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CHICAGO-The secret to building brands through promotions is integrating powerful incentives directly into general brand ad campaigns, say top promotion executives.

It's no longer possible to separate promotions from image advertising, because today's harried, impatient consumers have grown accustomed to year-round discounts and deals for almost every product category, executives said at the Promotion Marketing Association of America's annual Update Conference here last week.

"Consumers are increasingly skeptical and demanding, and they want it all-the best quality, lowest price and best service. Promotion and advertising together must deliver all of that now, all the time," said Blaise Mercadante, VP-marketing services for Taco Bell, describing the company's promotional marketing strategy.

Taco Bell's sales have increased 50% since the company began integrating limited-time price promotions into its core brand ad campaign in 1989. This has since become its market positioning, Mr. Mercadante said.

"We weave together our brand image of quality food with aggressive price promotion, so we have no brand advertising at all that doesn't include promotion," he said.

Taco Bell also has a policy of continually changing its promotional brand ad messages for a series of products to maintain consumers' attention. Fast-food rivals have widely imitated that tactic.

"It's important to change the message, using humor or a straightforward approach at various times, because we're selling to a parade, not to a continuous target," Mr. Mercadante said.

Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, is Taco Bell's agency.

MCI Communications Corp.'s Catherine Smith concurred that consumers demand a steady stream of incentives and rewards in today's marketplace.

Recognizing that, and feeding customers advertising spiked with promotional offers, has made "the crucial difference" in the success of MCI's Friends & Family long-distance discount telephone calling plan since its introduction in 1991, said Ms. Smith, senior manager of joint promotions.

In its general advertising for Friends & Family, MCI has also relied heavily on promotional tie-ins to major marketers including Procter & Gamble Co., McDonald's Corp., Toys "R" Us and-most recently-CBS-TV.

"Through promotional tie-ins, we've added value to our limited-time offers and shared the communications effort with other companies that have advertised our brand in their promotions. The strategy has been very effective," Ms. Smith said.

No. 2 MCI's share of the $65 billion long-distance market increased to 19.8% last year from 13% in '91, when the program was introduced. Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, is MCI's agency.

At Campbell Soup Co., 2-year-old efforts to integrate promotions with brand ad campaigns have resulted in dramatic market share increases, particularly with the Prego spaghetti sauce line, said VP-Global Advertising Gary Moss.

"We have used print advertisements with coupons side by side with a TV campaign that uses the same visual and promotional elements to reinforce one message," he said, "and the result has been extremely consistent and effective results."

Prego's agency is FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York.

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