Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Merchandising: Capitalizing on the Surprising


In our office we have a coffee mug with the picture, name, and slogan of a singer-songwriter we knew years ago. She left the business awhile back, but if she ever turns up in our orbit again, it's fair to say that the presence of that mug will have some effect on the interest we'll take.

I thought of this when I learned of a high-class twist on the time-tested concept of the promotional mug. In conjunction with the release of Pedro Almodóvar's latest film, Los Abrazos Rotos, the illy coffee company has created an arty cup-and-saucer collection featuring emblematic scenes from the director's most famous movies.

Now, much as I adore Penélope Cruz, I'm not about to spend $60 for the privilege of sipping espresso from a cup with her face on it. But that's not the point. Just the fact that I've learned about this promotion (via a Twitter post) has incrementally increased the likelihood that I'll see the film.

Why? Because the film's promoters did something just a little bit new, a little bit different, and hence a little bit worth tweeting about.

When I saw Rock of Ages on Broadway a couple of months ago, every audience member was handed an LED "cigarette lighter" to wave during the show's classic hair-band songs. It was a great promotional gimmick, because the darn thing's actually useful as a small flashlight, so I've held on to it. Although I loved Rock of Ages, I'm sure that tiny piece of swag has increased the number of people I've recommended the show to, because carrying the little light around in my bag has kept the musical closer to top-of-mind.

Merchandising—whether it's swag (free stuff) or purchasable items (original cast albums, concert t-shirts, an Almodóvar espresso cup)—is here to stay, because it works. But coming up with something creative, something a little different from what people are used to—something, in other words, worth talking about—can give a campaign that extra nudge and push the product deeper into public awareness.

It doesn't even have to be expensive.  For the right price, you can get a logo imprinted on just about any manufactured item you can think of, but the do-it-yourself method works too: I've seen musicians selling, along with their CDs and t-shirts, unique items such as art prints, self-printed books of poetry, homemade cosmetics, and logo-imprinted candy.  Some of these items are more lasting than others, of course, but the creative thinking is evident.  Singer-songwriter Kay Ashley hands out "Kay-zoos" at her shows—bright yellow kazoos emblazoned with her logo.  During her set, she has you play along with a particular song, and when you go home you have a lasting (and possibly useful) souvenir.

So it's not necessarily about spending a lot of money.  It's creative thinking that can give your product a push into the public's consciousness. Go and create.

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