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Psssst! Copy These Marketing SecretsYou Can Copy from the Big Guys

Don’t have the marketing budget of a big brand? That doesn’t mean you can’t emulate their buzz-building strategies. Check out these on-the-cheap tactics the major players use to keep consumers engaged.

This year Super Bowl XL grabbed more viewers than any show in history except for the finale of M*A*S*H. Big-spending brands truly got their money’s worth when it came to getting their message in front of viewers’ eyeballs. However, spending millions to talk to consumers, who may or may not be paying attention, for a grand total of 30 seconds just isn’t in the budget for most companies. That’s why smart marketers need to take heed – not of the millions that megabrands spend, but rather of some below-the-line tricks that they leverage to keep consumers in the game.

Let’s take Tide. It doesn’t just rely on TV commercials to cement its standing as the nation’s number-one detergent. Instead parent company Procter & Gamble often looks to other means to support its brand message, like, in the example below, unearthing flip books from the archive of long-lost toys.

Here are five secrets marketers big and small can learn from SoBe, OppenheimerFunds International, Jack in the Box, Samsung and Tide:

SoBe Had an Attitude Problem (And Liked It)

Perhaps no brand has had more fun with its image than SoBe Beverages. The juice and tea brand’s former CEO John Bello reveled in his brand’s irreverence (it was sold to PepsiCo in 2000, and Bello later departed).

Its lizard logo, Mr. Green, starred on T-shirts, skateboards, guitars and socks, along with messages like “drain the lizard” or, for the holidays, “deck the halls with lizard balls.”

The brand’s “Lizard gear” line of products was its best promotional vehicle, fueled by one part cool design and one part smart marketing. Rather than sign big stars, SoBe looked for alternative stars, signing Bode Miller more than half a decade before he would become a checkered Olympic icon, golf bad-boy Jon Daly, surfer and current American Express pitchman Laird Hamilton and volleyballer Gabrielle Reece. What’s more, skateboarders, snowboarders and the like happily supported the counterculture, underground drink.

Radio ads starred rapping fans, a lunatic bus driver and, literally, the janitor from its ad agency who happened to have a funny accent. But the brand’s success had little to do with ads. It always came back to its swag, says Bello, who is now involved with Izze Beverages and the SoupMan (aka the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld).

“Fun, functional and free gear was a cornerstone of SoBe’s success. And because SoBe was cool, funky, stylish and of good quality, it was worn. What better combination…distribution and evergreen advertising,” he says. “Plus, other brand-reinforcing concepts such as mountain bikes, skateboards, guitars, snowboards, surfboards and stickers added to the SoBe mystique…these items transcended beverages and became the brand.”

SoBe continues to leverage its bad boy heritage built from its successful promotional products strategy. The iconic Mr. Green lizard logo continues to pop up on its Lizard Gear, like guitars, hoodies, water bottles and cell phone wallpaper, as well as on the packaging of its new product launches like SoBe Life Water which debuted earlier this year.

Secret #1: A little attitude goes a long way

OppenheimerFunds International Assumes a Different Position

The folks over at OppenheimerFunds International were proud of their mutual fund’s performance record. They wanted clients to know that they could blend the right mix of investments to make them money and keep them happy. Problem was, so did the competition. Everyone touted their ability to make money for their customers, so regardless of Oppenheimer’s performance, they weren’t standing out. “Financial advisors were sent pens and Lucite paperweights, but those just blended in with the other gifts from other mutual fund companies,” says Simon Sinek, CEO of SinekPartners, New York. “Those promotional items were largely ineffective.”

Companies like OppenheimerFunds International need to understand the things that drive a customer’s decision beyond product features and commodity-type benefits. A gasoline company marketing the fact that it makes your car run is asinine. However, a gasoline company marketing the fact that its fuel helps your engine run cleaner, combined with a discount coupon for Armor All at the local car wash makes good sense.

“No one invests in mutual funds to lose money, so performance is cost-of-entry,” says Sinek.

OppenheimerFunds International redirected its brand message from one of performance to one of relationships, because the fact of the matter is that financial advisors had to build strong relationships with investors before they could sell them anything.

OppenheimerFunds shifted gears and used this valuable insight to demonstrate that they understood the value of these relationships. Instead of pens, Oppenheimer sent thank you cards, inscribed with the message, “We understand that to build your business, you have to build relationships first. We feel the same way.” The card went to financial advisors they hoped would sell their funds. “In an instant, financial advisors could see that OppenheimerFunds understood how they did business,” says Sinek.

Other supporting marketing and sales tactics have been developed, all with the aim of demonstrating the importance of relationships. Each idea is cheaper and more effective than the arbitrary gifts that were the mutual fund’s standard. “They replaced random ideas with a focused strategy that mattered to customers,” says Sinek. “That’s how to create marketing that works.”

Secret #2: Say something different.

Jack in the Box Hits the Highway

It’s not easy for Jack in the Box to compete against McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and others. Not only can the big-three burgers outspend them in media and research and development, they have more locations in which to lure hungry consumers. Rather than try to unfurl the next great piece of ad creative, like the creepy Burger King who may or may not wake up in bed with you in the morning or play quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Jack in the Box has kept things simple. Instead of looking to the TV, its marketers looked to the car. After all, when you’re cruising down the highway and hunger strikes where better to have a reminder of where to go eat.”

That’s why Jack in the Box created its antenna balls. Roughly 1-inch circular foam head replicas of the burger chain’s brand icon “Jack” have been gracing car antennas since 1995. There are currently about 27 million in circulation, per the chain. “The antenna balls are a fun, collectible token for Jack in the Box fans, and they’re a great way to promote the brand,” says Kathleen Finn, spokesperson for the San Diego-based chain. “There are millions of antenna balls cruising around atop car antennas out there. That’s a lot of moving billboards.”

Originally the idea was to make the disembodied foam heads the sales force for the launch of Sourdough Jack, but since then, there have been Millennium balls, 50th Anniversary balls, etc.

This is a strategy that has been copied often online, but rarely successful. Viral marketing, where a message is passed from one to another in a holistic manner, is the holy grail of advertising. All brands want to have that secret weapon that everyone sees and talks about. Most recently, for Burger King, it was the Subservient Chicken Web site. Curious consumers told their friends all about it, and suddenly everyone was thinking about Burger King and chicken in the same thought.

What marketers often forget is that viral marketing doesn’t have to be a goofy online gimmick. It can be brought offline with a little brand ingenuity and enthusiasm.

The most recent Jack in the Box antenna ball promotion, which ran over the holidays, offered a free ball with the purchase of a large combo. It featured three seasonal designs: a reindeer, snowman and 2006 New Year’s Eve ball. The chain is not currently running an antenna ball promotion in its restaurants, but the antenna balls are available รก la carte.

Secret #3: Viral marketing doesn’t have to be online.

Samsung Steps it Up

Not long ago, Samsung was equated with low-quality inexpensive electronics. Want a cheap 19-inch analog set? Samsung was your brand. Want the latest and greatest technology? Sony was the obvious choice.

The Korean brand made a conscious decision to change its game and make an electrifying play for category leader Sony. To do so, it elected to brand all of its products, be they cell phones, TVs or computer monitors, with the Samsung name.

Sony, on the other hand, believes strongly in sub-branding. Its new LCD TVs are called Bravia, its portable music devices Walkman and its cell phones Sony Ericsson.

Samsung’s R&D department went for the low-hanging fruit first, namely teen cell phone users. Samsung was among the first to offer camera phones and virtually every other bell and whistle on the market today. Soon the Samsung name was finding its way into the pockets of consumers everywhere. What’s more, Samsung was quickly becoming known as an innovator, so when its high-end TVs and other devices hit the market, consumers were already comfortable with this new image.

“If you want to be the leader, you have to act like the leader,” says Peter Weedfald, senior vice president of marketing for Samsung consumer electronics in the U.S. “The core of leadership is consistency, frequency and relevancy, 24 hours a day, to both retail channel partners and important consumers you’re trying to reach, market and sell to.”

When it came to marketing and advertising, Samsung was one of the first to consistently splash its name across Internet sites everywhere after the dot-com bubble burst. The brand made its presence known through efficient online media buys before online advertising came back in vogue. All of its ads, product placement and sponsorships say one word: Samsung. And each, be it upscale ads, sponsorship of the Winter Olympics, or product placement in the Matrix sequels, conveys an upscale feeling.

The result: Last year for the first time ever the Samsung brand value surpassed Sony’s on the Interbrand/BusinessWeek Top 100 Global Brands list.

“Our greatest weapon is so many of our competitors are mercurial,” says Weedfald. “One day they look like this, another like that – that doesn’t sustain or build the relationship.”

Secret #4: Be consistent with your brand message.

Tide Flips Out

Barreling towards the finish line at Darlington Raceway, Nascar drivers Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch mashed bumpers before Craven won the photo finish victory in 2003. Craven and his No. 32 Tide 2004 Chevrolet Monte Carlo competed in one of the most memorable races in Nascar history. To commemorate it, Procter & Gamble’s Tide brand did something very un-P&G-like: it created a flip book. Flip books consist of a series of pictures that, when flipped with your thumb, look like a moving picture. While they were popular decades ago, they had pretty much passed into obscurity.

Using the books to allow race fans to recreate the finish at Darlington was a coup. “The goal is always to engage and involve consumers,” says Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, a branding and loyalty consultancy based in New York City. “Part of that is being creative, and part of it is not falling into the trap of thinking you have to buy a Super Bowl ad. There are plenty of low-tech things out there that are very promotional in nature. All you need to do is be creative.”

This applies to using all types of promotional products. However, the flip books provided a more unusual angle considering “15 years ago, flip animation was left for dead,” says Jeffrey Kay, president of the company that produced the book for P&G and has worked with Puma and others. “All of these new emerging technologies were taking the spotlight, like e-mail, html, Flash…flip books were just left in the garbage heap. We were able to take that moment in time, capture it and put it in a book. It was really an exciting moment. People were able to relive it.” Tide is considering using the flip book in other upcoming promotions. Why? Passikoff says flip books and items like them transcend all generations. He equates playing with the book to opening a box of Crayolas. “You’re transported back to your schoolroom.”

Still, the moral of the story is less about P&G using a creative promotional product, than that the consumer packaged goods giant found a way to engage Tide consumers that didn’t involve the same tired 30-second television spot showing how clean it can make your shirts.

Creating engaging promotional products “is something any small business can do. And it’s more interactive than asking me to answer questions on a Web site, and more entertaining than Super Bowl ads, especially this year,” says Passikoff.

Secret #5: Engagement of consumers, whether you’re a big or small company, doesn’t have to cost a lot.

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

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