Collaboration: How to avoid crossed wires with cross-promotion

As brand-owners look to get more from their tightened budgets, running promotions across multiple products is becoming a more important and effective tactic, writes Suzy Bashford.

The news that Britvic is running its first cross-brand promotion, with PepsiCo, and backing it with its biggest consumer giveaway to date, is a sign of the times. The 'Reward your thirst' on-pack activity encourages consumers to text in to find out whether they have won prizes, which will be awarded every minute for a year at a cost of £5.5m. The campaign spans a host of brands including Tango, 7-Up, Drench and Mountain Dew.

In the wake of a recession, such promotions make commercial sense. However, Jonathan Gatward, Britvic's brand and activation director, argues that the joint activity is more than just an economy drive and that retailer buy-in is a key part of the strategy too. 'By offering just one promotion across a wide range of brands, we hope it will make it easier for retailers to display something that appeals to a large number of consumers,' he says.

Britvic and PepsiCo are not alone. In a cluttered retail environment, more brands are clubbing together to gain promotional stand-out. That's certainly the case with Warburtons, according to Paul McGann, managing partner at integrated agency Brass, which works with the bread brand. 'With group promotions, you get more display. The point-of-sale gets placed and the promotion achieves critical mass,' he says.

Rather than create a promotion with brands that compete for the same 'occasion' - as Britvic and PepsiCo's soft drinks do - McGann says Warburtons has had success in using a 'shared platform' upon which non-competing products can also stand.

For example, 'breakfast' has proved an effective theme for marketers to promote lines such as crumpets and muffins. 'We've extended this to encompass complementary products, such as cross-couponing with PG Tips and Bertolli spread,' says McGann. 'Ultimately it's about relevance. We are making it easier for consumers to find and eat the perfect breakfast.'

Customer publisher Seven Squared, which works with Sainsbury's, has also found that creating themed platforms that allow such collaborations works best. For the past few Christmases, Sainsbury's has offered a 'Bake a cake' leaflet in-store, which features multiple brands.

'The ingredients of the cake are sponsored by different suppliers,' says Lynne de Lacy, senior account director, creative services, at Seven Squared. 'It's a similar deal to a multiple-supplier advertorial, but they all combine to make a single product, which gives the message much more power. This makes sense as they are non-competitive brands, can be displayed near one another in the baking aisle and produce a unified, long-lasting marketing piece that is useful to customers. Being a recipe, it encourages "keepability".'

Brand integrity

One of the big risks in cross-promotions is that brands can lose their individuality and suffer a dilution of values. Britvic has tried to avoid this by offering prizes that are specific and relevant to each brand. Tango, for example, gives consumers the chance to win a party with 'the Tango dwarf', whereas Pepsi Max offers a US road trip for four. 'Individual brand activity will also continue throughout the year,' says Gatward.

When it comes to running such promotions, Gatward recommends that all areas of the business work together, stressing that communication and early planning are essential. This may sound straightforward, but getting different brands to work in harmony is often easier said than done.

Even if a cross-promotion makes perfect financial and retail sense, individual brands inevitably get less attention, and may even be overshadowed by a more popular, rival product. Many marketers skirt around this issue, but TLC Marketing managing director Gemma Lovelock, who runs cross-promotions for Kellogg, is more open.

'Of course cross-promotions cause friction between brand managers - these campaigns can be very difficult,' she says. 'The strategy is handed down from the gods above and brand managers have to just put up with it, but that doesn't mean they're happy about it.'

Lovelock has witnessed many meetings over the years where power struggles between brand managers dominate the agenda, making it difficult to take decisions due to wildly varying opinions.

So what would her advice be to a brand manager working on a cross-promotion? 'I'd remind myself that by doing this I'm getting a bigger bang for my buck and that all brands will get more reward if they pool their money,' she says. 'There is always an opportunity to speak in a different tone and be single-minded. Particularly on a European scale, cross-promotions are an exciting opportunity as long as you are in the right mindset.'

Lovelock worries that some marketers are getting too greedy, however. She points to a spate of cross-promotions that she believes have stretched the brands and message too far, leading to consumer confusion and POS that becomes 'wallpaper'.

'Take Procter & Gamble's activity before the World Cup around Pringles, which it called "Pringoals",' she says. 'It (rolled out) a related collector mechanic across brands from crisps to soap powder. It ran across so many aisles and so many packs, no one understood the synergy. Mum choosing washing powder is just too different from a bunch of lads having Pringles while watching the footie.'

Another high-profile cross-promotion that Lovelock feels fell flat was Nestle's 'Get active', which ran across its entire portfolio, from cereals to confectionery. She says the idea of encouraging her children to eat three packs of chocolates to redeem an 'activity' prize seemed contradictory, at the very least. 'Putting a health message next to chocolate shows no clear strategy. One size does not fit all with cross-promotions,' she says.

Consumers need to be able to see the relevance of grouping different brands and categories. One way to do this is by tapping into an existing framework, such as a loyalty programme. Brand activation specialist OgilvyAction, for example, ties all its cross-promotions for InterContinental Hotels Group - which comprises the Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Candlewood and Staybridge chains - to the operator's Priority Club reward scheme. This is an effective way to educate consumers about the range in the portfolio, as the majority will be most familiar with one brand and unaware of the others in the stable.

Before multibrand promotions can work, the participating brands must have already communicated their positioning and values clearly to the target consumer, according to OgilvyAction business director Christine Givens.

'You can't just run a multibrand campaign without at least one of the brands being very familiar. If you want to introduce other brands, too, you have to do it one at a time and gradually. We now do joint promotions for Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express, but before we converged their marketing, we spent time working on the perceptions of those brands individually,' she says.

Creative inspiration

Despite the evident logic behind many cross-promotions, there is a general feeling that they don't make for the most creative or inspiring campaigns that spark genuine interest. Guy Bradbury, executive creative director at DDB UK, says, for example, that Britvic and PepsiCo's 'Reward your thirst' approach, while tactically sound, is run-of-the-mill.

'How many of these promotions are on-pack for other products right now, and what does it say for your brand, other than "unoriginal"?' he asks. 'Cross-promotions can build brands and long-term sales, but we need more agencies to create big ideas that can work across multiple specialist disciplines.'

Marketers could learn much from the fashion world, where recent alliances have captured consumers' imaginations, not to mention wallets. Take fashion label Dolce & Gabbana's partnership with Martini Gold, or retailer H&M joining forces with designer Karl Lagerfeld.

'These strategic cross-promotions have more meaning,' says Daniel Dumoulin, director at research agency Sundance. 'Stepping into a category it doesn't own reinforces D&G's core values of glamour and beauty and gives Martini the opportunity to create a "tribe" for Gold. And far from devaluing Lagerfeld, the promotion with H&M reinforces high fashion's power of aspiration, giving people the chance to feel and own the designer's clothes.'

What should marketers in other sectors learn from this? Dumoulin is in no doubt. 'Brands that can work together to bring new insight and loyalty to their existing brands are the ones that make the future of cross-promotion so compelling.'

FIVE TOP TIPS - to ensure frustration-free cross-promotional work

Outline each brand's contribution in a simple contract at the start.

Start planning well in advance with meetings where all parties are involved in decision-making.

If you're feeling a bit like the promotion is not doing your brand justice, remember you are getting a bigger bang for your buck.

Focus on the opportunity the promotion affords for you to speak in a different tone and be single-minded about your particular brand.

Measure the campaign carefully and ensure that your partners are not cannibalising sales.

FIVE QUESTIONS - to answer before rolling out a cross-promotion

- Do the brands share the same potential audience or audience mindset?

- Is there a theme to hang the promotion on that is relevant to all the brands involved?

- Is each brand and brand manager clear about their role?

- Will this approach appeal to retailers and can it be translated easily in-store?

- Are you being too greedy and asking your cross-promotion to stretch too far?

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