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9.6: Promoting a Product

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  • Learning Objective

    1. Describe the elements of the promotion mix.

    Your promotion mix—the means by which you communicate with customers—may include advertising, personal selling, sales promotion, and publicity. These are all tools for telling people about your product and persuading potential customers, whether consumers or organizational users, to buy it. Before deciding on an appropriate promotional strategy, you should consider a few questions:

    • What’s the main purpose of the promotion? Am I simply trying to make people aware of my product, or am I trying to get people to buy it right now? Am I trying to develop long-term customers? Am I trying to connect with my current customers? Am I trying to promote my company’s image?
    • What’s my target market? What’s the best way to reach it?
    • Which product features (quality, price, service, availability, innovativeness) should I emphasize? How does my product differ from those of competitors?
    • How much can I afford to invest in a promotion campaign?
    • How do my competitors promote their products? Should I take a similar approach?

    To promote a product, you need to imprint a clear image of it in the minds of your target audience. What do you think of, for instance, when you hear “Ritz-Carlton”? What about “Motel 6”? They’re both hotel chains, but the names certainly conjure up different images. Both have been quite successful in the hospitality industry, but they project very different images to appeal to different clienteles. The differences are evident in their promotions. The Ritz-Carlton Web site describes “luxury hotels” and promises that the chain provides “the finest personal service and facilities throughout the world” (Ritz-Carlton, 2011). Motel 6, by contrast, characterizes its facilities as “discount hotels” and assures you that you’ll pay “discount hotel rates” (Motel 6, 2011).

    Promotional Tools

    We’ll now examine each of the elements that can go into the promotion mix—advertising, personal selling, sales promotion, and publicity. Then we’ll see how Wow Wee incorporated them into a promotion mix to create a demand for Robosapien.


    Advertising is paid, nonpersonal communication designed to create an awareness of a product or company. Ads are everywhere—in print media (such as newspapers, magazines, the Yellow Pages), on billboards, in broadcast media (radio and TV), and on the Internet. It’s hard to escape the constant barrage of advertising messages; indeed, it’s estimated that the average consumer is confronted by about five thousand ad messages each day (compared with about five hundred ads a day in the 1970s) (Johnson, 2011). For this very reason, ironically, ads aren’t as effective as they used to be. Because we’ve learned to tune them out, companies now have to come up with innovative ways to get through to potential customers. A New York Times article (Story, 2007) claims that “anywhere the eye can see, it’s likely to see an ad.” Subway turnstyles are plastered with ads for GEICO auto insurance, Chinese food containers are decorated with ads for Continential Airways, parking meters display ads for Campbell’s Soup (Godin, 1999), examining tables in pediatricians’ offices are covered with ads for Disney’s Little Einsteins DVDs, school buses play radio ads for children, “Got Milk” billboards at San Francisco bus stops give off the smell of chocolate chip cookies, and U.S. Airways is even selling ads on motion sickness bags (yuck!) (Story, 2007). Even so, advertising is still the most prevalent form of promotion.

    Your choice of advertising media depends on your product, your target audience, and your budget. A travel agency selling spring-break getaways to college students might post flyers on campus bulletin boards or run ads in campus newspapers. A pharmaceutical company trying to develop a market for a new allergy drug might focus on TV ads that reach a broad audience of allergy sufferers. A fitness center might purchase a Google ad that appears next to the search results when someone puts in a relevant keyword, such as fitness. A small hot dog and hamburger stand will probably spend its limited advertising budget on ads in the Yellow Pages and local newspapers (or pay a broke college student to stand by the side of the road dressed in a hot dog costume and hold a sign that entices potential customers to “come on in”). The cofounders of Nantucket Nectars found radio ads particularly effective. Rather than pay professionals, they produced their own ads themselves. (Actually, they just got on the radio and started rambling about their product or their lives or anything else that seemed interesting at the time.) (Nantucket Allserve, Inc., 2011) As unprofessional as they sounded, the ads worked, and the business grew.

    Personal Selling

    Personal selling refers to one-on-one communication with customers or potential customers. This type of interaction is necessary in selling large-ticket items, such as homes, and it’s also effective in situations in which personal attention helps to close a sale, such as sales of cars and insurance policies.

    Many retail stores depend on the expertise and enthusiasm of their salespeople to persuade customers to buy. Home Depot has grown into a home-goods giant in large part because it fosters one-on-one interactions between salespeople and customers. The real difference between Home Depot and everyone else, says one of its cofounders, isn’t the merchandise; it’s the friendly, easy-to-understand advice that salespeople give to novice homeowners. Customers who never thought they could fix anything suddenly feel empowered to install a carpet or hang wallpaper (Clancy, 2001).

    “Congratulations! You can spend two free nights at any Hyatt Hotel in the world! All you have to do is sign up for a Hyatt-branded credit card” (Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, 2011). This tactic is a form of sales promotion in which a company provides an incentive for a potential customer to buy something. Most sales promotions are more straightforward than our hotel stay/credit-card offer. Promotional giveaways might feature free samples or money-off coupons. Promotions can involve in-store demonstrations or trade-show displays. They can be cheaper than advertising and can encourage customers to buy something quickly.

    Apple Inc. and Starbucks partner to promote the iTunes experience by giving away free iTunes products, including a “Pick of the Week” music download, apps, book samples from the iBookstore, TV shows, and games. The current app giveaway is the Shazam Encore App, a music recognition service that allows users to immediately identify any song that’s playing, see the lyrics, watch the music videos, purchase concert tickets, and buy the track and share it with friends on Facebook and Twitter. The joint promotion benefits both companies: Apple gets to plug its iTunes download and other products, and Starbucks entices customers to come into its stores, enjoy free Wi-Fi, and buy coffee (Kelly B., 2011).

    Publicity and Public Relations

    Free publicity—say, getting your company or your product mentioned in a newspaper or on TV—can often generate more customer interest than a costly ad. You may remember the holiday season buying frenzy surrounding a fuzzy red doll named “Tickle Me Elmo.” The big break for this product came when the marketing team sent a doll to the one-year-old son of talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell. Two months before Christmas, O’Donnell started tossing dolls into the audience every time a guest said the word wall. The product took off, and the campaign didn’t cost marketers anything except a few hundred dolls (Media Awareness Network, 2011).

    Consumer perception of a company is often important to a company’s success. Many companies, therefore, manage their public relations in an effort to garner favorable publicity for themselves and their products. When the company does something noteworthy, such as sponsoring a fund-raising event, the public relations department may issue a press release to promote the event. When the company does something negative, such as selling a prescription drug that has unexpected side effects, the public relations department will work to control the damage to the company. Each year, the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Financial Times jointly survey more than a thousand CEOs in twenty countries to identify companies that have exhibited exceptional integrity or commitment to corporate governance and social responsibility. Among the companies circulating positive public relations as a result of a survey were General Electric, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, and IBM (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2011).