Ottawa View: HMV promo rooted in savvy marketing

This column, serving as Strategy's window on Ottawa, looks at emerging issues, practices and trends in federal government communications.Customers were exiting the hmv store on Sparks Street with saplings in short sleeves. Not the toffee-nosed, dirty-kneed English schoolboy variety - but,...

This column, serving as Strategy’s window on Ottawa, looks at emerging issues, practices and trends in federal government communications.

Customers were exiting the hmv store on Sparks Street with saplings in short sleeves. Not the toffee-nosed, dirty-kneed English schoolboy variety – but, trees.

Adorable, smooth, velvety little pine trees ready for planting. I left the store with renewed vigor, protective of the new life I carried with me, and impressed with the efforts taken by hmv to help me to help the environment.

In fact, the whole thing was very Celestine Prophesy (this current, arguably magic mushroom-inspired best seller, although puerile in its storytelling, offers a selection of memorable lesson-of-life nuggets, one of which is to gain energy and love from trees.)

And, as such, very savvy.

Working back from the scene of consumption, I contacted Tree Canada, whose name appeared on the sleeve, to learn that Weaver Tanner & Miller (for some reason, this moniker conjures up romantic images of medieval England) of Kitchener, Ont., handled all communications.

A clearly committed and enthusiastic president, Jim Murray, informed me that although his firm was responsible for most aspects of the Tree Canada campaign, including advertising and psa design and production, partnershipping was handled by Lang & Associates.

Green Plan

Tree Canada, I learned from Murray, was established in 1990 under the federal government’s Green Plan ‘to foster and encourage the planting and care of trees in and around more than 5,000 cities, towns and villages across Canada by 1998.’

To date, in co-operation with about 1,000 partners, more than 32 million trees have been planted.

Lang’s Tina Basic told me hmv had been interested in doing an environmental promotion for some time, and that with the introduction of the ‘Green Tree Sleeve’ promotional product, the program took off.

* * *

Notable as much for avoiding a philistine ‘dollars off’ approach, as for its novelty, the tree worked for me on several levels:

- It capitalized on a desire, prevalent among Canadians (particularly young ones), to be a good environmental citizen, and delivered an opportunity to take action.

Rudyard Kipling may have been right when he called words the most powerful drug known to mankind, but it is only when they are made easy to act upon that things really happen.

- I was touched when this tiny beautiful work of nature was placed in my hand.

Here, something primal was at work. This tree could be nurtured. A living entity, sharing mankind’s earthborne experience. I was not alone. Could you pass those mushrooms over here again, please?

Hits a chord

But, seriously, however you want to describe this zen-like experience, it is one that hits a chord.

One which, while akin to the environmental appeal, has a resonance of its own. And, one which should not, I think, be ignored by promotional marketers.

- It was a pleasant, unexpected free gift; one that made me happy.

While this (the unexpected part, at least) reaction was a function of my being ignorant of the promotion’s existence until receiving the said tree, and, as such, clearly not hmv’s original intent, I do think a lot can be gained by surprising the customer with occasional random acts of senseless generosity.

Nigel Beale is president of Nigel Beale and Associates, a communications firm, and operates the Ottawa offices of News Canada, a news distribution service. Reader feedback is encouraged and Beale can be contacted at (613) 241-9900 (phone); (613) 241-9477 (fax.)