‘Play’ as a gateway to consumers

Plato once said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” That’s because “play” is a tremendous icebreaker.

In a fascinating podcast from the Ted Radio Hour called “Press Play,” strangers who played together felt empathy and sympathy for each other after just 15 minutes. Later in that podcast, The Institute for Play said that play is the gateway to vitality: “By its nature, play is uniquely and intrinsically rewarding. It generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, and promotes a sense of belonging.” Sounds like some of the same things marketers strive for in developing relationships between consumers and brands, doesn’t it?

So what does “play” look like when it comes to marketing?

Wendy’s tongue-in-cheek “BBQ4merica” promotion was lauded at the most recent 4As conference for its effectiveness. It used celebrities to help bring BBQ to “BBQ-deprived” areas of America. The effort, developed in partnership with digital agency VML, delivered 17.5 million video views, 210 million impressions, and 10.3 million engagements. I think it gave the brand a chance to play with their consumers, which again created empathy, liking, belonging, and a relationship—all of which drive brand preference.

There are many ways to play, but one of the most exciting ways to engage consumers with a brand and its message is through contesting. Frito-Lay needed to revitalize its image to a new generation of snackers, so with its agency, OMD, it created the “Do Us a Flavor” campaign, which asked people to come up with the next great flavor. Dream it up, name it, share it; then have America vote on it. It worked so well that Frito-Lay decided to work exclusively with consumers to develop all creative. The mechanism at the core of the program? You got it: a contest.

Contests are memorable, even after the promotion is over. CRN tested this theory in a campaign executed for Microsoft. We asked people what they remembered hearing on air between the campaign’s contests, content, sponsorships, and commercials; 85 percent said the contest. Why would people care to remember their chance to win free software? We believe that contests stand out from other types of messaging because they grab attention with an urgent and excited delivery, lead with “what’s in it for them” (a desirable prize), and then deliver the link between the promotion and the brand in a way that sticks in their minds.

Last year, CRN asked 500 consumers what form of radio messaging interests them the most. The overwhelming majority said custom content, and a surprising second place finisher was contests and sweepstakes, handily beating commercials, endorsements and consumer testimonials.

Ironically, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard clients say they don’t like contests or promotions, feeling that giving away prizes cheapens their brand. Yet when comparing intent to purchase a product, nearly 60 percent of the consumers CRN surveyed said they would be very or somewhat likely to consider buying the product of a contest or sweepstakes sponsor, compared with 40 percent for a commercial.

Giving travelers the chance to win a trip to the Cayman Islands, the island’s tourism board experienced its highest off-season bookings ever. Hanes experienced a 45 percent sales increase. Klondike had a 250-time increase in website visits. The list goes on and on.

So what makes radio promotions so effective? Quite simply, people love to play and love to win—radio promotions give them both.  As you think about creating a contest or sweepstakes in your promotional radio campaign, here are a few points to keep in mind:

1. The promotional creative process starts with strategy, and strategy leads to tactics. Therefore, there is no “one size fits all” promotion, prize, entry, or message. Promotion is every bit as strategic as marketing, branding and sales. Contest entry mechanisms and prizes should be carefully developed to drive home the brand message, be relevant and desirable to the consumer, and produce the desired action or perception.

2. Promotions need to engage the targeted consumer. Even if you’re doing a sweepstakes, it needs to be designed from the ground up so it fits the brand and the people you want to engage.  It cannot be retrofitted to something a radio station has in their prize closet, and you can’t simply slap your brand name on a preexisting radio promotion.

3. Promotions need to produce the desired consumer behavior. If the purpose of a campaign, for example, is to drive people to a specific retailer to purchase, that objective needs to inform everything that the campaign does. Each tactic, no matter how entertaining or engaging, must be examined: “But will it help the campaign meet its objective?” And: “Will it help increase sales?”

4. Promotion messages need to be consistent and carefully crafted. Messages need to be the same across markets and not strong in some places and weak in others because that’s all the station could provide. Copy needs to be taken seriously as a true communications vehicle. It should be written by a skilled copywriter and not left to radio station staff. One who knows how to balance branding messages with call to action, and puts careful consideration into recall.

5. Promotions need to be local. Larger-than-life local prizes make all the difference. They make people feel like they have a chance to win, and when they hear that someone in a neighboring town won a contest, they remember the brand, reason, and message delivered. You can’t expect someone to feel like they have a chance at winning one prize being given away nationally. We’ve found that consumers can sniff out a weak national prize and tend to tune out copycat national promotions. For real engagement, trim the odds and tip them in the consumer’s favor of winning.

Fundamentally, promotions are about taking action. When done right, they are ownable and deliver brand messages inside an exciting environment.

Utilizing radio, especially promotional radio, can separate your brand from all the advertisers who merely run commercials. Radio is a medium that is relevant, intimate with its listeners (who frequently listen while driving to the store), available today in more platforms than ever, and can increase your sales if used effectively.

Promotion is a strategic part of marketing. It’s about time we started thinking about it that way.

Rob O'Mara
Managing Director,
Strategy and Development