Heelys, BP Incorporate Free Media In Marketing Mix

Both Heelys, maker of the wheeled sneakers, and am/pm, the West Coast convenience store owned by British Petroleum, are finding a new way to add value to consumer marketing: Attaching free video games to their products.

For Heelys, which is introducing a new, non-wheeled shoe called the Gamer, the electronic hangtag actually includes four games. And for am/pm, the promotion centers on drink lids. When consumers trade up to a 36-ounce fountain drink, they get a lid with a small CD affixed to it, containing a version of FreeStyle Street Basketball, an online basketball game.

"Lots of marketers are using CDs to extend a brand and to offer more information to a consumer," says Ed Bruno, president of eTagz, which positions its tags as a kind of a digital "look-what-I-got-in-my-cereal box!" consumer bonus. "But with these hangtags, we can offer consumers something they really value." Bruno says the tags average a 78% load rate, "and while that may seem really high, these tend to be highly targeted promotions, with consumers factoring the discs into the purchase decision."



The Heelys shoes, for example, are aimed at gamers who are so serious that they'll think the game-console buttons built into the sole of the shoe is cool. About 50,000 have shipped already, with 1 million more scheduled to be in stores in the first quarter.

And for am/pm, with 950 stores in Western states, the promotion is timed to roll out around the time of the NCAA playoffs, and will feature large cardboard cutouts of the animated basketball players. Worldwide, FreeStyle Street Basketball attracts about 32 million layers a month, Bruno says.

While the value of the freebies--which Bruno says typically cost about $1 per unit--probably aren't enough to sway consumers to make a purchase on their own, they may offer branding synergy. Earlier this year, for example, the company paired with Signature Apparel, which markets Rocawear Jeans. After buying the jeans, consumers were asked to fill out a denim survey in the store, and if they did, they received a free umbrella, complete with an eTagz featuring Rihanna's single, "Umbrella."

"Did women buy a pair of $80 jeans so they could get an umbrella and a single worth 99 cents? Probably not," says Sari Baez, Signature's director of marketing and publicity. "But it was a great promotion for us," she says, and the company would consider a similar effort in the future. Since "Jay-Z" Carter is the creative force behind Rocawear, and Rihanna is a Def Jam artist, she says, "it was just a great fit all around."

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