By Published on .

It's spellbinding to read that big ad agencies are now taking a "sales promotion approach" to advertising. Promotion agencies of all sizes have been trying to take an "advertising" approach to promotion for many years now -- usually with nearly disastrous results.

Don't misunderstand. It's terrific promotion is finally being embraced as possibly the driver of "integrated marketing" programs by some of the most stellar names in the ad world. It's equally gratifying Advertising Age says the term "below the line" ought to be deep-sixed (Viewpoint, AA, Aug. 3).

But this fuzzy-minded integrated marketing blather threatens to dilute, and perhaps destroy, that which makes advertising and promotion what they are.


What makes promotion so powerful is its ability to influence consumer behavior. The most effective way to influence behavior is to issue a call to action. It's the extent to which the promotion business, in its attempt to "be more like advertising," has walked away from this organizing principle. Too often promotion has forgotten about asking for the sale, let alone giving the consumer a tangible reason to respond in the affirmative in a timely fashion.

Making promotions look more like advertisements isn't a totally bad thing. Promotion's visual element has been, for the most part, pedestrian. But the creative execution must also fully leverage promotion's innate ability to build a brand by building its sales.

It's the same kind of thinking -- that promotion needs to be more like advertising -- that led to promotion's frequently misguided infatuation with tie-ins, sponsorships and licensing deals. In many cases, this apparently amounts to little more than an attempt by promotion folks to capture some of that famous Madison Avenue star power.

Tie-ins and sponsorships usually produce an extraordinarily weak application of promotion's potential. Borrowing the equities of other branded properties and attempting to graft them onto your brand's image often overwhelms promotion's raison d'etre -- to motivate a consumer to buy your brand. For example, McDonald's Corp.'s "NBA Stars" promotion spoke only to consumer interest in basketball stars; it failed to leverage that interest to change consumer behavior.


Sponsorships can be done correctly, of course. Gatorade borrows equity from Michael Jordan as its quintessential consumer, but wisely doesn't leave it at that. The brand's promotional call to action is the aspirational message to "Be like Mike" by drinking Gatorade. It deftly integrates his image with a specific motivational trigger. Is that a promotion or an advertisement? It's both in one shot.

There are other ways promotion can help itself by taking a page out of advertising's playbook. High on that list is the concept of conveying one message and one message only, which is a rule in advertising but unfortunately an exception in promotion.

Most package-goods plans call for all activity to happen simultaneously -- advertising, coupon, in-store, feature price, newspaper and display. The only way for the branded product proposition to be heard amid the clamor is via disciplined, focused communications. Too often promotion unleashes a barrage of conflicting messages that rarely coalesce into a coherent communication.

The retail environment is perhaps most underdeveloped as an area where advertising and promotion can be synthesized into a single concept. So far, neither the advertising nor the promotion business has given serious thought to this simple idea: There are few places where sales and marketing occur simultaneously, and retail is one of them.


Historically, the ad community has preferred to believe its brands are never sullied by touching the lowly supermarket shelf, for example. It would just as soon believe brands live only in the glow of TV glamour.

The promotion community, meanwhile, understands the retail environment but only to the extent that it knows what it takes to motivate a shopper to switch from one brand to another. Or to win a retailer's support for feature prices, displays and the like. It takes a pragmatic, utilitarian approach to generating sales lifts that rarely entails any pretense of branding as the ad community knows it and loves it.

If advertising and promotion worked together in the retail arena to fully integrate marketing with sales as a single concept in that context, we would see real marketing magic start to happen. All that's required is to imagine a consumer who is actually excited about going shopping because the shopping environment has all the glamour, allure and sex appeal of a 30-second TV commercial. This is something Starbucks Coffee Co. plainly understands. Retail should be the place that not only sells brands but markets them as well.

Promotion can be exciting, star- powered, cool, in-store, integrated adlike and even fun. Advertising can be accountable for results. Let's knock down marketing's artificial walls. But the two disciplines should not try too hard to be like each other.

Promotion and advertising must not lose sight of what makes each discipline what it is, even as their respective specialists seek to integrate the disciplines and build brands by influencing consumer attitudes as well as behaviors in a single bound.

Mr. Smith is president of the Solutions Marketing division of Grey Advertising's J. Brown/LMC Group, Stamford, Conn.

Most Popular
In this article: