The Branded Generation

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Seven billion dollars. Seven billion dollars. That’s how much the promotion industry added to its total last year, according to the the 1998 Annual Report of the Promotion Industry that comes with this issue. That’s 10 percent more than was recorded last year, an amount greater than the revenues of the entire couponing business. These aren’t salad days for promotion marketers, they’re chateaubriand and Dom Perignon days. And the bet here is that the party will stay hearty for some time to come.

Forget, for a moment, promotion marketing’s strategic imperative. Put aside the awesome potential of targeted consumer purchase motivators – made possible by technology and database advances – that only promotion pros can execute. All one needs do to arrive at a promotion industry forecast of sunny and bright is consider the brand-hunger of the current and future marketplace. There’s a good reason why corporate licensing is on the upswing: Millions of people, especially young people, identify with certain brands the way they once did only with film stars and sports heroes.

As someone who has covered consumer marketing for most of the past 20 years, I of course noted the logo’s expanding influence on America’s sense of self-image, but perhaps was too close to the trees to see the forest. An anecdote in a recent Sports Illustrated article, however, brought into clear focus how immensely things have changed in just a few decades.

One of the designers of the new Milwaukee Brewers stadium reminisced in the story about the days when he and his brother would go to batting practice at Milwaukee Braves games. One day, his brother hit the motherlode. The Braves were playing the Giants and his brother, a Willie Mays fan, sat with him in the front row in a Giants jersey, motioning to Braves slugger Eddie Matthews. Matthews came over, looked at the kid’s shirt, pulled him out of the stands, and took him over to meet Mays. The two future Hall of Famers were in awe of the Giants jersey that a friend of his mother’s had sewn for him. At a ballpark today, it’s hard to find a fan not wearing some piece of officially licensed team apparel. Thirty years ago, it didn’t exist.

Back then, my friends and I collected baseball cards and quizzed each other on player statistics. These days, my sons and their friends collect catalogs – for baseball gear, skateboarding accessories, electric guitars – and try to outdo each other with their encyclopedic stores of product knowledge.

Not only do kids identify products and images with logos, they have sophisticated senses of brand hierarchy. Just last week, a couple of T-shirts came into the office – one a subtle gray affair for the introduction of pizza-flavored Cheez Doodles, the other a bright orange number heralding the return of the Schwinn Sting Ray bicycle. I gave my 11-year-old son Roman first crack, figuring he’d go right for the orange shirt. Au contraire. He fairly leapt to snatch the gray one out of my hands. I had neglected to notice a one-inch-square logo on the back of the shirt.

“Dad, don’t you know what this is?” he screamed. “This is the Rollerblade Aggressive Skating logo.”

I also had some samples of Discovery Channel-licensed bean-bag plush toys Holiday Inn is giving to young guests in a promo this summer. My 8-year-old daughter Oona is a big Beanie Babies collector, and I wondered if she’d notice they weren’t the real deal. Silly me.

“Oh neat,” she said, “these are the Discovery animals from Holiday Inn.”

Trust me. These kids don’t know this stuff because Daddy works at promo. In fact, I’m thinking of putting them on as researchers.

No recent business story could better convey the power of promotion than the Nabisco restructuring. The king cookie-maker is cutting 3,500 jobs and jacking up its ad and promotion budget 30 percent after being end-run by a bunch of Keebler elves.

While Nabisco slashed marketing spending in recent years to meet aggressive earnings targets, Keebler blitzed retail with point-of-purchase, 30-foot inflatable elves for store openings, and elven games on packaging. In the past year, Keebler cookie and cracker share each rose half-a-point. Nabisco’s cookie share fell half-a-point and its cracker share slipped 1.5 points.

Kids, tweens, teens, and young adults are an amazingly demanding bunch of customers – and will no doubt remain so as adult consumers. They demand quality products, but they also demand quality promotions to go with the products. They expect something extra, and that will keep promotion people busy for a long, long time.

How savvy are these kids? Just visit Keebler’s Web site. On the menu, it doesn’t say “Click here to win prizes.” It says simply, “Promos.”

Hey, these kids know the deal.

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