Brandtique: Starter

With the never-ending menu of reality-competition shows, marketers have become enamored with playing sugar daddy. In the process, they can become blinded by their own kindness and lose focus on what actually makes sense from a business perspective.

Marketers seem to line up to give away cars and cruises and $25,000 to the next "great American chef" or the fastest duo on an obstacle course. But if the goal is to cut through the clutter, it falls victim to a paradox: It is clutter.

It's so common that it has lost meaning and distinction. A wannabe pop star just won another round and got a Chevy Tahoe--or was it a Ford Escape? It goes in one ear and out the other, save perhaps gifting an "American Idol" winner. But even Ford's latest giveaway on that show is sure to lose value--given all other cars doled out on the wave of "Idol" copycats.

If marketers are determined to give away their goods and services to reality victors, consider a reality check: Rewards that are worthwhile and suitable.



Often, marketers come off as a little tight on the purse strings. A car insurance company giving away $25,000? It's easy to see why a viewer might be unimpressed, especially when every commercial for the rest of the evening includes a spot for that company or one of its competitors. As any consumer knows, ad time costs a whole lot more than the prize.

Then there are situations when marketers seem overly generous.

Perhaps the prize is a "lifetime supply" of something a consumer only needs once, or just a few times. While arguably a nice gesture, it can leave viewers shaking their heads. And when a marketer looks foolish, consumers can get a negative impression about their brands.

The latest example of prize excess came on the Oct. 18 episode of NBC's "The Biggest Loser," in which people compete to shed the most weight. The teams were tasked with outracing each other on the field of the Los Angeles Coliseum. The prize for the victorious bunch: $2,500 in workout gear from athletic clothier Starter. (It was one of the top-ranked product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX.)

Host Caroline Rhea touted it as "a fantastic reward ... that you can share with your families." She should have added "and your neighbors and high-school graduating class and entire hometown and population of Trinidad and Tobago."

With each team down to five members, that's $500 each in Starter gear. It might take a family a decade to buy that much.

Starter is a discount brand. Available in Wal-Mart, it could be front and center in the "rollback campaign." Workout shirts are $6, basketball shorts $7, sweatpants maybe $19.99. Even winter jackets emblazoned with logos of a favorite college team are $29.99. While Starter is clearly trying to appeal to "Biggest Loser" viewers who may be embarking on their own workout routine, the prize is a misfit. It's overkill, and could leave informed consumers shaking their heads with a wry smile.

Interestingly, Starter is owned by Nike, one of the smartest marketers in the world. But on "The Biggest Loser," it didn't come up a winner.

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