Margot West is the Managing Director of Alcone, a promotional marketing company based in The City.
She talked to me about promotional marketing, Stella Artois, the rise of the multiple grocers (Tesco et al) and the knock-on effects this has had on sales promotion in the UK.
I didn't ask many questions, so have just posted it as an article, so to speak. Here goes.
Promotional marketing - A snapshot
Back in the early 90s sales promotion was huge. It was how brands got products shifted - building brands below the line was what we called it.
At the time, multiple grocers (Tesco, Sainsburys etc) were not bigger than the brands on their shelves. Not even close. Coke was a much bigger brand than Tesco (still is in some countries). Brands could dictate to multiple grocers how and where their products were to be sold. And if the multiple grocer was reluctant, the brand could always threaten to pull its products from the shelves. The threat usually worked and the brand got its way.
For example, I worked on Boddingtons when BBH created the Cream of Manchester Campaign (see image) and because Boddingtons became such a huge brand we were able to have a significant impact on the retail environments where Boddingtons was sold.
But now, multiple grocers are so much bigger than the brands they stock. Tesco is now an incredibly powerful international brand. If Coke were to come to Tesco and try to get Pepsi taken off the shelves, Coke would be politely told to sling its hook, because Tesco is all about meeting its customers' needs, not its suppliers'. That's what 'Every little helps' is all about.
This change has meant that true Sales Promotion as we used to know it is dead - and the agencies that haven't developed their offering from then are probably no longer with us.
An example that illustrates this is my work on Stella Artois. When we (the agency where I was at the time) began working with them there was a prominent feeling that beer brands had to 'own' something - football, rugby something that gave them a 'hook,' promotional or otherwise.
Stella Artois had an upmarket tennis tournament in London, which wasn't enough for a brand of its stature in the UK.
So Interbrew, now InBev we did some research into what was influencing Stella Artois drinkers and it was clearly film. And so the Stella Artois association with film was born.
It's incredibly important for promotional marketing agencies have to understand the issues customers - not just consumers - face. In many markets the message that Stella Artois is expensive and better quality works perfectly. However different markets have different influences and inherently different attitudes to advertising messages. As the people who have to shift the product, promotional marketers have to be aware of these differences and use them to their advantage.
Brands also no longer have the same power over what Tesco does with their products in the store - if Tescos want to discount their products there is little that a brand can do about it. Which poses another challenge...how do you reconcile a brand proposition that may focus on quality, superb taste and being worth that bit more money with the fact that a retailer such as Tesco can be running it as Buy One Get One Free?
Our challenge in promotional marketing is to reconcile that juxtaposition and still shift the product without damaging the brand in the process. Basically you know that multiple grocers are going to discount your product, or try and tie it in with other products in store (in the case of beer with pizzas for example) in order to hit the shopper in multiple locations in store.
We knew this so instead of asking the retailers to come up with the typical 'linksaves' as these tie-ups are known we decided to give them some direction to show them how and why Stella Artois should be associated with film, irrespective of the offer.
Wherever possible we strove to add value, even in environments where price was being reduced.
Creatively, one of the things we decided to do was to produce POS (Point of Sale) materials and display units in black. In supermarkets, historically, it was all about colour, trying to attract the attention of consumers with bright colours. So producing display units in black made them stand out incredibly well and look premium - and of course, filmic into the bargain. Also by associating Stella Artois with film, we avoided all the negativity that can sometimes goes along with football tie ins.
By providing convincing evidence relating back to the influence of film in the lives of Stella Artois drinkers and by really making a genuine effort to be associated with film in a meaningful and credible way, the market bought into the association and recognised its worth. This meant that Stella Artois could be credibly sited near the film section, thereby creating a second purchase point for the consumer in any given store.
The thing is, in order to be successful at promotional marketing, you need to understand the market - consumer, customer and category - you are dealing with in depth. You need to understand how people are consuming products and what other influences they have in their lives.
You also need to understand that to support a brand below the line, you need to build a relationship with the retail environment - TV ads are great for building grocery brands but you buy the product in a supermarket and the experience needs to live up to the promise.
And finally you need to understand that every single person in Tesco, or Sainsbury's or wherever is a customer of that brand first and foremost. So respect and understand the customer and the consumer should follow.
Here endeth the lesson.