Winter is a season of celebration and feasts. The holiday spirit embraces us whether we go out for a walk in the park or turn on the TV to watch a movie or a reality show. Brands are challenging themselves more than ever in the attempt to catch consumers’ attention in hopes of getting them to make the final buying decision. In a price-driven market, promotional campaigns still reign supreme during this time.
During the last years marked by the economic crisis, price was one of the most important aspects emphasized in almost any campaign. From Carrefour to Altex retailers were promoting “the small” price tag, no matter the season or the festivities. BR wanted to know if the situation is still the same or if we will start to see a seasonal distinction again.
We spoke with Sorina Pentilescu, creative director of the BTL agency Men in Black, to see whether the Romanian advertising market has been more focused on promotional campaigns than image ones in the last years and whether the situation is a consequence of the economic crisis. Although it would be tempting to think so, she believes that the ratio has remained pretty much the same, with peaks in promotions around holidays. “Besides, no large player needed to introduce itself through a conventional image campaign. New media is more inviting, therefore TV, print or radio significantly faded out,” said Pentilescu.
According to Monica Radulescu, head of digital & senior strategic planner at CohnandJansen JWT, said that, although the economic crisis has ended, as the agency’s representatives predicted, its consequences linger on. “We have a Romanian saying “It works either way – Merge si-asa,” which means that, once we discovered tight budgets and the immediate effects of promo campaigns, we continued to follow the same “successful recipe”. It’s easier to aim for short-term objectives and immediate sales results, even though in the long run, it’s not a very healthy approach for the brand,” explained Radulescu.
Diana Benko, BTL director & partner Jazz, is a little more optimistic, considering that with time, slowly but surely, things have changed, putting us now in a great transition. “Today brands start to generate beautiful stories, anchored in the social current contexts. Communication is more creative and relies more on emotion and surprise, succeeding in engaging more and more consumers. Even if we look at prizes – formerly known as the most important triggers in promotions – we can see a shift. Instead of simple and ordinary home appliances, money or phones we can see brands offering memorable experiences and customized offers,” said Benko.
In terms of budgets, “the crisis has left a great inheritance – a new smarter and creative approach, leading us to find solutions, which can bring results that are sometimes higher than the amount invested,” added the Jazz representative.
As she emphasized in an article at the beginning of this year, Andreea Daniel, managing director Good Vibes, thinks 2015 was the year promotions became trendy again. “I don’t believe that this trend has anything to do with the crisis. It’s more about coming out of it. Promotions have always been an efficient communication tool and the crisis put them in the shadow, as they were the first to suffer from budget cuts,” said Daniel. She also believes that in 2015, strong brands, along with mobile marketing agencies, were the ones to help revive the promotion trend once more.
“2014 was the first year when we felt we started to recover from the crisis and the year that promotions restarted to appear on the discussion tables, due to the new pioneer wave of young marketers and the continuous effort of the industry’s professionals. No matter the starting point of the idea, it’s evident that promotions worked. Therefore, from my point of view, the 2015 promotions’ volume size represents the doubtless success of 2014’s initiatives,” added the Good Vibes representative.
Year- long promotions?
In a world where, for several years price used to be the number one important factor in the decision-making process, both for clients and consumers, image campaigns used to be more present than the promotional ones. Everywhere we would look, on any media, promotions were “hitting” us, with creativity often neglected, as industry experts considered. Is the trend the same or has the situation changed? Can we talk about a shift from holiday promotions’ time to a year-round promotion style?
According to Pentilescu, the traditional calendar is overcrowded with improvised opportunities in the hope that consumer behavior would change. “Fortunately or unfortunately, it has. Consumers are more educated and more sophisticated: they select the offers more carefully and their criteria are based on image-related experiences. Therefore, the implementation of promotions (the so-called activations) are better-thought and invested in with more production value,” she added.
Her point of view is continued by Diana Benko who says that she wouldn’t call it a shift per se between these two types of activities, but she rather observes a periodical mix, encouraging dialogue with consumers based, or not, on incentives in the brand communication. “Being in a constant dialog and not having just some activation here and there creates a closer relationship between brands and customers,” explained Benko.
On her turn, Andreea Daniel believes that it’s possible those directions are present, but that the base of the communication is still seasonal and the seasonal aspect differs from one brand to another. “If there is a good enough communication pretext, it can pass over the seasonal barrier. But this is a principle that is active in any type of communication: direct or indirect, on or offline, not only in the promotions’ case. This is the main reason it’s so extremely important that promotions are thought about, launched and treated with care. The consumer must be educated into seeing the real advantages, the functional advantages he/she has by taking part in a promotion, therefore building a long term consumer-brand relationship, with mutual benefits and motivations. Promotional campaigns are the most long-lasting mobile communication smart tool on the Romanian market,” explained Daniel.
“If we are talking about national consumer promos, they are usually once or max twice a year and their timing is related to brand seasonality. Furthermore, it’s best to stay away from the advertising clutter during the holidays, when every brand has a Christmas-related message and the risk of blending in is higher. That is why most brands time their big promos throughout the year, according to the seasonality. However, some brands, especially FMCGs, like to leverage the shopping spree and push their sales through brand activations, contests, conditioned by proof of purchase. In the absence of codes on pack, these have a moderate impact,” considers Radulescu.
Taking the discussion into a more technical zone, Andreea Daniel points out the fact that while analyzing the predecessors of the mobile era (SMSs, MMSs, QR codes) as independent communicational tools, and comparing them with the international experience, we get a clear understanding that we have adapted really fast to all the changes, but also made a lot of mistakes in doing so. “Due to misuse (SMS spam or unscannable QR codes that lead to unoptimized mobile sites) it lead to consumers’ general negative perception of the tactic in itself and limiting their reach to half of its internationally-proven potential. The same mentality applies to promotional campaigns. The consumer has to be continuously amazed, even the participation mechanism is virtually unchanged (buy, enter, win). Clients and agencies need to put more effort into the relevance and the contextualization of the campaign,” added the Good Vibes representative.
2015 new NCPs tactics
Looking for innovational tools and creative ways of putting a campaign in light is not easy, but the results are rewarding. And 2015 was a year in which agencies and clients tried to be more innovative and close to the consumer, a reality also proven by the international awards won by Romania, but also by the increasing number of codes entered in promotions, both online and offline.
“I have seen some interesting NCP (National Consumer Promotion) mechanics for Kinder Bueno, for Untold the “promo” – to donate blood (which is more a brand activation than an NCP). And our campaign for Jacobs 3in1 had very engaging and addictive mechanics, using a game-like strategy. It proved winning, as users entered 2,000,000 codes over a period of several months. However, I find it odd that I can’t think of any examples of creative NCPs in Cannes, even in the Promo & Activation category – they are mostly referring to brand activations, even though our clients’ primary goal is linking the communication to purchase,” said the CohnandJansen JWT head of digital.
A great example was also the “Know the Universe” promotional campaign for Beck’s, where the implementation was made by Good Vibes.
“From my perspective, promotions should have a 360 approach and should deliver a complete experience to consumers. It should incorporate technology, mobile applications, and deliver more dynamic interactions. In-store activations should acquire more meaning based on the fact we all realized the buying decision is taken at shelf so the shopping journey becomes critically important,” said Diana Benko. Jazz, the company she represents is no stranger in winning efficiency awards for promotional campaigns from brands such as Lay’s or Provident.
“Shopper marketing becomes an important extension/slice in the communication mix and it has developed a lot in the last period (yet there is room for learning more about it and improving it.)
Promotions, which also use these ingredients besides the traditional ones, would for sure bring great results,” added Jazz’s BTL director.
On her turn, Sorina Pentilescu believes that there’s a pattern that tends to become boring, like any pattern does. These days, all promotions are about integrating online subscription with offline engagement. However, direct contact (human touch, literally) still adds value to loyalty. ”Creativity gets better and better, and expectations get higher and higher. When it comes to consumer promotions, creativity can display a mix of mechanisms, awards and engagement. No promotion relies only on the name of the brand. It’s a promotion because it promotes a temporarily enhanced benefit of the product/service or of the purchase,” concluded the Men in Black creative director.
When it comes to the Romanian promotional campaign participants, all the brands are trying to escape the usual “prize” driven ones, which follow every promotion, no matter the brand. And both companies and agencies are looking to create long relationships with their customers and create a brand experience, even through promotions.
“Prizes are still the main trigger of promo participation. Making sure that the prizes are appealing enough is the first step in ensuring the success of the promo. It is never enough though, it needs to be doubled by communication and mechanics’ attractiveness,” said Monica Radulescu.
“The brand name can bring greater participation in promotions, at least from the ‘promo-hunter’ audience, but cannot compensate the lack of quality interactions only because it is a great brand.
Prizes represent an important hook to attract people in promotions. But they don’t have any magical power if they don’t cross the border of promotional items. Standard promotional campaigns have been, for a long time, the “crises solutions” when things went wrong. The potential is much greater than that,” considers Diana Benko.
According to the Jazz representative, in this field we still need a creative infusion, and there are signs that both client and agency understood there is a big opportunity to express it through these types of campaigns. “In BTL campaigns there are always open doors to be unconventional and less standard, especially due to the specific media channels integrated – online, mobile, in-store,” concluded Benko.
Nevertheless, points out Andreea Daniel, promotions are pragmatic, they are lead by a clear objective: winning a prize. Therefore, whether we are referring to guaranteed prizes or aspirational ones, the prizes are a main driver in a promotional campaign. “The communication idea is the one that triggers the action, the one that launches the call to the consumer and sets the positioning, the prizes becoming just <>,” declared Daniel. She also believes the prizes are important, but they are not the ones guaranteeing the promotion’s success. “A classic example in that regard, from my point of view, is the one of the South Africans from Carling Black Label. They have proven that a promotional campaign can have a huge impact even when the prizes were falling and showing nothing else except the reaching of a personal goal for every consumer,” added Daniel.
The digital impact
Like in any other advertising sector, the digital revolution changed the landscape 100 percent and brands and agencies learned that they must adapt and embrace all the new technologies as fast as possible. It’s a new development that helped the market evolve, but at the same time became more interesting and thus engaging with the audience.
“It offered a significantly larger territory to interact with the consumer; this is not a one-way interaction, it aggregates the feedback from the consumer to the client, via specialized marketing people. This process allows to quickly adjust anything that goes wrong. The digital world gives marcomm professionals the capacity to instantly react to consumers’ needs. As someone put it, we no longer refer to 360-degree campaigns, but to 365-day campaigns,” said Pentilescu.
“The online environment is giving the opportunity for brands to express themselves more unconventionally and different than on traditional media channels, and technology has a great importance in educating and serving/helping customers. But when it comes to integrating technology and mobile into activations, I believe we are moving on a scale from 1 to 10 – we are also in a pilot phase/trial-and-error on small areas of a campaign to peaks of fully-embedded technology campaigns,” says Diana Benko. And according to the Jazz representative, we are in that moment where we can meet a shy hostess inside the shop offering paper leaflets with special offers for a product, and in the meantime shoppers drive a basket with a touchscreen attached, running a smart shopping application correlated with beacons among the shelves.
It’s a good time for brands and consumers to interact and be honest. “The big changes are seen at the direct communication level, for instance, in the model of the KA or HoReCa promotional activities, where the supremacy of the hostess is clear. This niche has evolved a lot during the last years and become the preferred communicational tool for most brands. And because they offer clear advantages form the consumer experience point of view, because they are interactive and, most of the time, memorable, due to the story they present. The activations that use tablets are a very personal way of communicating and create a good environment for establishing the first contact with the consumer. Also, good memory can be the basis of a brand values induction program. A more and more significant part of the Romanian mobile marketing market is represented by these kinds of activations that enter and set their ground in the Romanian advertising industry,” concluded the Good Vibes managing director.
Still, as Monica Radulescu showed, there’s a fine balance between the effort and the reward – consumers will not participate if the effort of participation is greater than the chance to win. “Secondly, an NCP usually has to have national coverage and thus, we end up avoiding mechanics that exclude a significant target group, like the ones that depend on smartphone usage.”
Therefore, even though the penetration of internet and mobile internet is constantly growing, clients and agencies are still reluctant to base the promo participation on technological innovations. We have to find a balance between the innovation of the mechanics or medium and the simplicity of the effort,” concluded Radulescu.