If it cuts through clutter, then it’s a good idea

If it cuts through clutter, then it’s a good idea – marketing

Greg Cebrzynski

As Roger Berkowitz tells it, “A fellow in town had an idea…”

And so Allston, Mass-based Legal Seafoods, of which Berkowitz is president and chief executive, took the fellow up on it last September.

The idea was a promotion: Turn in a coupon at any of the Legal Seafoods restaurants in Boston and get a free cup of chowder with purchase of an entree. There is nothing revolutionary about that concept; coupons have been a staple of marketing for decades.

But the idea had a twist: Put the coupon on the back of Massachusetts Turnpike toll receipts.

“It struck me as interesting and perhaps as an advertising venue that hasn’t been exploited before,” Berkowitz said. “The beauty of it is that it’s an unclogged means of advertising. You don’t have other people doing it.”

And as he points out, “It’s the most effective billboard you can think of.”

People must be able to see the billboard, however, before they can respond to its message. Receipts aren’t given out automatically; motorists who use the turnpike have to ask for them. No problem. Legal Seafoods arranged to have a turnpike message sign flash news about the offer.

The promotion last fall ran for six months and proved so successful that Legal Seafoods just expanded it. Now customers can get either a free cup of chowder, dessert — chocolate pudding cake — or a children’s entree with purchase of an adult meal. In other words, not every promotion has to involve Teenie Beanie Babies to be an idea that works.

“Thousands” of motorists took the chain up on its first offer, said Annie Kirsch, Legal’s public-relations and marketing director. “It’s a unique marketing opportunity.”

There’s nothing elaborate about the promotion, but it cuts through the clutter of advertising, and consumers get something of value.

Naturally, there’s no way of knowing beforehand whether any promotion, ad campaign or pricing strategy will work. “Half of my advertising dollars are wasted” is the old saying. “But I don’t know which half.”

In some situations there’s even a certainty of failure. New-product launches fall into that category. Eighty percent — some marketing experts put the rate as high as 90 percent — of all new products fail within a year.

Marketing, it turns out, often becomes a guessing game, even for programs backed up with substantial research or test marketing. But marketing also is in the idea business, and ideas don’t really exist until they’re tossed into the marketplace.

The value of running with an idea never was lost on Joseph K. Anderson, chairman of Colonial Ice Cream Inc. in St. Charles, Ill., who died in early February. His company, founded in 1901, operates seven family restaurants near Chicago, and he once told the Chicago Tribune that the chain was successful because it was willing to innovate.

“We have never hesitated to try an idea that might work, and a lot of them didn’t,” he said. “But enough have [worked] to make it reasonably successful after all these years.”

Legal Seafoods tried something, and it worked. The coupon promotion can be a strong, short-term strategy, and Berkowitz said it would continue “at least for the foreseeable future.”

When it comes to long-term strategy, the hot ideas continue to be brand marketing and integrated marketing programs. Nathan’s Famous Inc. is putting its faith in its brand equity, and Chick-fil-A found that an integrated strategy contributed to its $672 million in systemwide sales for 1997.

“Nathan’s is focused on brand marketing and points-of-distribution strategy, both domestically and internationally,” said Wayne Norbitz, president and chief operating officer of the hot-dog concern.

Its branded-product program has grown to 300 points of distribution, and the company recently signed an agreement to market Nathan’s proprietary home-meal-replacement products to supermarkets nationwide. Nathan’s total systemwide sales, including supermarket volume, were $87.2 million for the 39 weeks ending Dec. 28, 1997, compared with $89.9 million for the previous fiscal year.

Chick-fil-A’s use of its famous cows, urging consumers to “Eat Mor Chikin,” has been so successful that the chain created an integrated marketing program around them. The cows appear in TV and radio commercials, on point-of-purchase material and as part of the chain’s direct-mail campaign. They made guest appearances at the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship on the LPGA Tour and at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

The next likely hot idea: local or regional marketing. It can boost sales at individual units in a way that mass-marketing campaigns, which don’t always account for demographic changes from region to region, cannot accomplish. Morrison Restaurants Inc. already has embarked on that strategy, and McDonald’s Corp. said it would shift its media spending this year to an even split between local and national advertising.

Good idea. Will it work? That’s anybody’s guess.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Lebhar-Friedman, Inc.

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