The idea comes from Max Racks, which helped spawn a new promotional channel by distributing free postcards touting marketers' messages at restaurants in major cities.
New York-based Max Racks in December launches a new product service allowing samples to be tucked inside restaurant carryout orders in Manhattan.
The company hopes to expand the concept, called Max Racks to Go, into the Miami area and Los Angeles next year, eventually adding other cities across the U.S., said Sylvie Anapole, president of Max Racks, which she helped found in 1994.
RESTAURANTS ARE EAGER
Restaurants are eager to offer premium product samples as an added value to customers, she said, and marketers say they're willing to pay Max Racks' price of 50 cents per sample to get their products into takeout food deliveries.
"Marketers aren't even trying to reach a mass audience here-instead they want a highly targeted slice of people who have already demonstrated by ordering out that they've got plenty of discretionary income to spend," Ms. Anapole said.
The service will target middle-income to upscale consumers.
One major fragrance marketer is currently in discussions to participate, but Ms. Anapole declined to name it.
Max Racks has grown rapidly in the past three years to encompass a network of promotional postcard displays in key restaurants, bars, health clubs and record stores across the U.S.
Consumers pick up the free cards, which emphasize bold graphics and unusual ads translated to postcards, for collecting or to mail to friends. Max Racks claims it's currently giving away 11,000 postcards per hour through 1,500 outlets.
Although it has competition in some cities from Go Card, Chicago, and Pick:Nick Media, Los Angeles, Max Racks claims to be the only national promotional service of its kind.
Sponsors pay $3,500 to $3,900 per month, per city, to display a postcard. They include Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola Co., Liz Claiborne Inc. and ABC-TV. A selection of 22 different cards changes each month.
SAMPLES ON POSTCARDS
Max Racks began experimenting with distributing product samples this year by attaching tiny samples to its rack-based postcards.
Recent examples include a scent sample of Schieffelin & Somerset Co.'s new Citraz alcohol-based beverages, a drop of Chanel No. 5 perfume and Warner-Lambert Co.'s new concentrated Certs Powerful mints. Each sample is tightly sealed so scents don't interfere with restaurant atmospheres.
The on-card sampling was so successful it sparked the food delivery channel idea, which will allow larger samples of more diverse products, including health and beauty aids, household products, food, and candy. Samples will be sealed so no scent will mingle with the food.
The company's ad revenue has increased 50% annually as postcard distribution soared in cities including Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, Boston, Seattle and Dallas.
Currently, Max Racks' fastest growth area for free postcards is colleges and movie theaters. But the company also boasts a Web site (www.maxracks.com), allowing consumers to e-mail promotional postcards to friends.
"Our advertisers are trying to get their products and brands into consumers' hands through alternative channels," Ms. Anapole said. "We're doing it for them by bringing promotional messages and products directly into their leisure time and lifestyles in a very uncluttered environment."
Contributing: Carol Krol.