Promotion Smells Like Teen Spirit
When it comes to cashing in on the power of teen
and tween sales, you’d better know what the
hipsters of the “in-crowd” want.
The Unilever Corporation, the world’s leading
manufacturer of aerosol deodorant products, was looking
for a way to inform its own sales force about its
new fragrance for men, “AXE Essence,” and
the “cool” image the company wanted to
promote. The point was to motivate the salespeople
to convince stores to carry the hip new scent.
The marketing concept for the new fragrance is that
the “essence” of what makes a guy appealing
is the fusion of good and bad (yin and yang) and
the new fragrance’s appeal is based on the
premise that every guy has a good and bad side.
To ensure that the initiative stayed top-of-mind
with its salespeople, Unilever contracted promotional
consultant Mike Sims. He was to conceive, develop
and manage a comprehensive sales communication program
that would announce the sell-in of AXE Essence to
the Unilever national sales force. To do this, his
company produced and distributed a comprehensive
kit that was sent to 300 Unilever salespeople.
The target demographic of the AXE brand strategy
was 12- to 24-year-old males and focused on the premise
that was “founded on an insight that’s
universal – young men are preoccupied with
meeting girls, and looking and feeling good is essential
to success.” Considering this, the central
part of the kit itself was a custom-designed and
imprinted skateboard, along with a backpack made
to carry the skateboard and other things a 12- to
24-year-old male might tote around.
The backpack was stuffed with product samples and
a CD-ROM with ready-made sales presentations, product
images, price lists and selling facts relating to
the new product’s initiative. A letter from
the AXE brand manager to the salesperson was also
included in the backpack. Each finished kit was overnighted
to the home of each salesperson.
“Basically, it was given to the AXE sales
force to excite, educate, state goals and objectives
and provide them with the sales information they
needed to present an effective pitch,” Sims
said. “And that’s what it did.”
It was reported that upon receiving the kits, many
salespersons were applauding the AXE brand team for
one of the most impressive new communication tools
the company has delivered to the field.
And the promotion company got its own reward in the
form of a 2003 Promotional Product Association Florida
(PPAF Palm) Award in the Consumer Promotion category.
For Microsoft, A Million-Dollar
Computer giant Microsoft Corp. ran a campaign
that pitted it against its arch rival, Oracle Corp.
The contest took place in Las Vegas and a promotional
product held the spotlight.
Microsoft and Oracle were used to tussling with
each other. Oracle had been touting the price,
speed and quality of the products it markets in
the database market.
The way a coffee mug got to be in the center of
the dust-up was a combination of accident and inspiration.
Frank Shaw, senior vice president of Microsoft’s
PR firm, had been meeting with Microsoft officials.
He recalled, “One of them said, ‘One
of the things that I’ve noticed is that when
we go in and we talk to customers, even if we don’t
end up getting the order, we save the customer
money because we’ll give them a coffee mug
or something else with the logo on it. The next
time the Oracle sales guy’s in there, he
sees the mug, he knows they’re going to have
to compete and [they] drop their prices.’”
Shaw thought it over. “Two days later,” he
said, “I literally woke up in the middle
of the night and felt ‘There’s an idea
here.’ A standard installation for a company
for a database product would be something like
$5 million on average. If Microsoft could actually
do it for a 20% discount from what Oracle was charging,
that’s a million-dollar mug.”
And so the seven-figure ceramic piece was born.
Microsoft put its logo in black on one side. On
the reverse side, in blue ink, were the words: “Instructions
- Place mug prominently on your desk.
- When Oracle salesman pitches $5 million of
overpriced software, glance down at mug.
- Oracle salesman spots mug, offers 20% discount.
- Skip steps 2 and 3 and call Microsoft instead.
Save millions and get the industry’s highest
performance enterprise solution – with
no bitter aftertaste!”
The mug also directed recipients to a Web site
designed for the promotion.
The real brilliance, however came in the distribution.
Microsoft chose the biggest computer show of all,
Comdex, held in Las Vegas. Oracle had a large presence
there, and CEO Larry Ellison gave a keynote address.
Microsoft ordered 2,000 mugs and had temps give
them to people going to the keynote. After being
tossed by security the temps stood outside and
handed mugs to people getting out of cabs. One
of the mugs even made its way to Ellison, who brandished – and
denounced – it from his podium.
Shaw reported the promotion generated over a million
dollars worth of free publicity. It was picked
up by trade journals, Wall Street Journal and New
York Times. He even saw articles in publications
as far away as London. Since Comdex, Microsoft
ordered an additional 10,000 mugs to give out during
Jedi PC Game Uses The Force To
The goal was to increase sales by 20% for a new
PC game release of Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi
Outcast, using unique packaging as a collector’s
item, in conjunction with a gift with purchase. “The
item had to reflect the hi-tech feeling of the
Star Wars property, in addition to appealing to
the target audience, which is 14- to 35-year-old
males,” said Cheryl Cohen-Moss, the promotional
consultant who handled the promotion.
At the consumer level, the goal was to exceed
50% sell-through within the first four weeks. “The
client asked us to design packaging that could
house three PC games and a small promotional piece.
The small promotional item included had to relate
to activities within the game,” Cohen-Moss
She created a tin with a four-color imprint that
kept with the futuristic feel of the game. It was
also critical that the box take no more space than
a PC game box. “Knowing that the Star Wars
property carries a huge collectibles factor, we
wanted to create an item that could be used afterwards
for storage in dorm rooms and on desktops,” she
said. She also added a flashing light wand that
simulated the Star Wars Jedi Knight Light Saber.
The results: On the internal sales level, sales
increased 30% in the first week with over $750,000
in incremental revenue. At the consumer level,
the result was an outstanding 75% of the collectors’ items
were sold out in the first four weeks, with over
$1.5 million in incremental revenue.
Currently, 96% of the collectors’ items
have sold out, with almost $2 million in incremental
revenue. The game became the number-one-selling
PC game for over two months.
’Gator’s Debut Helps
Boost Sales More Than 500%
If there’s a single favorite advertising
buzzword today, “branding” would be
a serious contender. While not a new term, it’s
taken on added popularity recently as more businesses
have come to realize its strength. When consumers
see a particular name (Xerox, McDonald’s,
Gillette, Zippo), they immediately know not only
the brand, but what it stands for.
Branding also often involves company characters
or mascots, which in some cases are far more effective
than a logo. Show almost anyone in the world a
picture of Mickey Mouse, and they make the connection
with Disney despite differences in language or
culture. This fact wasn’t lost on School
Zone Publishing Co., a publisher of educational
workbooks and flash cards, which wanted to promote
its new On-Track software series.
School Zone is hardly a stranger to promotional
products. The firm has used a range of items in
the past, from calculators to postcard books to
phone cards, which it distributes to parents, teachers
and trade-show attendees. The difference this time
was that it wanted to use logoed goods to roll
out the branding of a character to support its
After some creative consultation, School Zone
came up with a viable spokesman: Oliver E. Gator,
or Oli Gator for short. A kid-like cartoon alligator
sporting a blue T-shirt and red cap, his image
was placed on all On-Track products and ancillary
promotional materials. Typically pictured playing
sports or some other fun activity, the hope for
Oli was to serve as a character children would
immediately identify with the company and its products.
In a comprehensive effort, Oli’s on-product
image was supported with miniature stuffed Oli’s,
phonecards, stickers and more, distributed via
the same avenues School Zone had used in the past.
Since the program started, the friendly reptile
has amassed quite a fan club. “Oliver Gator
has become very, very popular,” said Barb
Peacock, School Zone managing director. “Everyone
seems to relate to [him] in some way.”
But Oli’s popularity has had another benefit.
With each On-Track order, School Zone added a small
gift: a sticker and card (both picturing Oli) congratulating
parents on taking an active interest in their child’s
educational development and personal growth. The
cards suggested that the accompanying “Proud
Parent” sticker be displayed and noted that
if they’d like to purchase an Oli or Proud
Parent T-shirt or other merchandise, they could
log on to School Zone’s Web site and buy
“It’s really trying to do a little
of everything in one promotion,” said Peacock. “If
the consumers know our product line in workbooks
and flashcards, then it’s sort of indicating
we have something new out there and it gets them
to come to our Web site and see what it is.”
The result was immediate and impressive. In August,
the promo’s first month, traffic at School
Zone’s site increased 135% and sales jumped
538% over the previous year. Things reached an
all-time high in November, when traffic rose 175%
and sales skyrocketed by 782%. Pretty good for
a ’gator in a baseball cap.
Promo Helps Radio Station Pump
Up The Volume
Radio spots are always a tough sell, but perhaps
not quite as hard as building listener loyalty.
Radio audiences frequently identify themselves
by their listening choices, so it’s not always
easy to make them switch stations.
Los Angeles-based 93 FM faced this obstacle when
it wanted to expand its listener base. To do so,
it incorporated a cross-promotion using a daily
desk calendar as a link to the station and its
The calendar’s cover bore an image showing
a gift card reading, “Comp-liments of Arrow
93 FM. All Rock & Roll Classics.” Pretty
standard stuff. But the catch was inside – every
one of the calendar’s pages posed a classic
rock question such as “Who drew the connect-the-dots
picture on the cover of The Who By Numbers album?” or “Who
played guitar on the Beatles’ ‘While
My Guitar Gently Weeps’?” The hook:
The answers weren’t given on the calendar,
only on the air or at Arrow’s Web site.
The calendars were distributed by Arrow at various
on-site promotions and by its salespeople as leave-behinds
for radio-spot buyers – an especially fickle
bunch when it comes to grabbing their attention.
“[The calendars] brought awareness to Arrow
93 FM,” said Kim Kelly, manager of marketing
and promotions. “They sit on everybody’s
desk, and whatever is in front of you is often
the thing that holds the most interest and [creates]
That awareness has garnered some definite results. “In
terms of ratings, the [overall] ratings remained
somewhat flat, but the cumulative went up,” said
Kelly. “And the cumulative measures the overall
size of the audience.”
Looks like a promo that tuned in its target.
There’s Something About Puffy:
20th Century Fox Dogs It
With so many new films being released – a
number of them less than memorable – it’s
not easy for a particular film that doesn’t
have mega roll-out bucks behind it to get some
ink from the critics. Especially when the film
in question is as quirky and strange as the summer
hit There’s Something About Mary.
While the comedy had several unforgettable scenes,
one in particular concerned a rather unfriendly
small dog of questionable pedigree named Puffy.
During the course of the movie, the little pooch
is unintentionally fed some methamphetamines, and
encounters a rare doggy accident – taking
a flying jump at someone, missing them and sailing
out of a window several stories up.
The next time Puffy’s seen on screen, he’s
sporting a full body cast, able to move only his
tongue. But even then, the incapacitated canine
still experiences a few misadventures – such
as being accidentally left on the roof of an SUV
being driven home from the supermarket – that
could leave even the most humorless in tears from
The makers of Mary, 20th Century Fox Studios,
correctly believed the post-trauma Puffy would
be one of those standout moments filmgoers talk
about long after the movie’s over. It was
therefore decided that the dog would be able to
generate the desired amount of commotion to help
get word of the film out among the public.
Just before its debut, members of the media received
an ordinary plush dog, complete with a realistic-looking
rubber tongue, wrapped in a real body cast and
wearing tags bearing his name and the name of the
film. The final touch: The dogs were individually
wrapped and packed into imprinted dog cages.
“We wanted to showcase the dog as the main
attraction of the movie by creating a limited-edition
collectable piece to be sent out to all of the
press and publicity broadcasters around the country
prior to the release of the movie,” said
Jim Davidson, the promotional consultant who handled
Preparing the mailing, however, was no walk in
the park. “To make the dog was a nightmare,” said
Davidson, “From the time I found the dog
to the time I found the manufacturer who could
actually hand-wrap each one took probably 60 to
70 days. The initial run was 600. There was a follow-up
run when people saw them and they started getting
out; we just became inundated with requests.”
When all was said and done, the supplier had run
out of dogs and others had to be found as replacements.
The second run produced 350 Puffys, most of which
went to overseas press.
The results speak for themselves: “We generated
about an 80% response from all of the recipients
requesting information on the movie and looking
for additional Puffys,” Davidson said. Even
competitors were in awe of the promo. “Twentieth
Century Fox had people from Disney, Sony and Paramount
calling them to get the dogs,” he noted. “Puffy
was a star.”
Sheer Triumph For Shears Promotion
Don Sanders, a promotional consultant, was looking
to expand his client base back in 1994, and he
knew how he wanted, and how he didn’t want
to, market his company. For one, he knew he didn’t
want to do it over the phone.
“I hate when people I don’t know anything
about, call me on a sales call,” he said.
And so, he believed, do others. So he decided to
use what he uses best: promotional products.
He decided to use a direct mailing to solicit
responses from potential clients and he chose a
pair of high quality scissors as the bait. The
shears were imprinted with Sanders’ company
logo and phone number on the handle and accompanied
by company literature and a response card. At first
he sent the scissors with the initial mailing but
found the response rate unacceptable. Then he sent
only the response card as the second mailing. Still
he was unsatisfied; people were returning the card
to get the scissors, but not making time to meet
with him. Finally, he decided the only way responders
would receive the scissors was through hand-delivery
by Sanders himself.
“That’s part of the deal,” he
said. “The only way you get the box with
the scissors is if you let me come see you. Don’s
got to come with it.”
And the new strategy worked wonders, netting Sanders’ a
10% response and personal meeting rate. With just
one particular client it bumped sales up $40,000.
PhoneCard Express’ Self-Promo
Campaign “Kicks Butt”
Building stronger name recognition isn’t
just for promotional consultants’ clients,
you know. Companies within the promotional products
industry have to do exactly the same thing to
set themselves apart from the competition. And
since self-promotions are usually going to folks
who creatively use promotional products for a
living – the product, packaging and presentation
had better be memorable.
In one product manufacturer’s case, it
definitely was. It used a unique, effective method
to get its business message across to current
and potential promotional consultant clients.
Wishing to showcase its creativity as well as
its humor, the company used an extra-large pair
of Fruit of the Loom men’s briefs, imprinted
with the words, “Our PhoneCard Promotions
Really Kick Butt!” and, on the rear, the
image of a footprint in color. Accompanying the
illustration was the company’s logo and
“Imagine the brainstorming meetings for
this promotion,” said Jennifer Gannon,
who handles the marketing for the manufacturer. “Needless
to say, more than one time we laughed so hard
our faces turned red. We knew we were taking
somewhat of a risk by sending the most intimate
of apparel, but we were willing to do it to show
our clients how creative we are.”
The targeted recipients of the dimensional mailing
were current customers and people with whom the
company had developed relationships over the
years. Shipped via first-class mail in September,
the Fruit of the Looms were packaged in a box
that had a liner on its bottom displaying the
company’s product line. Lying on top of
the underwear was a printed yellow-lined piece
of notepaper with “A brief note ...” written
in script. Nearly 700 packages were sent out,
at a cost of approximately $6 apiece.
Gannon says the company is committed to doing
two self-promotional mailings a year because
of the high company recognition value, and because
it reinforces the firm’s image as an integral
creative partner. “From doing these, we’ve
definitely seen clients become very comfortable
coming to us to brainstorm ideas for their campaigns,” she
said. “Also, we’ve become known in
the industry for our funny mailings. Many people
now recognize us and say, ‘So what are
you guys going to do next?’” The
added benefit to that kind of notoriety, noted
Gannon, is that it definitely sets the company
apart from its competition.
The results of the “Kick Butt” campaign
were, by any standard, impressive. “Based
on the quantity sent out and the phoned in responses,
we logged a response rate of approximately 10%,” Gannon
said, adding that a number of its top clients
took the time to call and commend the company
for its humor and ingenuity.
Almost as impressive as the high rate of response,
a few promotional consaltants even paid the company
perhaps the ultimate industry compliment, asking, “Can
we use your idea to promote our company?”
Farmer’s Scraper And Almanac
Promotional consultant Jerome Golfman was looking
to help his company stand out in the melee of
the holiday gift-giving season and give more
than a happy holiday/thank you gift but also
one that demonstrated the company’s talents
and ingenuity with materials.
“Sending holiday gifts to our preferred
3/4 of clients is something I do every year,” Golfman
said. But this particular year, 1996, he had
more to work with due to having more in mind.
The product choice was a 1997 Old Farmer’s
Almanac and a mitten scraper. Imprinted on the
ice scraper was the copy “The weather outside
is FRIGHTFUL … So stay at home” and
the company’s logo. The almanac included
a special message on the back titled “1997
Promotional Forecast” and included several
clever lines such as “Promotional product
demand throughout the year will be high.”
A thousand promotional sets were sent out to
current and potential clients with timing on
“The great thing is that probably more
than 50% of them were mailed the day before the
first frost of the year, and that night we had
our first significant frost and ice,” said
The promotion was such a success that his phone
started ringing just minutes after clients received
them. And many clients were ordering the same
“It was a total fluke,” he said. “You
can’t plan that.”
Opus’ Disappointing Gift
Yields 200% Increase
With the Christmas-season holidays rapidly approaching,
Opus Stuff, the merchandising division of Opus
Event Marketing, was faced with an interesting
dilemma of sorts: Opus develops and supplies
merchandise for marketing promotions. The company
prides itself on a proactive approach using market
research, state-of-the-art technology and a vast
network of associates to find unique products
that meet clients’ objectives.
With that in mind, Opus needed to, via its own
holiday gift, convince its clients that it was
the most creative corporate gift source – better
than Santa Claus’ North Pole Compound.
Opus wanted something with a definite twist.
The result was an unpredictable direct mailing
that was the ultimate in predictability.
The mailing was sent to every one of Opus’ clients
nationwide via UPS. These clients included several
high-profile firms. When clients received and
opened their packages, they found a letter and
a fruitcake. That’s right; fruitcake. Perhaps
the most joked-about holiday gift – perhaps
worse than socks or underwear. A “gift” that,
largely through its reputation, many see as offensively
With fruitcake carrying such a heavy social
stigma – perhaps undeserved – for
years, imagine the disappointment one would feel
opening this gift from a valued business associate.
But disappointment was precisely the sentiment
Opus was gambling on. The firm actually built
its message around it, mentioning in the letter
that it had “over 460,000 ideas better
The sales pitch in the letter was delivered
with inventive cheek, mentioning how “holiday
gifts used to be pretty simple ... but do you
know what ‘10 lords-a-leaping’ go
for now a day? ... And where is Bob in accounting
going to put a partridge in a pear tree?’” Playing
on the fruitcake’s projected disappointing
effect, it added, “Look how it made you
feel to get it, and multiply that by everyone
on your gift list.”
The mailing yielded fantastic results. “Our
Christmas sales increased over 200 percent,” said
Robb Pair, Opus Stuff CEO.
Much of the mailing’s success may be due
to the fact that Opus sent it to both the employees
it normally dealt with, as well as the executives.
It received numerous phone messages and emails
from clients, and a couple of letters from their
CEOs, commending them on the creativity of the
Michele Bell is editor of Imprint and Josh Vasquez
is a contributing writer to Imprint.