Not so very long ago there wasn't an internet. Back in the days
when evening telly was good, Britons weren't obese and fuel was
less than 50p a litre. Imagine that. What we did to fill the time
was far less virtual and very much more real.
20 years or so later and the internet is so fundamental to our
existence that it's a wonder we ever survived without it. It's
brought amazing convenience, unbelievable information and an equal
amount of disinformation, anytime, at the click of a mouse. Of
course marketers have embraced the medium as much as anyone and
it's hard to find any sales promotion which doesn't have a web
element. But with so many sales promotions out there why do we
mourn for the sales promotions of yesteryear when people used heat
and reveal labels, inserted blue sachets containing fivers into
packets of crisps and even a miniature plastic house inside your
tin of beans to tell you, in no uncertain terms that you had won, a
house? It might be the excitement, buzz and awe-inspiring
creativity which seems so lacking in their internet
Looking at the 88 or so promotions which we featured on
PromoWatch last year, 56% of them had exactly the same mechanic:
"enter a unique code from promotional packs on the website to
qualify". Assuming our blog is representative of the sales
promotion industry as a whole, if more than half of all brands
thought that running a competition with a unique code entry
mechanic was the best way of establishing a point of
difference with their competitors, they were sadly
Why has the internet stifled creativity?
In the early days, putting up a microsite for an on-pack promotion
was relatively pricey and they were primarily used by market
leading brands to support the principle activity. But before too
long the microsite has evolved to represent the promotion in its
entirety encompassing the customer journey from start to finish.
The reasons are obvious - money. Websites are now cheaper to create
than ever before, while producing innovative promotional devices
and customised product packaging has become, for the most part,
more expensive or in some cases a logistical headache.
Now, in the same way that nearly all tv programmes seem to be
about property or cooking, once a winning formula has been
established promotions agencies realise they can re-package a
successful concept and sell it in to clients again and again.
Taking it to its logical conclusion, a general acquiescence in
mediocrity increases the profusion of mediocrity to the point where
it becomes the accepted norm. This all leads to one big yawn for
the consumer - and the intrepid sales promotion commentator.
Injecting innovation into sales promotion
The Sales Promotion Industry's utilisation of the internet is a bit
like most people's use of the processing power of their home
computer - barely taxing its capabilities at all. The internet is
far more than just an interpreter of unique codes or a means of
plotting pretty dots on a map. So how else can we maximise the
power of the web within our sales promotion activity?
If we assume that most brands need to prove that a purchase has
been made, can we first look beyond the reliance on unique
Small and discreet, QR codes or Snaptags could easily be
incorporated into product packaging and, using a simple reader,
would automatically take consumers to the promotional website right
on their device (think webcam, tablet or smartphone). As they would
have to be in possession of the product to access the on-pack
graphic it is fair to assume that they've made a legitimate
purchase and have qualified for entry. This would make the all
important 'simplicity of entering your promotion' integral to the
Can't fit a graphic on your pack - develop a barcode reader for
your microsite. With such a heavy penetration of smartphones,
tablets and webcams and even smart TVs now, most devices will have
the necessary lens to view the barcode for your chosen platform.
The CD and DVD purchasing website Music Magpie employs this to great
Go a bit retro. Combine the online and offline worlds by cutting
out a token / logo / masthead or whatever from the offline
packaging and affix it to a downloaded voucher as the ultimate
photocopy / scanner proof online coupon. NB only works for proper
redbrick high street retailers*.
* Available while shops last
If you just can't get away from using a unique code why not try
and wean yourself off the Instant Win habit? Here's a few
ideas for using a unique code, some of which you may have seen in
the wild already or covered in other posts:
- in-game currency for a freemium or bespoke online / mobile
- proof of purchase token for a collector scheme
- validation for submitting user content for an online
- discount / promo code for a third party partner site
- a security tag for a downloaded voucher - could be used in
conjunction with the physical proof for offline venues
- unlock treasure hunt clues - again possibly for the pursuit of
an offline treasure
if you can't avoid 'instant win' why not make the act of telling
people the win/lose verdict more interesting? In keeping with the
theme of your brand / promotion it could be the turning wheel on
the front of a safe or animated lottery balls which might match up
with your unique reference. This simple animation would not be
expensive but it would make the engagement and overall impression
of the promotion, feel like it was given some modicum of thought
rather than just being churned out on a conveyor belt.
The Good News...
The dominance of Twitbook provides a ready platform for smaller
brands to promote themselves with very little capital outlay. We
should be celebrating the fact that a lower cost of entry means
that smaller brands can contemplate sales promotion at all.
Some brands are doing great promotions which really harness the
power of social media, sharing user-generated content and
integrating their activity across multiple channels. We featured
one such promotion from Visit Britain
today. So there are reasons to be optimistic. But, woe-betide the
sales promotion industry if we have a similar proportion of
'instant win unique reference number monotony' in 2012. You've been
P.S. If this blog existed 50 years ago (and I had been born) no
doubt I'd have been writing a provocative article about how
television had made promotions less personal or relevant. Blah,
blah, blah, moan, moan...