the vendors or through its premium reps, branded manufacturers themselves are creeping onto the ASI list. Wilson Sporting Goods recently joined, says Novak.
THE COLOR OF SUNSHINE Sunshine Biscuit’s Back-to-School coloring contest promo last year grew out of an idea offered up by a premium representative.
Roman-Oskiera Creative Associates, Robinsville, NJ., (since renamed the Marketing Edge Group and moved to East Brunswick, NJ), was looking for a promotion idea for Sunshine, a Keebler Co. division, when Mary Anne Fontana called the agency.
“It was the right time and the right place. I knew they were the agency for Sunshine biscuits,” says Fontana, president of MAF Marketing, the Morganville, NJ-based premium rep and importer.
Fontana displayed a My Coloring Tee T-shirt and magic markers from Ram Star Mills, Sardis, GA. The merchandise inspired the on-pack promotion. The agency took the Statue of Liberty figure on the T-shirt and placed it onto the back panel of one million packages of All American cookies. Kids colored in the figure to win prizes. Grand prize was $500, first prize was the T-shirt, and second prize a four-pack of magic markers.
“The premium was very appropriate. We told MAF we were doing a coloring contest, and the ages of the children and the prize price range,” says Marketing Edge account supervisor Joan McLaughlin.
The promotion attracted 1,875 entries, and 1,000 of them won prizes, which included coupons for free cookies, says Sunshine Cookies brand manager Maite Goff.