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When Nabisco Biscuit Co. stages its Triscuit cracker promotion later this year, it won't rely on cents-off coupons or a two-for-one sale.

Rather, the marketer will offer consumers a chance to win free stays at various country inns across the nation.

"We want to do something consistent with the brand's image and the demographics of the consumers who buy the products," says Jerry Noonan, VP-marketing. "We don't want just any campaign, but a good fit that helps to reinforce the brand's identity in shoppers' minds."

The Triscuit effort is part of a revamped approach to promotions that parallels Nabisco's shift away from discounting to more advertising spending.

"A couple of years ago we had at least 10 different kinds of promotions," says Mr. Noonan. Today, Nabisco has three: basic couponing/sampling for new products; targeted efforts like the Triscuit promotion; and big, multibrand tie-ins with compatible marketers like Sony or Coca-Cola.

"But even with the first type, we're doing less and less price couponing and more and more sampling to build trial. We want to generate an overall Nabisco image of family fun and entertainment," says Mr. Noonan.

Nabisco is one of a growing number of companies moving away from the quick-fix price approach of many promotions to brand-building efforts that help position a product for the future.

"Promotion used to be viewed largely as a trial-generating device, but today we're beginning to see its role in building a longer-term relationship with the consumer," says Jeff McElnea, president-ceo of Einson-Freeman, a Paramus, N.J.-based promotion agency. "We're looking at promotions that are repeatable, where you can have a cumulative effect."

The hot buzzwords in the promotion community today: Brand equity. In fact, Promotion Marketing Association of America's annual update conference later this month is titled "Brand Building Ahead," and will focus on "the value-added approach to promotions."

Also, Council of Sales Promotions Agencies has a new focus on brand equity, according to Dave Tridle, CSPA president and president of Frankel Services, a unit of Frankel & Co., Chicago.

"In addition to putting together promotions that build volume we need to strive to build long-term equity," says Mr. Tridle. "Promotions that build brands either establish or reinforce an image, feeling or-most importantly-an experience a consumer has had of what the brand is all about."

As an example, Mr. Tridle notes his agency's work for Dayton Hudson Corp.'s Target Stores for its 1992 entry into the Chicago market.

"We created an array of action-oriented things that reflected the store's personality and didn't just get people into the stores for a good deal," he says.

Included were product sampling on commuter trains and an interactive in-store game that awarded prizes on the spot.

The focus on brand building is appropriate, according to Larry Light, who is chairman of Coalition for Brand Equity, an industry group founded by the American Association of Advertising Agencies and Association of National Advertisers, in addition to president of consultancy Arcature Corp.

"It's easy to blame a decline in brand equity on external circumstances-the Clinton administration, the Japanese, store brands. ... But the truth is when a brand goes down it's a self-inflicted wound. And one wound is making promotions synonymous with price."

Marketing executives say the particular tactics aren't the issue; any promotional form can carry a brand-building message. Still, they admit 80% of all promotions are coupon-based, and that indicates a lopsided focus on price.

"Discounting is perhaps the toughest promotional tactic to reconcile with building brand equity, but even that can become brand oriented," argues Jo-Anne Ebensteiner, VP-creative director, CME Promotion Marketing, a unit of Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis. "Don't just slap a 50-cents-off box on an FSI and be done with it. Use the space to say something about the brand."

Successful fast-food marketers like McDonald's Corp. and Wendy's International offer some of the best examples of price-based promotions that help to create a brand image.

Wendy's, notes VP-Communications Denny Lynch, has "in general steered away from couponing and instead created a promotion that has become part of the essence of Wendy's: the Super Value menu."

Super Value is comprised of nine core items each priced at 99 cents.

First tested in 1988, the effort "is not even seen as a promotion anymore-we've essentially branded it. It's been a true success and ... is a big part of why we've had four consecutive years of more than 20% sales increases," says Mr. Lynch.

"The food is our hero, both in our advertising and our promotions. We don't do a lot of free glass offers or movie tie-ins. Not that they don't work for some, but for us, the focused approach works best," he adds.

"Consumers don't say, `This is a promotion; this is an ad,'*" says Mr. Tridle. "They look at the total picture and it either builds an image in the consumer's mind or it doesn't.

"The question isn't should brand building be about advertising or promotions or even public relations or packaging," he says. "The question is, does each element add or detract from the image the marketer is trying to project?"

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