As MarCom Pros, we have all seen some incredibly creative and successful marketing campaigns. What immediately comes to my mind is the recent "Mayhem Man" campaign from Allstate insurance, the "Where's the Beef" Wendy’s commercials from years ago and Barack Obama's 2008 Presidential campaign. All of these campaigns established their respective brands as household names, and in the case of President Obama, brilliantly leveraged social media technology and grassroots support to win the biggest prize of all.
However, all of these campaigns, and any others that might be your favorites, pale in comparison to the most effective marketing campaign of all time - the "Free" goldfish kids win at school fairs. Talk about the original "social media" and "grassroots campaign".
This time-honored tradition is by far the most effective marketing strategy ever conceived. We all know how it works - one of your kids plays a game-of-chance at the school carnival and comes running over to you bursting with excitement. "Mom, Dad, I just won a "free" goldfish at the local pet store!!!!! Can we go get it now?”
Think about it. What is supposed to be a "free" prize quickly turns into a trip to the pet store where you end up buying an expensive fish bowl or aquarium, all kinds of accessories to put in the aquarium, another fish or two to keep poor lonesome "Goldie" company, and perhaps a cute puppy or kitty that also looked so lonesome sitting there in the store. Several hundred dollars later, the "Free" goldfish has set into motion a chain of events that will end up costing you several hundred dollars more over the coming years.
We all know where it leads from here - the "Free" goldfish soon expires and goes to the great aquarium in the sky (or the porcelain Mausoleum in your bathroom). Now, the light of your life needs another fish or two to replace Goldie. And while you're at the pet store, maybe it's time to get that hamster or gecko little Suzy and Billy have been dying to buy. So now what started out as the "Free" goldfish takes a sizable chunk of your household income every month in pet food, supplies and veterinarian bills for the growing menagerie of animals that now make up your home zoo.
But it doesn't stop there! Before you know it Suzy and Billy are ready to go to college, but of course their pets can't accompany them. That means you now become the family zookeeper and inherit all that it entails. So what started out as a "Free" goldfish several years ago has now cost you several thousand dollars.
The moral of the story is that this is the type of strategy and results MarCom pros need to create! We ideally need to ‘hook’ the consumer when they are young (or when they are the most receptive), form an emotional bond with them that will last for decades, involve other family members, constantly up-sell them into buying more and different products, leave them (at least the kids) feeling very satisfied with the experience and with a sense of loyalty to engage on a regular basis.
Several brands are already doing this quite successfully, to a certain degree. McDonald's, for example, has been attracting generations of families to buy their Happy Meals for many years. Brands like Coca Cola, Tide, Campbell's Soup, Disney, Clorox, Apple and many others have formed strong emotional bonds and dedicated consumer loyalty that are shared from generation to generation.
Gillette even did a twist on the "Free" goldfish strategy several years ago by pricing razor blades so low that customer would buy the more expensive razor to get the "free" blades that fit it. However, times change and new technologies like disposable razors and better electric shavers come along and force marketers to change their strategies. How many iconic brands, other than those mentioned above, still attract the same degree of customer loyalty?
While you ponder that question, I have another. Would anyone like a gecko named Snuffy - it's free!