As part of its strategy to make promotions a larger part of its consumer marketing expenditures, Frito uncharacteristically developed traditional advertising centered around its summertime "Magic in a Bag" effort, a giveaway of $1 million via $5, $10 and $100 bills found inside a number of its chip brands. And, also atypically, it chose its promotion agency, Frankel, Chicago, to create it.
"Usually, the product news is the central focus of our advertising and it's all about brand equity, but in this case, the promotion was the center of the idea and it made sense that the agency closest to the promotion would develop it," said Lora DeVuono, Frito's VP-retail marketing.
The decision to hand ad creative for "Magic" over to Frankel was based in part on the premise that "our promotional agencies understand promotions better than our ad agencies do," Ms. DeVuono said.
ADAPT OR LOSE OUT
As the attention to promotions in advertising grows, especially from traditional package-goods companies with a need to goose sales, ad agencies stand to lose out if they don't adapt.
"Promotions can drive brand equity, and all the elements of media need to be used to support it," said Jon Kramer, president of marketing agency J. Brown/LMC, Stamford, Conn. "The agencies that don't understand that do so at their own peril."
The walls between advertising and promotion are starting to crumble, Mr. Kramer said, and the reason is simple. "Manufacturers are being evaluated on a quarter by quarter basis, and they don't have the luxury of waiting years for advertising to be effective. It's logical to think that advertising can both build the equity of a brand and resonate with consumers in a more immediate nature."
Robert Balick, senior VP-executive creative director at Frankel, agreed. "The whole point with promotion is to get people to act right now."
The promotional focus of Frito's new ad is part of the company's strategy to use what Ms. DeVuono calls a "full-court press" against consumer promotions that bundle multiple Frito brands and target specific groups such as kids. "Our products have tremendous household penetration; now we need to give consumers one more reason to buy our brands," she said.
NO FIRM PRECEDENT
Frankel's handling of the "Magic" advertising does not necessarily set a firm precedent for the way promotional ads will be handled in the future at Frito, Ms. DeVuono said. In fact, she acknowledged the likelihood that ads to support promotions for single brands would likely still be handled by the brand teams at roster agency BBDO Worldwide, New York.
But other companies with highly recognizable brands have also found ads created by promotion agencies can help spur consumers to act. J. Brown/LMC has created a variety of ads for Campbell Soup Co. that aim to drive consumers to stores to take part in Campbell's Labels for Education program or its in-store meal solutions effort. With those ads, Mr. Kramer said, "there's only one measurement of success and that is cases moved out the door."
Doner is one agency that has grasped the shift clients are making toward promotions. The Detroit-based agency has created a promotion group based in Cleveland to respond to the trend to offer "a full palate of options for whatever the client needs," said John Sloan, account management director.
Ideally, he said, "We would like to be able to put together the whole communication plan from brand building to promotions with everything pointing to and supporting a brand's positioning. An agency, if they're doing their job correctly, has to be the keeper of the brand."
Mr. Sloan admits, however, that some clients still feel more comfortable using a dedicated promotion agency. In the case of client Chiquita Fresh, Doner often partners with promotion agency the Botsford Group, Atlanta, which has in some cases developed radio and print advertising to support the promotions it develops.
"Promotions have become more a focus of advertising, and we're doing a lot more creative than we had been," said David Botsford, president of the agency. Although he is quick to point out that a lot of ad agencies can produce great promotion creative, Doner among them, "some ad agency creative people don't understand promotion-oriented work."
Unlike traditional brand advertising, promotional spots most often need to communicate a vast amount of information to describe the promotion and its rules and regulations while still making the message compelling, he said. But while Mr. Botsford points to the dangers of ad agencies that have "a bad attitude about promotions," he cedes that promo shops that don't appreciate the creative process are also a hazard.
"A lot of us [at Botsford] came from the ad agency side, but in general clients should judge on a case by case basis how creative-savvy the promotion agency is," he said.
Fearing just that lack of ad expertise, some promo agencies are not eager to jump into the ad-creating business.
`THE SLIPPERY SLOPE'
"I view it as the slippery slope: If we don't stay focused and true to our expertise, the next thing you know we've become a jack of all trades and master of none," said Jim Holbrook, president of Zipatoni, St. Louis. "I'd much rather embrace the idea that our clients are smart enough to select best-in-class specialists." Zipatoni will get involved in some promotional media, but Mr. Holbrook said, "Our first step is to bring in the ad agency and see what role they want to play."
Partnering with ad agencies is even easier for promo shops these days as most of the top 100 are connected to advertising holding companies. Zipatoni itself has sold a minority stake to Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide, and Botsford was recently acquired by Interpublic as part of its purchase of Fitzgerald & Co. Interpublic in total owns 10 promo agencies, Omnicom Group owns six, Publicis three, True North Communications has five and WPP Group, two.