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Draw A Crowd: How to Use Promo Items With Contests

From stuffed mules to RedHot underwear, here’s how brands pair creative promotional products and contests to attract more customers.

Borax is an old brand, 115 years old, to be exact. Like many veteran brands, its consumer base tends to be, well, a bit older. To draw in a younger generation of women who were unfamiliar with its 20 Mule Team Borax laundry product, the Dial Corporation opted to create a contest with some kick to it. The “Kicks Like a Mule” sweepstakes, which ran this year, offered consumers the chance to win $2,000. Sure the money was nice, but the prize consumers really got a kick out of was for second place 100 stuffed toy mules.

“Consumers really enjoyed the branded mules,” says Angela Bachman, account executive with Ligget Stashower, the company that handled the promotion. “The idea was to take the name, make a caricature of it and use it to link the consumer back to the brand. Even though it’s a branded item, it was fun and wasn’t forced on them. People were excited about it.”

How excited? Nearly three-quarters of a million (700,000) people visited the promotional Web site for the “Kicks like a Mule” effort. Almost a third of a million (328,500) signed up to win the sweepstakes. Making these results even more impressive is the fact that 58,000 people opted in to receive future information about special offers and contests.

“That’s very high, especially for a laundry booster,” says Bachman. “This was a great vehicle for the brand.”

As in the case of Borax, a well-selected, creative logoed premium can be quite a prize. It can aid in brand building, consumer engagement and all of those other wonderful marketing buzzwords. This fact has been proven among brands large (Maxell) as well as small (UJeans).

“If done well, logoed merchandise can build a brand’s presence and relationship with consumers,” says Mary Clare Middleton, associate director of consumer products at Wheatley & Timmons, which regularly creates promotions for Cocktails by Jenn, a producer of premium, ready-to-drink vodka martinis. “A brand can’t be at all places at all times, but it should maintain a strong presence in the lifestyles of their target consumers. Logoed merchandise that strategically reaches the consumer in the right places can help brands build relationships with their target.”

Wayne Aames, sales manager for Premier Corporate Specialties agrees. “The name of the game is staying power. It’s what it’s all about. You want something to leave behind to build a lasting impression.”

Middleton has used items as simple as stickers for the Cocktails by Jenn “Step up Your Style” shoe sweepstakes and more elaborate Sargento-branded wine and cheese backpacks for the cheese brand.

The Sargento backpack held place settings for two, wine glasses, a cheese board, a cheese knife and a bottle of wine. Sargento had a custom, branded label developed for the wine as well. “This gift fits perfectly with the food adventurer who likes to eat cheese and enjoy wine, Sargento’s key consumer,” she says. “The secret to successful contests lies in relevancy. It must be a fit with the brand and a fit with the consumer. The biggest, flashiest prize isn’t usually the best way to go. A contest must reflect the brand’s traits and speak to the lifestyle of the target audience. For Cocktails by Jenn, that means developing giveaways centering on women, friendship, fun and fashion. For Sargento, that means appealing to their target’s passion for fine food and cooking.”

Now That’s Hot
Chicken wings can be a misunderstood food. Sure, drunken frat boys may be into ordering 100 “atomic wings” that numb their tongues and make their eyes water, but there are other milder, yummier versions.

This is one of the points Frank’s RedHot Cayenne Pepper Sauce tries to drive home yearly during its “Frank’s RedHot Battle to the Bone Buffalo Wing Eating Competitions.” Aside from the aforementioned frat boys, other are invited to sample the products at the five-city event.

Mansour Fahmy, brand manager for Frank’s RedHot, says many are often surprised when they get a chance to sample the product. “The Battle to the Bone Wing Eating events are all about consumer sampling,” he says. “People who were afraid of hot sauce, but were familiar with Buffalo wings were surprised to know that Frank’s RedHot is the flavor behind the original Buffalo wing recipe. Consumers were eager to participate in order to get a free bottle of RedHot or other branded swag. We wanted to drive trial so we offered product sampling so consumers could taste the sauce and experience the spicy, tangy and buttery flavor that’s not nearly as hot as the name suggests.”

To give them more than just a taste of the product that day, consumers were sent home with medals, T-shirts, boxers, aprons and keychains.

At each venue the booth played an integral part in driving Wing Eating participation. It had Frank’s RedHot branding everywhere, with music blasting and a friendly staff handing out “a ton” of free giveaways.

Visitors were invited to try a ring-toss game (the target being the sauce bottles) to win a Frank’s RedHot Lover T-shirt (there were 5,000 distributed in total), Frank’s RedHot A Thrill A Bite boxer shorts (2,000), RedHot keychain bottle openers (50,000), RedHot magnets (5,000), RedHot Lover flashing lip lights (8,000), or a bottle of any of the four flavors of RedHot (15,000). Consolation prizes were RedHot Lover lip stickers (2,000) and RedHot Lover tattoos (30,000). The object was to make sure that no one walked away empty-handed.

While the crowds lined-up for the ring toss and their free swag, RedHot workers would broadcast communication points, recipes, and solicit wing eaters for the main event over the PA system.

“The event provided a great sampling opportunity to help overcome category and brand penetration barriers (namely the fact that it’s perceived as too hot) with consumers,” says Fahmy. “It helped create an emotional bond between the brand and consumers. Festival attendees developed an emotional connection to Frank’s RedHot brand, associating it with the good times they had at a festival event. When encountering it later, they will recall happy feelings.”

Maxell, which is a second-year sponsor of the ESPN X Games, also used its well-known brand and brand icon to develop a highly desired logoed prize. Custom-made Maxell skateboards feature its “Blow Away Guy” icon. Remember him? In case you forgot, he is the man sitting in the chair having his hair blown back by the music emanating from his speakers. He reflects Maxell’s high-performance products.

The board featured “Blow Away” icon graphics in flame red, orange and white colors. It also featured the X Games logo and was a key part of the “Max out with Maxell Media” sweepstakes.

Much as Maxell used the X Games to tie in with teens’ lifestyle, Frank’s RedHot used logoed merchandise to help make its sauce into a fun, tongue-in-cheek lifestyle brand, says Fahmy. “It is a fun brand that is part of consumers’ good, fun times and festivities. Its cool and hip prizes and giveaways remind consumers of that.”

Such giveaways also raise brand awareness and product recall, Fahmy adds. “When consumers spend a long time interacting with a brand, they become aware of it and maximize the chance that they would recall it later at point of purchase,” he says.

“Also, swag is great advertising at the point of consumption – the consumers’ homes. Consumers will keep giveaway items at home and show it to friends and family.”

Selecting fun and unusual products is a recipe for success, says Aames. “We’ve been advising people to look for something more unique. One client we have has an elephant as its icon. We found golf club covers that look like an elephant’s rear end.”

He says too often people will make a safe or generic choice. “People will want gift cards because it’s the easy way out. Recipients do like it, but once you have two or three or four, you have trouble remembering where they came from.”

Recipients aren’t likely to forget where their RedHot Lover underwear came from!

A Perfect Fit for Smaller Brands
For UJeans, which creates made-to-measure jeans, marketing dollars are often as slim as the fashion models who wear its designer competition. That’s why it regularly runs contests giving away samples of its product.

Randomly selected contest winners get the complete UJeansKit. This kit has everything that a customer needs to place an order with UJeans, including a branded measuring tape and a CD tin bearing order instructions branded with the UJeans logo. When the jeans are shipped, they come in a branded denim envelope.

“Being a smaller company, we are very careful with our marketing dollars and always try our best to get maximum value,” says Daniel Feuer, president of UJeans.

The branded tin and denim package provide some good long-term branding opportunities, he says, “because they will not be thrown out. They are both useful items that can be reused and increase the likelihood that the name will be seen by others.”

For Freek Energy, it’s all about standing out among the crowded energy drink category. The brand regularly runs contests and drawings where the prizes consist solely of branded logoed gear like T-shirts, tattoos, stickers and bags. “The response has been incredible,” says Adrienne Lenhoff Wise, president, Shazaaam!, the company that reps the brand.

Prizes are given to the first number of people to find Frank’s new product in their market and provide feedback on the new flavors at Freekenergy.com. People who visit the Web site and provide feedback were also rewarded. And sampling events include chugging contests where the winner gets T-shirts and other branded promo items.

Whether it’s a Freek Energy polo shirt, bearing its evil icons, or a CD tin, choosing quality is essential, says Bonnie Souleyret, owner of Souleyret & Associates, a promotional products distributor. “You want to focus on something that will stay with them. If it’s a good-quality product the advantage is that it will continue to work subliminally. They’ll think, ‘I like that product. I’m going to use it.’”

For example, she often opts to use high-end pens versus cheaper writing instruments because, “They’ll hunt it down to use it. If it’s inexpensive, they’ll just throw it away.”

Feuer says often the denim package becomes refashioned into a purse and the tins become a place for makeup pencils or that collection of loose paper clips. “The tins, even when they’re bashed up, still look good,” says Feuer. “It’s something people will keep long-term, and they will have a better impression of our company knowing we invested more time and effort into our packaging.”

Usefulness is also key. “Just because it’s a tchotchke doesn’t mean it can’t be useful. Key chains and first-aid kits are something people keep with them,” says Souleyret.

Middleton concurs. “Logoed bottle openers from a car company create an opportunity for consumers to interact with the brand even when they’re not in their cars. It will briefly remind consumers, as they open their beverages, that this car company understands their lifestyles and fits into it well.”

Some brands are envious of the others that get to use logoed merchandise. Take Thompson’s Water Seal for example. Yearly it holds its Best Loved Decks contest that gives away a $5,000 grand prize, a $1,000 first prize and up to 50 “deck care kits,” which are $100 worth of the company’s product.

“We’ve got great submissions. Some are poems. There have been proposals on decks. A husband built a deck while his wife was pregnant with triplets,” says Karla Neely, account services for Michael A. Burns & Associates, the company that created the effort.

Still, she says, her goal is to include logoed picture frames in the future. “This way people can display pictures of their decks.” Currently the 500 people who enter receive customized letters. “Hopefully we’ll have the budget for picture frames next year.”

By Kenneth Hein. Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2006.

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