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5 Hottest Marketing Trends
By Jen Zorger
August, 2009

Does your tweeting leave them chirping? Are you aware that awareness marketing is huge? Are you getting all the green you can from eco-friendly promotions? Find out how to add value to your client's campaigns by taking advantage of these hot trends.

Tweet this:  A recent survey of distributors and suppliers on shows that 91% of them use Twitter. Only 20% of them did one year ago. The poll also shows that 86% use Facebook (34% a year ago); and 84% use LinkedIn (45% a year ago). This dramatic increase of usage in the ad specialty industry alone illustrates the marketing power of social media sites.

It’s no surprise. Such media promote community and connectedness. Those qualities – along with a sense of social responsibility and a touch of goofiness and humor for fun – are some of the characteristics of promotions that are building big brand buzz right now. Here we take a look at five top strategies you can use today.

Hot Trend: Social Media

XoneFacebook and Twitter are the big ones, but new social media sites keep popping up. There’s MySpace, Naymz, Plaxo and even ASI Social Media. Social media is a lot of fun, but it can also help forge business relationships.

How it was applied in a campaign: Gold Bond Inc. (asi/57653) wanted a creative way to promote their X-one mug. As a travel mug, the X-one is always going places, so the marketing team figured social media was a natural fit, and the X-one Facebook page was born ( "We think that friendship with a mug is pretty compelling, especially when the mug is going places and experiencing things," says Karen Sherrill, director of marketing.

One of the highlights of the page is a "Places I’ve Been" photo album. While the first photos were posted by Gold Bond, distributors and other fans can also snap their mugs on vacation or around town, upload the photos to their Facebook pages, and tag them to the album. To encourage this, Gold Bond sent out X-one samples and encouraged distributors to participate.

"Distributors have taken to this more quickly than we imagined," says Gold Bond President Mark Godsey. He’s especially excited about photos of the mug with a passport, apparently at an airport. "We can’t wait to see the photos that come from that trip," he adds.

Why it worked: "One of the important elements seems to be humor or intrigue that will give friends and fans a reason to pick your tweets and posts out of the onslaught of others," Sherrill says. Her team achieves this by posting status updates that follow some surprisingly perilous adventures, like a mug-napping complete with ransom notes.

One big benefit of using social media is the buzz it generates. "When a distributor posts a comment saying how much they love the mug, it is more credible than any ad I can buy. Best yet, it’s a free medium. The only cost is time," Sherill says.

As we went to press, the page had only been up for three weeks, but the mug already had over 100 fans. "We are in the very early stages of the campaign," Sherrill says, "but we can tell you that we are finding an increase in orders, great comments about the product on other sites, and tons of interest as distributors tell us that they are presenting  both the product and the online campaign to large customers."

Take advantage of this trend: A Facebook page could be set up for your client’s product or service, for their company mascot or for characters they use in advertising in other media. But Sherill sees tying in a promotional product as key. "The huge advantage of promotional products is the ability to engage," she says, "to get people to interact with your brand. Our Facebook and Twitter campaigns create the community wherein people can share their interactions."

The status updates on Facebook can also be tied into a Twitter account.

Hot Trend: Brand Ambassadors

Adelante"Brand ambassadors" are professionally trained guerilla marketers or street teams who interact with prospects in public areas or in targeted locations like trade shows, malls, event venues or even office buildings.

How it was applied in a campaign: Despite drawing top drivers like Scott Pruett and actor Patrick Dempsey, Grand Am Road Racing doesn’t get quite the attention of some series. Luckily, brand ambassadors from the Tampa-based experiential marketing agency Adelante Live Inc. are working on that, using a two-pronged approach. "We have a street team that goes out during the day to high-traffic areas," says Adelante President Janice Rodriguez. "At nighttime, we have the Grand Am girls go out to bars, restaurants and nightclubs and interact with people in that environment."

A few weeks before each race, the street team works in high-foot-traffic areas. Besides inviting prospective fans to the race, they give out a Spotters’ Guide with track info, as well as schedule magnets and posters. This approach is also used at other events, like an air show that took place before the Watkins Glen race.

The nighttime street teams spend more time with the people they approach. "Usually people are there sitting and relaxing," Rodriguez says, "so we do a little more interactive game with them – kind of test their trivia knowledge on general racing stuff and then give out a branded item." Those who do best get a T-shirt or complimentary race tickets.

Why it worked: A key target audience for the promotion is young adult males – a group easy to find on the street, at events like the air show and in bars and clubs. "We talk to everybody," Rodriguez says, "but Grand Am has done some market research that shows our existing fan base, and they tend to fall into that 21- to 35-year-old range."

While talking to potential fans, brand ambassadors also collect subscriptions for the Grand-Am e-newsletter and promote watching the race on Speed TV. Efforts leading up to the first two races after the launch of the program resulted in more than 5,000 e-mail subscriptions and record-breaking attendance at the tracks.

Take advantage of this trend: Brand ambassadors and ad specialties are a natural pairing. If your client’s product is consumer-oriented and relevant to a wide audience, any high-traffic area will do. Other good places to use brand ambassadors include malls for fashion and beauty products, and parks, beaches and music festivals for energy drinks, foods, video games and other entertainment products. Don’t forget to deck out the street teams in branded wearables.

Hot Trend: Eco-Friendly and Socially Responsible Promotions

The explosion of organic- and sustainable-fabric wearables in the industry over the last couple of years is just one indication of how popular green promotions have become. Recycled, recyclable and reusable products are another way for companies to show they’re eco-friendly.

How it was applied in a campaign: We all know how much damage plastic bags do to the environment. High-end retailer Fred Segal Santa Monica is tackling the problem by teaming up with a locally relevant organization. "Heal the Bay is a leading activist group whose charter is to clean up the Santa Monica Bay," says Todd Singleton, CEO of The Singleton Co. (asi/328000), who partnered on the project.

Singleton’s challenge was to find an alternative to disposable shopping bags that would appeal to Fred Segal’s high-end customers. He worked with Neely Manufacturing Co. Inc. (asi/73510) to come up with a quality cotton-canvas bag with the retailer’s logo on one side and the cause logo on the other. "They made the bags in the U.S.A.," he says, "and we had a custom-woven label sewn into the inside seam."

The bags were distributed at a Heal the Bay annual fundraising dinner. Before the event, bags were also sold at Fred Segal for $18, and 100% of the proceeds went to the cause. "The entire front window section of Fred Segal had the bags floating in the display against a faux blue sea background," Singleton says.

Why it worked: Replacing plastic bags with reusable versions is huge right now, but tying in with a local activist group made this campaign particularly strong. "The offering was directed to Santa Monica residents, local business owners and friends of Heal the Bay," Singleton says. "You have to understand how passionate this community is about political causes like water quality and the need for reusable bags."

People were eager to help, purchasing 5,000 bags to raise an additional $35,000 for the cause. They also proudly carried the totes around town. "The status of being associated with Fred Segal and Heal the Bay makes these a sought-after item," Singleton says. "We have plans to repeat the program."

Take advantage of this trend: Nonwoven bags are pretty much a must-have for supermarkets now and are very cost-effective. But other types of retailers, like Fred Segal, are now beginning to offer more upscale reusable bags. Reinforce the message by looking at eco-friendly fabrics like organic cotton, bamboo or recycled material.

In addition, green alternatives can now be found for just about any promotional product or program. Wearables made from organic and sustainable fiber are hotter than ever, and today’s recycled products are as beautifully crafted as traditional choices.

Hot Trend: Mobile & Experiential Marketing

SourceWiseMobile marketing usually involves a wrapped van or custom vehicle – the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is probably the original example – where products are sampled or demonstrated. It may also involve a "pop-up store" – a temporary retail presence, usually in a big city.

How it was applied in a campaign: Wise Foods Inc. definitely lives up to its name when it comes to sports marketing. For the last four summers, the company has worked with agency Source Communications and have upped their response each time. This year, Wise tied mobile marketing into a campaign that culminated with a Guinness World Record attempt for "most potato chips ever crunched at once" at the July 10 Mets-Reds game at Citi Field in Flushing, NY.

At the time we went to press, the record attempt hadn’t taken place yet, but the mobile effort was off and running. Brand ambassadors appeared with a Wise-wrapped van at heavy traffic sites throughout the metropolitan area. Besides distributing chips, they staged a "Spin the Wheel" game in which players could win Mets tickets or Wise-branded merchandise, including sling backpacks, lunch coolers and bobbleheads of shortstop José Reyes.

Dan Stenchever, manager of Proforma Garden State Graphics (branch of asi/300094), worked on the bag and cooler. "These items fell perfectly within the budget given and were able to be printed in either a four-color spot application or a sublimation process," he says. "I chose Norwood Air-Tex (asi/33260) because I could keep both items in the same location and not worry about complications with multiple vendors."

Why it worked: "Wise was looking for a grassroots campaign, and they wanted to be on the streets, where their consumers were," says Amy Ehrlich of Source Communications. "They felt this was the best way to do that and also draw excitement to their brand."

Though the campaign was ongoing as we spoke, it was clear the mobile promos were a grand slam. "It’s been very positive when we go into a neighborhood and we set up the prize wheel and people have the opportunity to win," Ehrlich says. "And we’re also sampling snack products at the same time, so everybody’s getting something. Everybody’s a winner."

Take advantage of this trend: Besides sampling foods and drinks, mobile marketing is perfect for personal products, like perfumes and lotions. Tying the promotion in with a game gives you more time with your audience and allows you to give away higher-value products to winners along with inexpensive ones for everyone. Besides "spin the wheel," try dart games, shooting galleries or bingo.

Hot Trend: Cause Awareness

DiamondPolishGlossRelated to social responsibility, in cause marketing, a company fosters goodwill by adopting a worthy cause, such as awareness and research for a disease or funds for disaster relief. Often a percentage of proceeds from the sale of a product or line is donated to the cause, or companies may ask employees and customers for small donations.

How it was applied in a campaign: To do their part to raise awareness about breast cancer, Diamond Cosmetics Inc. (asi/49640) offers special pink-themed products and donates 10% of profits to the cause. "The polish and lip gloss have both been purchased by corporate sponsors of Walk For The Cure programs and are used as giveaway items to participants," says Lisa Antinelli, vice president of private label design for Diamond.

The sponsor’s name is imprinted on the product, which goes into a gift bag, along with literature about the company. Sponsor names are also featured in advertising and publicity for the event. "The combination of these two benefits creates high visibility, but it also creates goodwill for the corporation sponsoring the event," Antinelli says, "as the participants receiving these products know exactly which companies are spending their advertising dollars to sponsor these fundraising events."

Why it worked: Breast cancer is mostly a women’s disease, and many of the Walk participants are female. Giving away cosmetics addressed this fact. "These products promote pampering and feeling good about oneself," Antinelli says. "Truth be told, these are unique items to be given away – and what woman doesn’t love cosmetics?"

Besides keeping sponsors top-of-mind after the event, the products offered word-of-mouth value, too. "If someone takes a bottle of nail polish to the salon to have her nails done, when she hands the bottle to the nail tech, they’re going to talk about how and where she got that bottle of polish," Antinelli says. "More people may join in the conversation, and now the topic of conversation is that corporate sponsor."

Since the program started in September of 2007 Diamond has sold 11,372 bottles of the nail polish. "We just started offering the lip gloss this year, so we’ll see what kind of results we get," Antinelli says.

Take advantage of this trend: Mammography centers, hospitals and health-care facilities have all purchased these products and distribute them at their locations or at community events to raise awareness and remind women to have mammograms. Even banks have distributed the products to female clientele during the month of October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month).

But don’t stop at breast cancer. Worthy awareness campaigns run throughout the year, and Diamond Cosmetics is involved with a new one, Teal for Toes, just in time for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in September. The attention-grabbing polish shade "Don’t Teal My Heart Away" is intended to start a conversation among women about the disease. For each bottle sold, 10% of profit goes to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. For more info, go to

For year-round causes you can help to promote, check out our monthly Hot Dates section, as well as

Jen Zorger is senior associate editor of Advantages.

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