How do you make yuletide offerings more inspiring and keep the retailers happy too? Ruth Nicholas unwraps some ideas

How do you make yuletide offerings more inspiring and keep the retailers

happy too? Ruth Nicholas unwraps some ideas

Whitbread Leisure Vouchers general manager Bill Brown will be getting

rather hot under the collar this Christmas. ‘If there’s one thing I

hate, it’s what is laughably called added-value promotions that in fact

give you a completely meaningless, worthless widget you would probably

be given free anyway.’

It isn’t that marketers and their sales promotion agencies can’t be

bothered to be innovative at Christmas time, it is more that the season

brings its own special problems that inhibit experimentation.

Marketers’ first enemy is clutter: Christmas is the most competitive

season when everyone is advertising, slashing prices and launching

special offers. Their second is the retailers that want tried and tested

offers and packages that fit neatly on to supermarket shelves - and

often demand full control of point-of-purchase promotion. Fear is the

third: many people in the alcohol industry, for instance, feel they have

to cut prices and promote because that is what everyone else will do,

according to Stephen Callender, partner at sales promotion agency Black


Few companies can afford to ignore Christmas promotions and many opt for

traditional solutions. ‘I’d like to see more innovative and unexpected

promotions rather than boring ‘gifty’ ideas such as music, clothing and

books,’ says Callender.

‘Demand for PCs is getting out of hand, which is a huge opportunity.

They always come with software bundled in but why not have an instant

win compe-tition that tells you if you’ve won when you switch on the

machine: bing! you’ve won a holiday? It would be a bit sparky, a bit

different and very switch-onable.’

The alcohol industry is one of the most active Christmas promoters, and

demand is at its highest - to the point that some lines sell out

regularly - yet retailers slash prices mercilessly and demand seasonal

price promotions from the manufacturers. Although United Distillers UK

has committed itself to moving retailers in a value added direction, UD

marketing director Andy Neal accepts price will be an important factor

for some time. ‘You can’t go with a value-added strategy, you would be

missing the nuts and bolts of promotion,’ he says.

However, UD has had some successes. This year, the company is offering

either a free pack of six miniatures from the Classic Malts range or a

bottle of Bells with every two bottles of regular-sized Classic Malts

purchased. ‘We’d much rather give away a pack of Classic Malts than

pounds 10 off a two-bottle purchase and the perceived value of the gift

is more than pounds 10,’ says Neal. The gift pack has a strategic value

because it brings customers back to the brand concerned.

The Classic Malts range has also been repackaged to get round the

logistical problem of supermarket display. It used to be in a flat pack,

which was difficult to display and took up too much space. The new pack

has the bottles arranged in twos on three tiers in the pack and takes

the same amount of shelf space as an ordinary bottle. ‘You can get

really good displays of them,’ he claims. Miniatures of Bells have also

achieved greater retail exposure thanks to a protective tin. ‘Retailers

won’t put miniatures on display because they are easy to steal,’ Neal

says. ‘The little tin gets round the problem and offers product

information and your money back off a full bottle. This hooks customers

back into the brand.’

Like the alcohol business, the electrical appliance industry can expect

up to 40 per cent of their annual volume from the pre-Christmas sales

period and they must fight retailers for control of their brands at

point of sale. At least price cutting isn’t as rampant.

‘Price is an element,’ says MPP Marketing group account director Simon

Edwards, who works on the Philips account. ‘And you can’t afford to

ignore your competitors’ actions, but retailers usually save themselves

for the January sales, and they are aware that they can’t be seen to be

devaluing brands.’

Edwards cites coherence as the most important factor in making Christmas

promotions work. ‘You must ensure that the promotion gets maximum

exposure at the point of sale, in direct marketing, on TV and in all

other forms of media, and all those forms into a coherent message,’ he


One example of this is Philips’ Christmas giftline, which offers

information and advice on present buying and is highlighted on all

promotional material. As well as a service to consumers and a

telemarketing opportunity, the helpline is a valuable means of capturing

detailed data.

Philips also endorses premium gift promotions, such as a battery-

operated shaver with the purchase of a Philishave. However, Edwards

warns that accurate pre-planning is essential if you are to cope with

the avalanche of orders brought by the Christmas post. Although 28 days

for postal delivery of goods is standard, thousands of people send in

orders ten days before Christmas and expect their gift to arrive on


‘You must be geared up to handle the response, which means planning and

calculating accurate redemption rates, making sure you have sufficient

staff to deal with the orders, sufficient stock to fulfil them and the

physical capabilities to handle them,’ Edwards explains. ‘You must also

have good reporting systems so that you are able to monitor the success

of the promotions.’

Edwards adds: ‘Under no circumstances can you afford to let the customer

down.’ And this may be another reason why marketers inevitably stick to

their tried and tested traditional formulae rather than embracing

ambitious and revolutionary schemes. Perhaps the Hoover free flights

fiasco and Mercury’s One2One free calls gaffe last year (see box, left)

have frightened them into mediocrity.

One2One’s Christmas message

This Christmas One2One wants to be the National Canine Defence League

of mobile phones, with its sober ‘mobile phones are not just for

Christmas’ message. This stab at altruism is in marked contrast to last

year’s approach.

Even the launch of last year’s ‘Ring the world free on Christmas Day’

promotion did not augur well. The Consumers’ Association questioned the

validity of the offer. The CA spotted One2One’s warning that ‘there may

be congestion to some destinations’ and accused it of making false

claims. If it was anticipating problems even before the promotion had

happened, why was it running it?

Good question, especially after it admitted receiving more than 1000

complaints from customers, some of whom were unable to use their phones

at all on Christmas Day. The system couldn’t cope, the press had a field

day and One2One was forced to cough up rebates of up to pounds 10 per


However, the company defended the promotion and was vindicated by the

Advertising Standards Authority last May. The ASA was satisfied most of

One2One’s customers had been able to make calls and that it had

compensated the rest. But what about those who didn’t complain?

This year’s Christmas promotion aims to highlight the importance of

considering the longer term when buying a mobile phone and the extent to

which tariffs vary, according to sales and marketing director Paul

Donovan. It is made up of a free calls offer and price reduction on

handsets. One2One is offering up to pounds 50 ‘Chequeback’ on phones and

30 minutes of free peak calls a month for a year, worth pounds 18. On

its competitors’ networks the same amount of calls would cost between

pounds 5 and pounds 43 more, it claims.

‘A little thought at the point of purchase can make all the difference

between a cherished and much used gift and an expensive, long-term

financial commitment,’ says Donovan. And a lot of thought long before

the point of purchase can make the difference between an effective sales

promotion and a PR fiasco.


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