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Seasonal Promotions

The Proper Seasoning
By Patrice A. Kelly

While you can always mix in a special occasion or two, many promotions can be successfully focused around what time of year it is. Here's how to put some spice in your next seasonal sale and keep it from turning into a turkey.

Mention "seasonal promotion" to nearly anyone, and it's more than likely their thoughts will quickly gravitate toward pumpkins, Pilgrims or a certain large, rosy-cheeked guy in red driving a sleigh. In other words, they hear "season," or a variation thereof, they automatically tend to think holidays.

For the record, however, holidays don't really constitute seasons in the true sense of the word. Spring, summer, winter and fall; those are seasons.

Consequently, seasonal promotions can be packaged in many guises. They're highly versatile and adaptable to nearly any promotional program - internal or external. They can complement activities, the weather and events. And they can utilize a myriad of products to cover anything from an employee morale-booster or a new product rollout to a business gift.

But despite their universality, seasonal promotions need to be well thought out to assure they're as effective as possible. And the easiest way to do that is the most logical; look at each season individually.

Working Winter
The quintessential seasonal promotional product is probably the calendar. An advertising staple for over a century, it remains a popular choice for many businesses.

"Diaries and calendars is as basic as it gets," says counselor Craig Nadel. "Virtually everyone has at least one that they use. They usually come out in November and December, because that's when most people start to plan for the new year."

For many of Nadel's clients, winter is also trade show season. "Many companies have their biggest sales meetings and shows at the beginning of the year," he says, explaining that these events typically call for a wide variety of items that can include imprinted hats, totebags, keytags, pens, folders, notepads, and much more. He also notes that food is a big wintertime item.

But there are many other seasonal promotions that work well during the winter months. "It's interesting; when winter kicks in, we normally start looking at Caribbean and golf themes," says counselor Jo-An Lantz. "When we're well into January and February, many promotions tend be warm-weather oriented. I think that might be because many northern clients are sick of the whole thought of winter. [We] see this over and over again."

Lantz notes that the "summer in winter" theme is most frequently carried through with resort- or cruisewear such as tropical-print shirts and shorts, and accessories like sun visors/glasses, tanning lotion and golf-related merchandise.

As with most promotions, seasonal promotions and a little imagination can go a long way. Occasionally, it can be in tandem with a holiday during that season. Example: Valentine Day 2001, BigStar Entertainment, an online video superstore, wanted to increase purchases and rentals in several markets. It used what it called "big BigStar Cupids" on the streets of downtown New York, Dallas and Phoenix. Characterized as "George Costanza types," the cupids - balding, overweight men outfitted in pink tutus, white wings, red long johns and red high-top sneakers - flitted about from January 31 until February 4, dispensing to all passersby half-ounce packages of candy hearts with the company's name imprinted on the label. All told, 1.5 tons of candy was distributed. The godlets of love also gave out 30%-off coupons for any romantic movies at Bigstar.com and sweepstakes entries for a trip to Paris and free romantic movies. The promotion definitely achieved its goal; purchases and rentals saw a marked increase.

Music CDs are also effective for seasonal promotions. "There are several compelling reasons custom CDs can be outstanding promotional vehicles," says counselor Doug Robinson, "not the least of which is their high perceived value vs. their low actual cost. But equally important is the fact that almost everyone, regardless of age, occupation and other demographic qualifiers, listens to music. Almost no other promotional item has so many opportunities to connect with a target audience."

Robinson had a custom jazz CD produced, featuring arrangements of winter-season favorites like "Greensleeves" and "Auld Lang Syne." The CD was used by a home energy supplier, Shell Energy, that sent out 200,000 copies in self-mailers, instead of a traditional holiday card. The package's inner flap bore a short year-end message from the president of the company, thanking customers for their business.

Robinson says the response was "overwhelming." Dozens of unsolicited letters poured in, mostly from customers pledging their loyalty to Shell (in a typically unstable market, remember).

Spring Flings
Gardening is a perennially favorite spring theme. Flower seeds (imprinted on the package, of course) are the most obvious promo item, but not the only one. One useful and not-so-run-of-the-mill product for a spring gardening theme is a compact portable wagon that carries plants, supplies and other essential tools. It's something few would buy for themselves. There are also cards and decorations incorporating real flower seeds that can be planted. And for those not into do-it-yourself, your counselor can tell you about a service that will deliver a different bouquet each month for a year.

Golf is another mainstay of spring promotions. Lantz put together one for a client that was definitely different. "We had the client set up a miniature golf course inside his office's cubicles," she says. "The company used miniature golf as a celebration, where employees actually had "holes" - even though they weren't holes, but cubicles - and they golfed. We supplied imprinted golf balls, putters, putting cups and flags to mark the holes."

That's one end of the spectrum, but golf is usually taken a little more seriously. "Many of the promotions we put together are large corporate programs," says counselor Bill Patton. "To them, promotional products are almost like office supplies. They have to have a certain amount of golf shirts, T-shirts and things like that. When spring rolls around, [they need additional items] for golf tournaments, company picnics, recognition days on casual Friday and spirit-building events."

But golf tournaments aren't the only events ripe for a spring promotion. "There's a small town around Dallas that has a wonderful symphony … [the orchestra] wanted to do a spring fundraiser," Patton recalls. "We suggested Texas Dirt Shirts - T-shirts soaked in Texas red clay. We silkscreened a four-strand barbed wire fence on the front, which we used as a musical [staff], then added musical notes. We then announced the Texas spring symphony theme, and used the same theme on T-shirts and bandanas. The symphony used them as incentives for donations. Bandanas were given at one level and T-shirts were given at the next level."

Promotional products consultant Dan McEntee is involved in several auto-racing promotions during spring and summer. "Racing is something that many people think of as seasonal, but in September it's not quite finished, so it's a kind of spring-summer promotion - but extended," he says. "We do individual items, or a lot of times we'll put them together in a kit format. We often include coolers, which make a great case for the kit. Inside you can put can put anything from pens to low-priced sunglasses. We've also put in sunblock, earplugs, binoculars, etc."

Summer Madness
Summer is, not surprisingly, a choice season for outdoor-related promotions. Travel themes that include luggage, sunglasses, sunblock and the like tend to be highly effective. Of course, if you want to really stand out, try going against the grain and send winter-related items in July or August.

Cars and travel are also hot topics. Counselor Janice Perzigian works with Daimler-Chrysler auto dealerships. She developed a merchandising catalog to coincide with the launch of the new PT Cruiser. "PT Cruiser was a very popular merchandising program for Daimler-Chrysler, and dealers did well with it," she says. "We then got wind from Daimler-Chrysler that it would be coming out with a convertible version, so what we did was take a look at the products already being offered and decided to freshen them up. We tailored them to products for the convertible driver, like a ladies' visor, beach ball and beach towel. We also used a picnic basket, which was made out of wood and carved with the PT Cruiser logo. It was pretty cool."

But that wasn't the end of it. Perzigian also added golf items to the summer catalog - golf towels, club head covers, foam beverage bottle/can coolers and a water- and shock-resistant watch that could be clipped on a golf bag, belt or almost anywhere else. The catalog also included wearables, including T-shirts, lounge pants and windbreakers.

Company picnics are also prime territory for summer promos. An important factor in making them memorable is the location. Example: A smaller company picnic was organized for a group of 70 attending employees. The group was divided into 10 teams and competed in traditional games such as water-balloon tossing and relay races. What was unique, however, was where it took place: Estes Park at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The games, therefore, incorporated local geography, flora and fauna. Incentives like this can offer a memorable way to reward and motivate employees. Coupled with logoed promotional items like binoculars, sports bottles, T-shirts, flying discs, sunscreen, insect repellant, coolers, backpacks, caps, etc., they will almost certainly leave a lasting impression.

Another trend in summer promos is the spa-resort incentive. Some facilities will let corporate groups have the run of the place in summer (generally the off-season). This allows the accommodation of larger groups. Some firms might still find this option prohibitive. No problem; the next choice is a day spa. All such excursions however, should include customized or imprinted gifts geared toward the specific group.

"Fall"-ing Back
"When you talk about fall seasonal promotions, the first thing that comes to mind is a series of Oktoberfests we put together for clients, says Lantz. All of these are picnics, fall-like celebrations that kick off the anticipated increase in business in the fall."

The promotional mix for such events is almost classic. "There's always a piece of apparel involved, depending on the quantity and budget," Lantz says. "[From] T-shirts all the way up to beautiful sweaters, that type of thing. Often, we've used nice plaid blankets as an alternative to apparel. They're good for a picnic outside. We've also used plastic beer steins, which are preferable in some cases to glass because of overall cost, shipping, and the fact that it's easier for people to take back home with them. With outdoor picnics we try to encourage flying discs, which can double as paper plate holders."

And as noted earlier, CDs can be incredibly versatile. Counselor Leslie Bridges recalls, "We were asked to provide ideas for physician gifts for a pharmaceutical firm. We provided high quality music CDs for about the same cost as something more traditional."

The product being promoted used a bulldog as part of its branding, so the title SoundBites was a natural. The program gave doctors a new seasonally-themed CD every quarter for 16 months. The offerings included a disc of love songs for Valentine's Day, beach/surf music for the summer and non-denominational holiday music for the end of the year. When there was no logical seasonal tie-in, the company distributed jazz, classical and new age.

Timing's The Thing
Perhaps the most important thing to consider in successful seasonal promotions is timing. Tom Savio, a Midwest counselor, says that when you start merchandising a catalog for the fall, "you have to look for those goods the preceding winter. That's something I don't think everybody thinks about." He says the time to send out (or post, online) a fall catalog is early to mid-summer. "That's where I think a lot of firms make mistakes. They send it too close to the season. And then the season, in [their customers'] minds, is here and gone."

Another factor to consider when planning a seasonal promotion is location. Take golf again. While it's a bit more year-round, its main season is still summer. Location would come into play in a case where a firm in the South wants to hold a golf tournament in the summer - typically not the best season for it, simply because it's too hot. Fall and spring are far better. An event in the Midwest or North is better in summer. Something based in Florida or California is often best appreciated in winter.

All told, seasonal promotions can be both flexible and powerful. Sometimes the best inspiration for a really good promotional idea can be just checking the weather.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Patrice Kelly is a freelance writer based in Cleveland, OH

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