Commentary

Welcome To Sampling On Steroids

Sampling has long been a tactic employed by CPG brands — a means to draw new consumers in, to promote their latest product or to drive customer re-trial. But lately we've seen this go to extreme lengths with the types of stunts typically only carried out by the likes of alcohol and car brands or even movie launches. 

Just recently, Evian launched #evianBottleService in major cities around the world. Just tweet at Evian and a team will personally deliver a bottle of Evian directly to you. Sounds fun, sure, and it was certainly a humid week in NYC at launch time. But with a city fueled by delivery 24/7, was this particularly valuable to the consumer? When the gorgeous Maria Sharapova got involved, engagement on Twitter went wild and the initiative certainly received a lot of PR, but is this sampling-gone-crazy or is this the type of activity fueled by consumers' bloated expectations of brands today? 

A second stunt, this time from Uber promoting their courier service, was an urban picnic delivery in partnership (…another Uber partnership...) with um, er, Lays. Yes, the chip brand. For a couple of days, Uber delivered a free picnic basket to app users on demand. The basket contained a couple of sandwiches, water and two bags of the finalist #DoUSAFlavor chips. Essentially, an extremely expensive sampling program for a couple of bags of chips to make it into the hands of a very select few.

As a planner who constantly encourages my clients to drive participation and to create moments for the few as well as for the many, I understand how they got here and the value it brings to those few able to take part, but for such a mass participation program, why limit the sampling? Why not send out to everyone who submitted a flavor and keep them all engaged? Plus, the consumer side of me again, like the Evian example, questions the real value in this. If I am going to get a picnic delivered in NYC from Uber, is it going to be a couple of deli sandwiches and some chips or is it going to be a bottle of champagne with the best antipasti the city can offer? I know which one I would choose and #tweet about. 

Lastly, a new ad was launched in Brazil this month for Cup Noodles showing their pots of sodium-filled ramen being delivered by drones to athletes around the country. Okay, so this sounds like a pretty cool effort — similar to Amazon's stunt last December and let's also not forget the real, but sadly short-lived, delivery tactic of Lakemaid beer to Ice fishermen on Lake Waconia in Minnesota — but for a cup of $1 noodles? The idea of drone delivery might not be too far into the future but I'm pretty sure people won't be using them for a cup of lukewarm noodles. 

Rarely a day in ad land goes by without us talking about the increase in consumer demand; the need to constantly push boundaries and provide delight. This delight can take the form of instant response, instant services and delivery. But does this really apply when it comes to the sampling of one low-value item? Is this really what we are talking about and the extent we now have to go to make that shift in behavior, to get them to consider our brands? For now, we have been conditioned to expect this level of “delight” and it has become the new marketing standard no matter what the brand or service. It’s a symptom of our culture and how extremely creative we need to be to get our audiences attention and get them to want to try our brands.

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