Commentary

Forget The Fine Print, Just Tell Me I Won!

Incentives work and not just the kind automakers use to reward dealer salespeople or throw on the hoods of cars to close a sale. Rewards, "gifts," special offers and the like don't even have to be expensive, special, or even valuable. They still work. People will do a lot for a free T-shirt or hat. I saw that at a recent AMA Monster Energy Supercross motorcycle race in New Jersey. The crowd went nuts when the bazooka guy started shooting shirts into the stands. They were just shirts.

One company, with which I recently had an encounter (at the Supercross race, actually), has been in business for over two decades using that simple calculus — the "special gift" — to drive traffic and sales. They sell vacation packages in places like Florida, though with Florida real estate what it is these days you could probably buy the entire development for the price of the vacation there. But they must be doing something right. 

I had gone to the Meadowlands to cover said race, but got a pass to wander around the pit area beforehand. I marveled at the sheer density of affinity marketing, sponsorship, and branding, then grabbed a Monster Energy snow cone for some reason and headed into the stadium. 

As I strolled to the main gate (branded), a nice young woman approached with a pen and a simple entry form dangling a chance to win a motorcycle. Why not? I never win these things. I filled it out and we headed in. Two days later I get a call. I had won something! Me! I don't win sweepstakes. Never have, never will. Or so I thought. But someone on the other end was telling me I'd snagged either a four-day Caribbean vacation, including air fare to the port of departure in Miami, or a tablet computer. If you are getting an offer for either an all-expenses-paid vacation plus airfare or a lousy smart tablet, there's a catch somewhere. 

But I'd never been on a cruise ship, and never really considered it, but said "yes" as she started explaining the specifics of my upcoming trip to the Bahamas. Wow. I'd never been there, either, though I'm sure where they dock probably sucks. I'm no idiot. Taking one of these big cruise ships is basically being stuck on a giant, floating Roman bath with forced feeding, and the port of call is guaranteed to be a mall on a beach. Still, why the hell not? I'd won something. I couldn't believe it. 

Then came, "All you have to do is come out to our offices and listen to an hour-long presentation about our vacation packages." "Where do I go to hear this presentation?" "Parsippany." Parsippany. That's a non-starter already. The Five Towns maybe, but Parsippany? That's in New Jersey, where I would not go if Chris Christie were appointed head of the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority. Wait, I’d just gone for the race. Okay, except for that, I wouldn’t go. 

Still, I actually did almost go, even though I knew it also meant facing the very real possibility that they would kidnap me and hold me ransom in a condo in Clearwater until I acceded to their demands. 

I also spoke with one of their marketing people during the course of the phone exchange and learned that they have a very healthy business simply through promotional marketing at events like Supercross, with whom they have an ongoing relationship. Jokes aside, these kinds of packages make sense for middle-class families with kids and empty-nesters —it is an attractive proposition. You have to be rich these days to go on vacation with kids, and not hate it. Or hate it less. 

The point is, with no skin off of their corporate noses, they almost got a total outlier to drive out to New Jersey, listen to an hour of spiel, lose a night of my life (and perhaps my life if they had turned out to be branch of the Shining Path.) All for my having actually won something. Or at least I think I did. I'm still getting calls from them. I don't answer, but maybe I should: maybe they've upped the ante to a free ticket on Branson's space plane. One way.

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