A red-costumed figure with a flowing white beard has been spotted
plodding up and down supermarket aisles since we all got back from our
holidays, as the big brands battle to introduce a bit of Christmas cheer
to their promotions.
So what is there to look out for? In Edinburgh, there’s a novel solution
to drinking and driving. The Boroughloch agency has organised Beck’s
sponsorship of ten rickshaws - fully-branded three-seater carts - which
ferry Christmas revellers around city centre pubs and clubs pulled by
Beck’s uniformed runners.
Passengers do not pay but tip instead. The aim is that the rickshaws
become a potent media, promotional and public relations tool. Demand is
expected to lessen in the new year, providing a natural cut-off date,
but the rickshaws themselves are expected to continue to operate
year-round in Edinburgh, and in other cities. They will also be used in
other tactical promotional work nationwide.
The cut-off date is the main problem with seasonal promotions. ’The only
manufacturers who can deal with Christmas activities in a fit context
are those whose products have a very short shelf life, like snacks or
crisps,’ says Kevin Twittey, chairman of Triangle Communications.
Twittey highlights one brand that seems to have tackled this problem
successfully. Mars Bar currently features a gift-box graphic
It has a simple, instant-win mechanic, featuring presents consumers
would like to give or receive. As there is no mention of Christmas, this
could be backed up by point-of-sale material bearing a seasonal message
until the new year, when it is replaced with a more neutral version.
Twittey’s concern about Christmas promotions is picked up by Nick
Fennell, a director of field-marketing specialist CPM. ’Everything goes
haywire at this time of year in the retail trade. If you look at trade
data, you can see that out-of-stock levels rocket during December.’
Manufacturers have to make the most of their seasonal on-pack promotions
in the six weeks before Christmas, which means that on-pack promotions
have to have maximum visibility on the shelf. However, every year
retailers run out of stock in this period. He challenges manufacturers
running seasonal promotions to ask themselves:
- Are you aware/can you quantify the Christmas effect on demand for your
- Is your retail customer aware of the increased consumer demand for
- Have you adequately communicated the Christmas upweight in sales to
your retail customers?
- Have you agreed increased stock levels with them?
- Have the measures you are taking to deal with the uplift been
communicated at local store level?
- How are you planning to follow up at store level to ensure that these
measures are implemented?
- Will you be monitoring the stock levels in the run-up to Christmas, to
ensure that the measures your retail customers have put in place are
Not all promotions take place in-store, however. This year a Christmas
Web site has been devised for Comic Relief by Traffic Interactive, in
which Clarke Hooper has a majority shareholding. It includes the first
ever online celebrity draw, including memorabilia from the Spice Girls
and Boyzone. ’There was a trend last year for bespoke Web sites, but to
no great avail,’ says Rob Lawrence, senior producer at Traffic
’A lot of people have backed out from doing it again.’
Comic Relief is a strange brand to market. The fund-raising event occurs
only once every two years and is public relations-driven. ’We have
picked a media dead time as an experiment to see how we can market Comic
Relief in the future,’ explains Lawrence.
’Through new media, we are looking at globalisation of the brand. The
site has a tracking system to find out how and why people give money.
Rather than look greedy, we have made people feel they get value from a
Donations entitle visitors to a ticket to the prize draw, which includes
24 pieces of memorabilia, including model Caprice’s bra. The site
features Comic Relief’s version of the advent calendar, called the
Redvent Calendar, and a virtual Christmas card, which you can e-mail to
friends while giving a donation at the same time. The Sun and Radio 1
are media partners.
Cracker of an idea
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without crackers. Two companies to have
gone down this route are Scottish Courage and Nikon. Drinkers at
selected pubs nationwide will receive a promotional cracker when they
buy a bottle of Beck’s, Holsten Pils, Molson or Foster’s Ice, all
Scottish Courage labels. They will be able to read the win-or-lose
message in each cracker.
Winners get a limited edition baseball cap, while publicans get an
incentive to order promotional cases with selected merchandise.
Nikon’s version is more sophisticated. Sales promotion agency SMP
developed a two-pronged approach, sending a box of six Christmas
crackers in the Nikon yellow and black colours to around 350 camera
dealers at the beginning of October. Each cracker carried a different
teaser message on the outside, with details about promotional activity
inside, plus an exclusive promotion for the dealer.
These varied from an instant win, where they could claim between pounds
5 and pounds 50 with a one-in-three chance of winning, to free draws to
win Nikon equipment, which they could either keep or sell on. Entries
and claims are still coming in, but so far over 150 cards have been
The second prong of the attack occurred two weeks after the arrival of
the crackers. Some 100 outlets were visited by ’Santa’s Helpers’.
Dressed in a yellow pixie-type dress, the ’helpers’ carried a sack full
of goodies with gifts including Nikon’s new product brochure, POS
material, yellow and blue balloons and crepe paper to decorate their
outlet - and a box of chocolates for staff.
For shoppers travel is a problem over Christmas and, as in Edinburgh,
sales promotion has stepped in to ease the pain. London Transport has
launched a fold-out promotional leaflet to stimulate trial and increase
’The challenge is to overcome a perception that travel takes too long on
the tube. To counter this, we did nine different versions of the
promotion,’ says Suzanne Partridge, associate director at Interfocus.
The promotion is part of a bigger project to change attitudes, but
Christmas is an ideal time to test the concept, since shoppers are even
more reluctant than normal to drive into town.
The leaflets are aimed at households within a one-mile radius of tube
stations in zones three to six; 970,000 have been distributed with free
The leaflets also contain special-offer vouchers for retail outlets in
zone one shopping destinations, to encourage recipients to try the
They feature such names as Tie Rack, Dixons, Blazer and Bella Pasta.
So, Christmas promotions are alive and kicking. But it does beg the
question why other ethnic promotions aren’t run at the same time? After
all, Chanukah is just a few days before Christmas, while Diwali is
between September and November. Is it a question of target audiences
being too small?
’It is a fact that pubs are famous for celebrating ethnic holidays,’
says Iain Ferguson, chief executive of KLP. ’Just look at St Patrick’s
and St George’s Day.’ But maybe, he ventures, promotions geared to these
occasions would be too difficult to organise. ’Do you do it through
media magazines targeted at a certain audiences, or what?’
So if you’re waiting for an on-pack offer around your Chanukah
doughnuts, it seems you’ll have to go on waiting. But I’m told
Selfridges does a very good Kosher Christmas pudding which is selling
like hot cakes.