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Unique Promotional Ideas

Why Didn't I Think Of That?
by Josh Vasquez

Have you ever done a promotion and had a vague feeling something was missing? Or wondered what else could be done to put some pizazz in a direct-mail package? There's more available in the promotional products arena than you probably imagined – just ask your counselor.

The day's mail arrives. Included with the usual magazines, letters and junk mail is a mysterious black tube. Printed on the tube are the words, “We don't mean to open up a can of worms but ...” Inside, you find three beanbag worms and a handful of confetti. A new hotel opens in your area and several hundred guests are invited to a grand-opening party. The invitation comes in a large mailing tube, accompanied by an aviation-themed poster, a name tag shaped like airplane wings and a balsawood glider. The letter asks invitees to come to the hotel's 16th floor, write their names on their glider's wing, and launch the plane toward a target painted on the parking lot below. Whoever's closest wins the grand prize; others take home lesser prizes.

Both examples have two things in common:

  1. They're actual award-winning promotions, and

  2. Each involves an element of surprise.
With your counselor's help, you can also put together award-winning, successful promotions like these by applying similarly creative tactics. You could use a totally unexpected product or special wrapping. The important thing is to take a chance and make sure your promotion stands out.

Companies are trying some crazy things these days. Some have sent pizzas to their target audience at lunchtime. Others have sent tiny bags of dirt to convey the message of “dirt cheap” prices. These ideas may seem strangely simple, but they worked because no one had tried them before. With the element of surprise and other attention-grabbing tactics, you can achieve promotional success, too.

The Imprint's The Thing
A promotional product doesn't have to be new to get attention. Some very unique (but very commonplace) items can be logoed. For example, some of the hottest promotional products today are imprinted foods – apples, oranges, eggplant, walnuts and more can be laser-etched to enhance a fruit basket or use in other food-related promotions. For seasonal promotions, using imprinted pumpkins, watermelons or chestnuts can be innovative and timely.

A counselor who specializes in promoting company picnics sent prospective clients watermelons. The twist: the melons' rinds were imprinted with his logo and a message asking why he didn't handle their picnics. He also added the recipients' addresses, stuck on a stamp and sent them out – with no other packaging whatsoever. Six of the seven people who got them became clients, says Mary Ellen Hudicka, promotional consultant.

In the same vein, US Healthcare, the Pennsylvania-based managed care provider, distributed apples to customers and potential customers in US Healthcare-logoed boxes bearing the old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” What made the campaign unique was that the apples were logoed, too.

In fact, there's little need to wonder if a product can be imprinted today. “I don't know of anything that's unimprintable,” says counselor Cliff Quicksell. “I'll imprint your cat if it'll hold still long enough.”

Going Techno
Technology has also added some pizazz to the promotional pantheon. Digital software is available with a company's logo or message imprinted on the disk itself. Or, it can be programmed so that, when downloaded, a calendar and/or planner is placed in front of recipients every time they use their computers. You can even get downloadable versions of games to help people relieve stress on hectic days – something they'll definitely remember you for. Another hot digital product is an undersized CD-ROM that masquerades as a business card. With this, a client can view a commercial or any virtual promotion or multimedia information that can fit into 16 megabytes of space. (The cards will soon be able to carry 32 megabytes.) These products are also available in several other shapes and sizes, as well as custom die-cut shapes that can run on any computer. Some even have “hybrid” technology that links a customer directly to your Web site. For added impact, you can imprint the disc and put custom images on it.

Special Delivery
Of course, unique promotional ideas aren't only found in the high-tech arena. Like food products, other traditional items can be given new life when used creatively. For example, if your firm is based in a snowy climate, there's a chance you've already imprinted ice scrapers with your logo and copy. But how are you distributing them? For a unique twist, consider leaving the scrapers under peoples' windshield wipers the day the first freeze or a heavy snow is predicted. A courier can do this by visiting parking lots during work hours. One firm did this as a promotion and, as it snowed the next day, received a huge response from recipients. A gamble, true, but one that can pay off in a big way.

As you can see, it's not just products that can make a promotion memorable. Sometimes it's how they arrive. All sorts of items can be transformed just by being delivered in a creative way.

Utilizing the personal touch can often be the jewel in your promotion's crown. “There's nothing like personal delivery,” says Steve Slack, the counselor who developed the balsawood glider promotion mentioned earlier. “It generates recipient attention and produces a sense of urgency.” Personal deliveries can support a promotional theme. Example: As part of a program to build its customer base, the First National Bank of Nashville used a Mardi Gras theme. Information about a contest was delivered to the bank's sales force by people in full Mardi Gras costume, accompanied by traditional Dixieland music. The grand prize winner got a trip to New Orleans. The promotion worked in large part because it grabbed salespeople's attention, says counselor Steve Linn. Another example: Quicksell imprinted pizza cutters with potential clients' names and had them delivered just before lunchtime – along with a medium cheese pizza – by a real pizza delivery man. He got a 70% response rate.

A new self-serve gas station also used a themed promotion. College students dressed in tuxedos and white gloves delivered plants to a women's garden club. The promotion was designed to get the women to come to the station to learn how to pump their own gas, and it turned out to be a huge success.

Creative Containers
There's little dispute among direct-mail experts that how an item is packaged can make all the difference. In most cases, a plain manila envelope with a stamp or meter tape won't catch the attention of your target audience. They get dozens each week. But an overnight letter or package will often do the trick. “Some things are okay to send through regular mail,” says Quicksell. “But if something comes across their desk Federal Express, it creates an urgency.”

This urgency is just what can help achieve the results you're after. “What you're looking to do is break your [customers'] attention span and make them focus on the message you have,” says Slack.

Consequently, a promotion's physical appearance can impact its success. “Packaging is the first and last impression,” says Linn. “When receiving an item, how it's wrapped is the first thing you see. What does the box look like? When you open it, how is the item wrapped?”

In other words, don't overlook packaging; it's more than just a way to transport the product. As with almost any other part of a promotion, the more original and different the packaging, the more attention it's going to receive.

Dimensional or “lumpy” mail is far more noticeable than standard flat envelopes or brochures. Why not try a mailing tube or a custom-designed, colorful or themed container? For example, if you're doing a sports or youth promotion, try sending your mailing products in a soccer or football-shaped container. A campaign intended to “sparkle” can be sent in a silver or gold metallic box or tube. There are hundreds of colors, styles and shapes of packaging available – boxes, tubes, portfolios, metal containers – you name it, and your counselor can find it.

Imprinting the container itself can add that extra bit of immediacy and pique the recipient's curiosity. Using a large mailing tube with a broad imprinted decal pasted around it, Slack's hotel promotion demanded instant attention. People couldn't wait to open it, he notes.

Inside And Around
Even the packing that holds an item in place and protects it from damage while in transit –bubble wrap, styrofoam peanuts, shaped foam-rubber inserts – can be imprinted to help drive the intended message home. For higher-end products, try nestling them in shredded currency, which can add to an overall “expensive” look.

Amazon.com the online shopping service, uses protective bubble packaging that features the site's logo. For holiday gifts, Linn sometimes suggests a vacuum-molded, shaped foam insert. “It's molded to fit the product and imprinted to give the promotion one cohesive, higher class look,” he says.

Cellophane and gift wrapping can make a basket or box memorable. On a subliminal level, gift wrapping taps into the kid in us, bringing out a feeling of “Christmas-morning” excitement. People will pay closer attention to what's inside. “If the package is wrapped in wrapping paper, you have something that's a little bit of a twist. It's a little different, and it helps pull you out of the clutter,” says Linn.

But the “gift” aspect can be pushed even further. Imprinted cellophane and wrapping paper can be ordered, enabling you to have your company logo appear all over the outside. It's simply another way to get your logo on more than just the product and show some attention to detail. “There's a thoughtfulness that I think [imprinted wrapping] shows,” says Linn, “I think the gift recipient, when they open it, realizes the person sending it actually thought about it. There was more care involved – and that makes it special.”

Getting an entire promotion right can take a lot of creativity, energy, and patience. Think of it as a dinner with your customer. It's not just the flavor and portion of the food, but also the presentation. Even the tenderest filet mignon or juiciest lobster tail looks better on fine china with a fancy garnish than it does on a paper plate. Think of your promotional package the same way.

“Doing something that comes full circle, like a continuity program, definitely has a positive effect,” says Quicksell. “It's a brand recognition – a constant bombardment of the name, logo, and message that makes an impact on the recipient.”

Budget Concerns
Does it cost more to be creative? Not really. Of course, it's better if promotions are more highly-focused and target a select group of people. Slack notes that focused marketing generally yields a much higher response rate and generates more business than trying to reach a very broad audience.

Your counselor can work with a limited budget, ensuring the promotional concept remains creative and gets your point across. Hudicka has done some memorable self-pro motions for next to nothing. For instance, to announce her company's new lower prices, she used a three-part mailing, the most memorable of which was likely the least expensive: a tiny bag of ordinary garden soil, to convey the idea of “dirt cheap” pricing. “The promotion was so big that sales the next week were 25% ahead of the previous year,” says Hudicka. “The phones were ringing off the hook with people saying, ‘I just got your bag of dirt.'”

It's not so much the product, she says. It's the message it conveys. “Some people rely on the obvious, but in order to make a statement, you have to go beyond the obvious. You have to go to the next level and get them to make creative associations.” Talk with your counselor about products and options that can help your next promotion stand out in a crowded marketplace or “In” basket. With a little imagination, even a bag of dirt can become an award-winner.

COPYRIGHT © 2002 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Josh Vasquez is assistant editor of Imprint

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