Sampling growth spurs creativity

At the crowded intersection of Bay and Bloor Streets in Toronto, amongst the hurried pedestrians and bicycle couriers, two female rollerbladers dressed in black wheel through the crowd. It's early May, and after a few too many days of cold and rainy weather, 20-degree plus temperature is inspiring people. They're stripping down to their T-shirts--and they're perspiring.
The rollerbladers wear black T-shirts asking 'tired of white residue?' Arrows point to the corners of their shirts. Tied around their waists are fanny-packs brimming with ... deodorant samples. Curious pedestrians are shown how the product doesn't leave a mark on clothing, then are handed a small sample and sent on their way.

At the crowded intersection of Bay and Bloor Streets in Toronto, amongst the hurried pedestrians and bicycle couriers, two female rollerbladers dressed in black wheel through the crowd. It’s early May, and after a few too many days of cold and rainy weather, 20-degree plus temperature is inspiring people. They’re stripping down to their T-shirts–and they’re perspiring.

The rollerbladers wear black T-shirts asking ‘tired of white residue?’ Arrows point to the corners of their shirts. Tied around their waists are fanny-packs brimming with … deodorant samples. Curious pedestrians are shown how the product doesn’t leave a mark on clothing, then are handed a small sample and sent on their way.

Devised by Cohn & Wolfe in Toronto for Lady Speed Stick Clean Glide anti-perspirant, this sampling on wheels approach, called ‘Clean Gliders,’ is something that wouldn’t have happened five years ago.

‘A spray-and-pray methodology is no longer necessary – targeted, well thought-out programs are the way to go in today’s market,’ explains Larry Burns, co-chair of the Promotion Marketing Association (PMA) Product Sampling and Demonstration Council in New York, adding that despite Sept. 11, sampling still rose 2 to 3% last year.

In a new report entitled ‘Consumers’ Reaction to Samples and Demonstrations,’ the PMA’s findings back up Burns’s claims. In a nutshell, the report boasts that today’s consumer expects an increased number of samples in the coming years, and oftentimes, this influences their purchasing habits.

According to the survey, 94% of respondents view sampling as a risk-free way to try new products, and 83% see a demo as a way of increasing the comfort level when buying the product. As sampling increases, consumers don’t seem to mind: 68% reported they were ‘excited’ about receiving samples. Moreover, 45.9% of those who took the PMA’s survey said they had received three to five samples in the past 12 months.

‘Sampling is an investment in a brand,’ Burns says. ‘Consumers appreciate it when you try something new–like handing out tissue samples with your popcorn at the movies when you’re going to see a tear-jerker. It’s like the sins of greed when they get something for free – they love it.’

Since consumers have become so responsive to sampling in the last five years and given that marketers need to find new ways to have their products leap out to consumers in a crowded marketplace, promotions teams are forced to get more creative with their tactics.

Cohn & Wolfe’s rollerblading grassroots approach illustrates the need to find context when sampling a product – it can increase the likelihood of engaging the target demo.

‘The consumer interaction the Clean Gliders program provides is invaluable,’ adds Carolyn Thompson, product manager, Colgate Palmolive Canada, which produces Lady Speed Stick. ‘The sampling program is innovative, the action–rollerblading and gliding–induces perspiration and ties nicely to the sub-brand name.’

Marketers also appreciate the measurability of sampling effectiveness. Aside from a coding system that immediately shows when the consumer is using a coupon, measuring the conversion rate is an effective strategy. For Stewart Schneider, marketing manager at TFB in Markham, Ont. (maker of Fisherman’s Friend throat lozenges), finding out the ROI from a sampling program is less elusive than with other vehicles.

‘Sampling can be easier to quantify than ad campaigns,’ he says, adding that the conversion rate (an equation achieved by comparing the pre-trial usage and the post-trial usage) is an excellent way to find out if the sampling is having any effect. For Schneider, a sample is a stronger mechanism than a coupon because it gives the consumer a chance to see in-person if the product lives up to its promise.

The environment where the sampling occurs and to whom the samples are given is of the greatest importance.

Toronto’s advertising and promotions consultant Da Ponte & Richardson has focused on finding the appropriate context for its clients. One of its larger clients, Procter & Gamble, wanted to reach the coveted tween and teen market, so the company struck a deal with over 1,200 schools across Canada to distribute samples of various brands in the classroom. Each school signs a sampling form that outlines the number of samples required and promises to allow the program to take place on a specified date.

The Procter & Gamble High School Survival Guide for Boys and Girls is the consultant’s latest effort. A small plastic bag containing an eight-page book on how to deal with high school stress, along with product samples like anti-perspirant, soap and shampoo was distributed to grade nine students in health class. Last September 50,000 boys and 50,000 girls in 600 schools participated.

‘It is a beautiful thing. It enables us to offer clients guaranteed, hassle-free sampling in a prestigious, captive, environment – schools,’ says Marion da Ponte, a partner with da Ponte & Richardson. ‘I think clients are looking for venues which are more vertical, rather than mass sampling opportunities that may not be as targeted. Samples are expensive so clients are looking to maximize their effectiveness – which means no wastage – and sampling in places that only reaches their demographic.’

Da Ponte has also partnered with Winnipeg-based What Promotions, a division of the Canadian teen mag, What Magazine. Together, they set up similar opportunities with sample-friendly schools and cross-promote the programs in What.

One recent promotion was the ‘Tampax Just between us Girls,’ which ran in January and February. It included a contest to win a visit from the Degrassi: The Next Generation cast and 200,000 discreet Tampax multi-pack samples were distributed to female students.

While da Ponte tries to snag high school students in the classroom, Markham, Ont.-based Pumped would rather see teens walk away with a fistful of samples while they are partying.

Promo consultant Pumped has teamed up with Toronto’s Sights and Sounds Productions to give away loot bags full of samples at the end of student council dances across Canada. The program will start in September. Similar to the MuchMusic Video Dance, Sights and Sounds will put on the party at the school – complete with a bouncing sound system and huge video screens – and Pumped will distribute the samples in bags called ‘Pumped Paks.’

‘Everyone loves free stuff, especially when it’s at a fun, exciting event like a dance,’ says John Debono, a partner at Pumped. ‘Three or four years ago, the trend was event marketing. The exposure was great, but it didn’t offer a lot of consumer contact. Now the trend has shifted to making sure the samples are in places that are directly related to the product. That way, consumers get a lasting impression and hopefully use the product.’

Pumped Paks will begin distribution with approximately 200,000 sample packs – containing everything from Gillette razors and Zest to Pop Tarts and Wunderbars – for both males and females aged 13 to 18.

Charles Blackwell, president and creative partner at Calgary’s Push, has integrated sampling techniques into his agency’s advertising campaigns. One such quasi-sampling tactic proved to be quite successful for a client called storeatyourdoor.com.

The grocery delivery site, similar to Grocery Gateway, wanted to drive the merits of the brand’s service. So Push passed out bananas and apples with stickers that read, ‘It isn’t a banana, it’s a storeatyourdoor.com banana,’ at various venues around the Calgary area on April 28. The client had originally envisioned simply passing out pamphlets introducing the Web site.

‘It was enormously successful, the site got tens of thousands of hits the very next day,’ Blackwell says, adding that sampling will not add to the glut of advertising clutter as long as the mechanism fits with the brand.

He further points to the success of the Swiffer brand when it began sending samples in the mail to homes across Canada. ‘When you can see it work, it’s like ‘Oh, I get it.’ That’s hard to explain otherwise; you can demonstrate it on TV, but when you can actually touch it and use it, the product becomes real in the consumer’s eyes.’

Although few marketers seem concerned that sampling might offend consumers, Toro Bustamente, managing director of Toronto-based Consolidated Marketing Group, might be pushing the captive audience envelope farther than any other sampler has tried before.

His vision is to have samples in cabs. He is presently negotiating with a Toronto-area taxi company (he won’t divulge which one), and is aware of the risk.

‘Once you start bombarding riders, it becomes an invasion of privacy,’ he says. ‘[But] when you’re offered a gift, like a delicious bon-bon or a cologne while you’re commuting, it generates brand exposure and rider satisfaction. They’ll think ‘hey that’s something nice.”

While it’s true that sampling is on the rise and new ideas are indeed cropping up, the PMA’s Burns cautions the overzealous sampler. He stresses that remaining focused is key.

‘You want to get as close as you can to delivering a consistent message–so if your street team, for example, is viewed by the consumer as an advocate of your brand, then you’re doing alright, but if not, if it’s seen as just another promotion, then it’s time to reevaluate,’ Burns says. ‘It’s a remarkably simple world and consumers like to sample. If you apply just a little common sense, you’ll succeed.’