Dawn of the new sampling age

As we sit here in 1993, the unofficial year of the dinosaur, the evolution of sampling seems comparatively instantaneous.A mere 10 years.In just a decade, sampling evolved into an exciting land of opportunity for Canadian marketers.Two departmentsUntil recently, Canada's national in-store...

As we sit here in 1993, the unofficial year of the dinosaur, the evolution of sampling seems comparatively instantaneous.

A mere 10 years.

In just a decade, sampling evolved into an exciting land of opportunity for Canadian marketers.

Two departments

Until recently, Canada’s national in-store sampling agencies comprised two internal departments – sales and operations.

As new food products and flavors were announced, manufacturers would often support the launch with a flight of in-store demonstrations that offered consumers a chance to sample the product before parting with their hard-earned dollars.

These programs were straightforward and the reputation of the sampling agency was built on its ability to execute.


Future growth within the business, however, would hinge on the ability of suppliers and clients to address a fundamental shortcoming of these programs.

A significant segment of the consumer base was wary of these free offers, fearing a 10-page questionnaire was lurking behind those in-store displays, or, even worse, they would end up buying something they did not want.

Demonstrators would watch as these shoppers manoeuvred their carts on a route that would offer the maximum distance from the demonstrating table while still allowing them access to the prized end-aisle display specials.

More at ease

By putting shoppers more at ease with the process, suppliers and clients knew that sample and coupon distribution would increase, translating into increased trial through purchase, and finally, more customers for the brand.

Manufacturers and distributors called upon their agencies to meet the challenge. More elaborate in-store displays resulted and a new emphasis was placed on enhancing the demonstrators’ product knowledge.

The results were positive, and clients experienced in the business seized the opportunity and threw away the rule book on in-store sampling. They brought in ‘mystery shoppers’ and themes such as ‘BBQ Month.’

New face

Demonstrators stashed aprons for tuxedos and sombreros. The new face of in-store sampling had emerged.

In-store sampling agencies, although excited by the growth in their business, also realized new demands were being made on them that their current internal structure was not designed to meet.

They had to become more proactive in developing concepts, and, furthermore, revenue opportunities were being lost as clients enlisted the services of outside agencies to develop point-of-sale and other support materials.

More integral role

Today, clients can expect their sampling agency will play a more integral role in their planning process, a necessary role as sampling programs of all types, formerly one element of an overall marketing plan, are often now the centrepiece of the plan.

A strong sampling supplier will develop consumer promotions from design to production and administer all associated details. The supplier will offer home economists who will assist in the development of recipes and consumer information pieces.

They will take responsibility for all related endeavors including fulfilment and even warehousing.

In addition to the proliferation of program themes and executional options, the playing field has also changed dramatically.

Universities, colleges, service stations, sporting events and bookstores are part of an ever-expanding list of venues available to marketers.

A recent sponsorship of a ‘Stampede Breakfast’ at the Calgary Stampede, allowed thousands of attendees to sample Kellogg’s Eggo waffles.

At Treasure Tote Marketing, we launched a new program this year through Famous Players movie theatres.

Spawned from the popularity of birthday loot bags, the Movie Loot Bag is a co-operative sample bag handed to children who visit a Famous Players movie theatre during the promotion.

The loot bag offers marketers a chance to target children and parents with samples and coupons.

Shopping malls across Canada hosted Schweppes and the Stars, a tour of soap-opera stars that created a dynamic venue through which Schweppes Raspberry Ginger Ale was extensively sampled.

Retail stores and fast food chains have entered into a number of cross-promotional programs, primarily with confectionery brands.

Patrons of the participating retailers are rewarded with free samples after making a purchase. The brand benefits not only from the trial but the media support put behind the program by the retailer.

It seems the sky is the limit when it comes to sampling.

The industry in general is still changing at a rapid rate and will continue to do so particularly now that the major national sampling agencies have implemented promotional divisions, designed to take on a proactive role.

Clients are being presented with a number of new concepts, all bringing a new twist to the way things have been done.

One thing is for sure. Sampling is not going the way of the dinosaur.

Fred Hussey is managing director of Treasure Tote Marketing, a company that sources and creates themed sampling programs for its clients. The company is a division of Mississauga, Ont.-based Professional Demonstrating Services.