Cold-Calling The Brands

There are some encounters with consumer brands that leave me wondering how disconnected corporate culture is with everyday Americans. Exactly how hard do some of these companies think we as consumers should work in order to satisfy their marketing goals? Who is working for whom?


To wit, an innocent Nestle's candy wrapper became yet another weird trip through marketing hoops to get to a thoroughly unsatisfying finish line. In stark sans-serif lettering, about as inviting as numbers on a prison inmate's shirt, the inside of the Butterfinger wrappers read :

NESTLE Promotion Code


To learn more about this code

Call 1-800-393-4456

Being the gullible and relentless optimist, I had high hopes that there might be an interesting IVR romp on the other side of this prompt. I mean, after all, if Nestle they had a simple SMS promotion in mind, then they would put the keyword and short code in this message, right? The dearth of information was likely an attempt to pique my interest with reverse psychology. Less is more. Don't give the consumer a whiff of what is to come, why he should call, or what the value exchange might be. Whet his curiosity.  

"Thanks for calling the Nestles Chocolate Promotion Line," the cheery but officious female voice said on the recording. "The Butterfinger and Improv Cost-to-Coast Comedy Sweepstakes is live." Oh, it's a sweepstake to win a trip for me and four friends to a comedy show in one of several major cities and then 250 secondary prizes of comedy club tickets.

Okay, no marketing adventure for Mr. Opt-In Man here. But maybe this will lead to a cool little IVR tree that will branch me through some entertaining Homer Simpson sound clips (he works for them, doesn't he?). No, no entertainment there. I just get a couple of minutes of instructions for the multiple ways to enter, none of which involve using the call I am on. The recording actually tells me to use a short code to send in the sweepstakes entry. That's right, a candy wrapper had me call an 800 number (Lord knows what this is costing them), in order to get a short code so I could hang up and send a text. There wasn't even an IVR option for entering the code by voice over the phone. In fact, the recording told me that if I had more questions I wanted more information about the promotion I should call yet another 800 number.  

In this interaction with the Nestles company and its Butterfinger brand, the 800 phone call was essentially pointless. The two key prompts, to go to the Butterfinger Web site or to use SMS to enter the contest, should have been described on the wrapper in the first place and weren't. They added an irritating step to the process that not only wasted my time but had no obvious benefit for them.  

When I do enter the SMS code, I get a boilerplate message in return acknowledging the entry, offering a hot link to the Web site and an invitation to opt-in to "promotion updates and alerts from Butterfinger." There is nothing especially wrong with this messaging, but then again there is nothing especially interesting about it either.

 The hot link to the Web site was not optimized for mobile, and the opt-out option didn't even use the industry standard "STOP"

For the life of me I don't understand why brands are not making better use of every exchange with a consumer to communicate something of value -- or just to communicate a touch of fun. Every time a brand opens its mouth, especially when a consumer invites it to do so, the brand has an opportunity to build a relationship through voice and tone. To be sure, I got a sweepstakes entry in return for jumping through a few hoops for Nestles. But it was all done in a robotic way that missed every possible opportunity to involve me, entertain me, reiterate the brand, or even make me feel as if they cared whether I was there or not.

Just about every brand on the planet likes to say they want to "engage" the consumer. But more often than not, they miss every opportunity to do so. Instead of engaging me, they just want to hook me. 

6 comments about "Cold-Calling The Brands".
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  1. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, September 22, 2009 at 3:37 p.m.

    I am laughing so hard that I have fallen and I can't get up. Thank you Steve! I bet there is a vendor with a very high up marketing friend at nestles who took this friend to see his favorite sports team front row (hopefully vs getting a free pen or beer coozie) and this high up marketing friend agreed to ensure an 800 number is used so he can book his Nestle sale.

  2. Jonathan Madnick from Mobile Ecosystems DC, September 22, 2009 at 3:53 p.m.

    When STOP doesn't work the way MMA best practices says it should, who are you supposed to call and complain to?

  3. Ann O'daniel from Experience Branding, September 22, 2009 at 4:04 p.m.

    I'm speechless. It actually sounds like an idea developed by different functional departments who didn't talk to each other, each just added on their bit part. Incredible.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 22, 2009 at 4:07 p.m.

    Hope you win! Your favorite people could use a vaca.

  5. Skip Fidura from dotmailer, September 23, 2009 at 3:44 a.m.

    Somebody should assemble a book of examples where brands think more about the technology than the journey, as they are becoming legion. My favourite from this side of the pond was the recent Pepsi RAW launch. They were passing out samples and the CTA on the mini-can was to go to the Pespi RAW Twitter page and post your feedback. Clearly neither the brand nor the agency were (and probably still aren't) Twitter users as we all know you can't post a comment on a Twitter page. The also gave a website and there was no place to post a comment there either.

  6. Steven Siegel from Deloitte, September 23, 2009 at 2:30 p.m.

    Marketers have to stop SELLING and start ENGAGING! Mobile is the perfect medium for this, too.

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