How do you come up with an on-pack promotion for a loaf of bread that really sparks consumer interest? The obvious answer might be an offer to win a branded butter dish or bread board, but Hovis went for a much more ambitious option and achieved a first for the sector.
Any successful campaign should look to build an emotional link between brand and consumer, and this promotion - called Happy Endings and devised by agency Chilli - did exactly that. Consumers were invited to collect two on-pack tokens, send in a cheque for £3.99 and choose between three children's stories. The twist came from the fact that each book was unique to the child it was for.
Anyone taking up the offer also had to provide the child's name and those of two friends. These were incorporated into the storyline, making the children the heroes.
The promotion ran on-pack in the run-up to Christmas last year.
It resonated with consumers, who could buy a 36-page personalised paperback for their child as a stocking-filler and had the added benefit of encouraging reading. At least £1.50 of each order was given to the NSPCC, linking with the theme of giving other children "a happy ending". And, of course, it worked for Hovis.
According to senior brand manager Sara Gatward, the campaign was one of the most successful the brand has ever run on-pack. "We had to extend the redemption period until the end of January this year because demand was so high," she says. "We're still analysing the figures, but we know we raised more than £30,000 for the NSPCC and saw a volume uplift greater than five per cent."
Personalisation was made possible on a mass scale by developments in digital print technology. So does this campaign mark the advent of a new personalised approach to publishing premiums?
Andy Annett, managing partner at agency Liquid, says there's nothing new about personalising a promotional offer. When he was at Option One 15 years ago, Bisto ran one of its most successful on-pack offers, featuring personal horoscopes. But Annett agrees the technology makes this approach much easier now. "There's lots of untapped potential," he says. "Anything personalised has a much higher perceived value We'll be seeing more of it."
According to John Murphy, managing director of BrandedBooks.
com, the corporate publishing division of book publisher Appletree, we will indeed be seeing more campaigns of this nature. The company worked with Hovis and Chilli to co-ordinate the Happy Endings campaign, including sourcing writers and illustrators as well as the digital print provider.
"We've engineered a process that is cost-effective and easy to manage," says Murphy. "Personalised books have been around for a while, but not on the sort of scale that makes them suitable for promotional work."
Brandedbooks.com is currently working on a concept that will bring the idea to the adult market. Murphy says that, although Hovis did not opt to have any product placement in the books, it's certainly an option for brands considering this approach.
But is the personalisation route really viable for the majority of brands?
After all, it does require a considerable amount of advance planning (Hovis works to a planning cycle of six to seven months) and considerable investment.
Hovis brand manager Clare Heywood says the campaign represented "a big outlay up front". She adds: "If we hadn't got the redemptions we did, we'd have been stuck with the cost."
But even though some companies might baulk at taking personalisation to the sort of level reached by Hovis, many are still opting for a more personal approach to premium buying.
Rather than simply slapping the logo on an off-the-shelf product, companies are waking up to the value of integrating their brand with the premium.
"We're seeing much more tailoring of the product," comments Rebecca Nutbeam, account manager at AA Publishing. "We can take sections from existing books to create something new."
P&G pet food brand Iams recently approached AA Publishing to come up with a book it could use for promotional activity. The outcome was the Iam-branded 50 Great Walks in Britain - Hand-picked for Dog Owners, which took existing sections from previous AA walking books.
In December 2003, Iams linked with Express Newspapers to offer the book in a token-collect scheme. The book has proved so successful that AA Publishing is making it available to retail.
In a move that similarly pushed the boundaries, the Caribbean food specialist Walkerswood worked with publishing company Simon & Schuster to create a bespoke cookery book - with the Walkerswood range prominent.
The book, Walkerswood Caribbean Kitchen, featured the firm's products in all the recipes and was used as an incentive at the BBC Good Food Show.
It proved so successful, says Katie Walsh, business development manager at Simon & Schuster, that a second book is due out in November.
A book that is inextricably linked to a company has much greater value as a brand-enhancing vehicle than its off-the-shelf counterpart. This is equally as true for calendars and diaries. Jon Morgan, managing director of Just Diaries, says there is increasing demand for specifically tailored diaries.
"This could include company information, the logo as a background tint on each page or even key dates, such as corporate events or industry exhibitions, highlighted in red," explains Morgan.
The company recently worked for a major steel manufacturer that wanted to include historic dates relevant to the steel industry.
The message is simple. A tailored message clearly has a much greater impact on promotional objectives than the standard approach. But if you're going down this route, advance planning is crucial. The greater the effort, the greater the rewards.
TOP TIPS - BOND BUILDING
- Think beyond the logo. Branded premiums are the life-blood of promotional suppliers, but think about other ways of communicating your brand on a publishing premium - for example, incorporating key dates, company maps, photographs or even a competition to encourage interaction
- Plan ahead. Great personalisation requires great preparation. If you want to include specific events in your company diary, for example, a lead time of 12 to 14 weeks would be required. If you're taking pesonalisation to the sort of level that Hovis achieved, the lead time could stretch to six months
- Allocate more budget. Bespoke products are inevitably more expensive, but don't let this put you off. It might not be as much as you fear - Just Diaries says that a four-colour personalised page included in one of its desk diaries would cost an extra 40p only per diary. And any extra cost should be more than outweighed by increased brand longevity
- Keep abreast of technology. The Hovis campaign was made possible by developments in digital print technology. Exhibitions such as Technology for Marketing, which took place in February at Olympia in London, are a good way of getting a snapshot of the latest advances.