Monday, October 06, 2008

Marketing and the Environment...

This weekend I ran (mostly) the San Jose Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon. A nice race professionally run. These races are increasingly not just athletic events, but marketing events as sponsorship pays a lot of the expenses to hold these events. As I was explaining to my mother who was surprised by the cost of entering that these are costly endeavors given all the roads that have to be closed, the police officers that have to be paid, all the materials, the timing system, etc. The list goes on and on. One of the traditions that has grown over the years has been the "schwag bag" or "goodies bag" where competitors get free samples. It's a way for companies to get people to try their products. And who doesn't like free.

After I picked up my schwag bag I started sorting it out and seeing what was there. Advertising is a tricky business, if you get a 1 - 2 percent take rate on a direct mail company you are doing awesome. Part of what has made Google so successful is that it's take rates are much higher, it is really a more efficient way of advertising for point or sale or research based transactions. (Ironically, this was not invented by Google, but by a company called Overture that was eventually acquired by Yahoo. Similar to how Microsoft did not invent the GUI, but profited more handsomely than earlier entrants. -- Disclosure: I work for a Google competitor). Now if you don't even know you need a product or even such a product exists, brand marketing still is good to "educate" the market.

So goodie bags as advertising have the same pitfalls, how useful or meaningful is this going to be. This year, perhaps because of the economy I noticed that there were a lot of flyers in the bag. Tons of paper for products I'm not going to care about. For instance, I live in the area, so hotels in San Jose don't matter to me. Thankfully most of the consumables actually were of great use, for instance udder butter to reduce chaffing, shaving gel, energy bars, etc. Very pointed. Then Glade(tm) air freshener included a electrical doodad to heat scented oil. My favorite line was "A Free Gift of Glade(tm) for you or someone you love"

Now I have a dilemma, this is the classic "Razor/Razor blade" business model, make your money on the razors. I really have no use for this thing and I'll probably freecycle(tm) it. But for those not using or giving it away it's landfill crap. Never to biodegrade. The dilemma is does someone I love want this thing?

I am real sympathetic to marketeers, it's a tough job that people don't appreciate and loathe. It's a crucial part of our economy, somewhere in the neighborhood of $100+ billion in the U.S. alone. And it's also inherently wasteful. Think about the advertising that you get in your newspaper or your mailbox. Most of it gets thrown away. Don't say you hate advertising, since most everyone subscribes to one catalog or another.

So can we reimagine advertising that disappears. Most advertising is temporal, can we look to publish on other types of paper. Maybe rice paper that dissolves when put in water or bidegrades. How about coupons instead of actual physical products on non-consumables, or non-directly relevant items in goodie bags. The Osars goodie bags are legendary in bling value.

Advertising is a big contributor to landfill, let's rethink what it takes to promote in meaningful ways. There's a win in here somewhere.


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