BarqÃ¢â¬â¢s Root Beer, Elvis, and Russian Knickknacks
BarqÃ¢â¬â¢s root beer is a regional soft drink brand that was founded in New Orleans. Nearly a hundred years after its founding, BarqÃ¢â¬â¢s remained a smallshare brand with a limited advertising and promotion budget. In the early 1990s, BarqÃ¢â¬â¢s decided to promote the brand in commemoration of the fifteenth anniversary of Elvis PresleyÃ¢â¬â¢s death. BarqÃ¢â¬â¢s vice president of marketing thought up a great premium idea that would involve purchasing an old Cadillac that Elvis had owned, cutting it into thousands of small pieces, and offering each piece to a different consumer as part of a mail-in premium requiring multiple proofs of purchase of BarqÃ¢â¬â¢s root beer. There was only one problem with this premium idea: The administrators of the Presley estate demanded a $1 million licensing fee, which exceeded tenfold BarqÃ¢â¬â¢s budget for the promotion.
Unable to afford this, BarqÃ¢â¬â¢s marketing vice president scrambled to find a replacement. Just about this time, the Soviet government collapsed. Seeing the news on TV, the vice president hit immediately on the idea of a replacement for the failed Elvis promotion: Ã¢â¬ÅThe Soviet Union Going Out of Business Sale.Ã¢â¬Â Mind you, this had all taken place within a month or lessÃ¢â¬âdecision making on the run, so to speak. With a meager $70,000 in his possession, Rick Hill, BarqÃ¢â¬â¢s marketing vice president, boarded a plane to Russia to purchase exÃ¢â¬â Soviet Union memorabilia. Unable to find legitimate businesspeople from whom to purchase ex-Soviet items, Hill turned to members of the Soviet Mafia. Within two weeks he spent the $70,000 acquiring 4,000 pounds of ex-Soviet stuff (Russian nesting dolls, Lenin Day pins, military medals, etc.) that was shipped back to the United States.
BarqÃ¢â¬â¢s offered one randomly chosen Soviet knickknack with a 12-pack proof of purchase and 50 cents postage and handling charge. This last-minute, desperate promotion achieved incredible results: 5 percent of all consumers eligible for the promotion actually took advantage of it, and sales increased 30 percent versus the comparable period the previous year. This mail-in premium promotion also received the industryÃ¢â¬â¢s top promotion award for the year. The moral of the story: A creative promotion that is of high topical interest and captures the publicÃ¢â¬â¢s imagination can be extremely successful.
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