SALES PROMOTION LEAGUE TABLES: The name of the game - On-pack offers are no longer the main focus of sales promotion agencies. No wonder their trade body plans to change its name

Returning to a country after an absence of a few years throws into relief the gradual changes that have occurred while you’ve been away.

Returning to a country after an absence of a few years throws into

relief the gradual changes that have occurred while you’ve been


Mike Bowen has been lured back to the UK as European development

director for Carlson, after five years as managing director for IMP in

Italy. What’s struck him, he says, is that the big ideas seem to have


’There are many promotions in the marketplace where you can say that,

yes, in theory, they ought to work, but there’s nothing special about

them. They’re just promotional wallpaper,’ he says.

It’s a quote I’ve been toting round the sales promotion industry, and

for a very good reason. Not everyone agrees with Bowen, and some think

he’s suffering from a nasty bout of nostalgia. But there are several

different answers to the question and together they illustrate just how

much ’sales promotion’ has evolved, to the point where even the Sales

Promotion Consultants Association is considering a name change.

On-pack reductions

The first point is that on-pack grocery promotions, like the famous ’Win

a car a day’ from Heinz, are a much smaller part of the business than

they were. A lot of this is to do with contracting budgets and more

money being diverted, willingly or otherwise, into trade marketing.

One consultancy quoted the example of a client which now allocates four

times as much to funding price cuts as it does to brand-building


Moreover, the kind of promotions retailers press for, such as ’two for

the price of one’ and other disguised price cuts, offer little creative

scope to agencies and are often best handled in-house.

This has led to a lot of agencies turning their backs on the

once-important area of tactical, on-pack promotions, which were

traditionally farmed out as ad-hoc projects. ’We’re not interested any

more in doing on-pack promotions,’ says Jon Claydon of Claydon Heeley.

’You can build a business on that kind of work, but it’s not what we

want to do.’

’The packaged goods market has largely died,’ adds Matthew Hooper,

managing director of Interfocus. ’We were in packaged goods in 1989-91,

but the power of the retailers is awesome, and we substantially bailed

out as other markets, such as leisure products, grew.’

Even smaller agencies such as Ignition Marketing find the sector less

attractive. As recently as three years ago, fmcg accounted for 80% of

its business, according to chairman Andrew Sutcliffe. Now it’s down to

15%: ’We took a conscious decision to break out into other markets where

we could genuinely add value.’

Ignition is building a name for itself, taking fmcg creativity into

business-to-business marketing. A high-profile campaign it runs for

Thomas Cook, aimed at business customers, led to both Centre File, the

UK’s leading payroll processor, and QAS, one of the country’s leading

suppliers of address-checking software, knocking on its door.

Centre File’s brief was to ’do a Benetton’, with high-profile, even

controversial, trade press advertising. This was achieved with bright

fluorescent colours designed to shock the grey world of accountancy and

personnel management; the campaign was later developed with direct mail

and an exhibition stand in the same colours.

Finding the answers

So another answer to the question, ’whatever happened to the big idea’

is that the ideas are cropping up in a wider range of industries, and

are being carried through into a wider range of media.

There could hardly be a better example than the ’Intel inside’ programme

for Intel microprocessors, which embraces the full communications

programme from advertising and PR to point of sale, points out KLP

chairman Iain Ferguson.

There’s much wider appreciation of the value of integrated

communications in the true sense, which means taking the spirit and

culture of the brand through from advertising to other media.

’The big idea is much more likely to be a brand idea than a promotion

idea these days,’ says Perspectives managing director Mark Beasley.

Bowen, whose comments launched this debate, points to his agency’s new

work for John Smith’s bitter. Just as the brand’s latest TV campaign

takes the mickey out of advertising, so the support material in the pub

is a pastiche of promotion cliches.

Slogans include ’Free room at the bar with every pint (subject to

availability)’, ’Free glass hire while pint lasts’, and ’Buy one. Then

buy another’.

Integration means that all a client’s agencies will sit round a table

and thrash out the best idea for the brand, and how to take it forward

using the different communications media. At this level, the quality of

the thinking and the ability to translate concepts into different

disciplines become much more important.

An intriguing glimpse of where all this may be heading comes from KLP’s

Ferguson. Its sister company in Paris has a joint venture with Andersen

Consulting, while KLP in London has a similar deal with ’brand

architecture’ consultancy Galileo.

’This has only been in place for a couple of months, but it is making a

difference in a couple of ways,’ he claims. ’Everything is thought about

more, even the simple work is thought about strategically. So the work

is cleverer.

’Also, because this is never a ’done job’, the conversations we have

with the clients are moving up the food chain. They tend to be at least

with the marketing director, and possibly with the chief executive, and

they can be about the future of the brand, if not the future of the

whole company.’

In short, the big idea is as important as ever. But is it sales


Not as we once knew it.


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