Promotions are complex processes, and to get them right you must impose rigorous control on all elements of the activity, says Neil Barnes of Enable Promotional Marketing

In promotional marketing, the devil is in the detail


Promotions are complex processes, and to get them right you must impose rigorous control on all elements of the activity, says Neil Barnes of Enable Promotional Marketing

All it takes is one promotion to go wrong to seriously damage a brand’s reputation – even today, there are UK consumers who remember the Hoover Free Flights fiasco from 1992.

Currently, Cadbury is feeling the pain on their “Hunt for the White Creme Egg” promotion that is being widely criticised, where consumers are urged to find a rare White Creme Egg to win. Sounds simple; however, it has been widely reported that consumers and retail staff have been spotted peeling back the foil wrapper, then putting the egg back. Some claim the white egg has different ingredients listed to the standard one, which could give the game away.

This isn’t anything like the scale of the Hoover disaster; but it is a major embarrassment for the brand, with the potential for the risk of product recall on tampering grounds.

Nobody compliments brands, agencies and all the other service providers who work on a brilliantly successful campaign; but all it takes is one poorly executed campaign to create a social media storm and damage the reputation of all of us who work in promotional marketing.

Consumers used to complain to the newspapers and television consumer TV programmes; not any more. Today, the customers drive the news agenda, sharing their complaints not just with their social network in the UK but around the world via Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms to highlight faults with a promotion.

The truth is, no well-run promotion should ever lead to the product being compromised or complaints that the activation is vulnerable to the unscrupulous.

To run successful promotions, the devil is in the detail; and that detail involves an integrated approach which incorporates compliance, security and logistic tasks with capability and knowledge in all areas of expertise from initial print and production, supply chain, legal and on into areas such as digital.

At Enable, we’ve developed a process which we call Operational Management – other people will call it something else, but what you call it doesn’t matter, so long as you include it in your promotions.

Promotions are complex and involve many different tasks; to manage them properly you must start with an expert team that sees and understands the complete picture. A promotion must be planned in its entirety, not piecemeal. You can’t just take a few services and cobble them together.

If things go wrong, it usually stems from a lack of understanding of the complexities of the subject and of the rigorous management controls and monitoring necessary to achieve a successful implementation.

Work out what should happen in any promotion, and then look at everything that could go wrong. Explore even scenarios which are highly unlikely – it’s only by being prepared for the worst, not hoping for the best, that we can ensure a smooth path to success.

All stakeholders should be involved in the planning from as early as possible. Partnership and collaborative working are vital to success. This is even more important when a promotion is being delivered or supported via a variety of media channels and technical disciplines, when a promotion is being run with different retail partners (particularly if some of them have tailored versions of the promotion) and when a promotion is being run in more than one country.

You must bring in experts on compliance, security and logistics to work alongside the marketing and creative teams. In an ideal world, everyone working on a promotion should be a member of the Institute of Promotional Marketing and fully up to speed on promotional best practice.

The total collaboration of Operational Management and creative should ensure that attention to detail combined with the creative artistry works cohesively for the perfect promotion. Without these two in partnership, no matter how beautiful something looks, or how clever it is, if it doesn’t work or if it backfires, the creativity will be overlooked by disappointed customers.

We’ve helped run promotions where some of the ingredients were changed to indicate a winning pack. We engaged packaging and specialist legal experts and involved them from the start, providing a solution where you simply just change the wording on all promotional packs to include the details for the special ingredient as well as for the normal product.

Thankfully, many brands are becoming more aware of the risk to their reputations from poorly-executed promotions, and are seeking support from operational experts in order to protect the integrity of the promotion or the product.

However, for every brand that understands the need for the highest levels of operational control, there are still far too many that ask what they need this level of attention to detail for. Often, it’s only when a catastrophic failure is detected and prevented by following the right operational procedures that these clients understand the harsh realities of the marketing world today.

The goal should be to ensure that every promotion is enjoyed fairly and honestly by consumers, while protecting brands from the detrimental harm of ‘operational blunders’ and inexperienced or unconsidered implementation of a project.

Whether you are the marketing director, the brand manager, or work for the creative agency or a service provider, your goal should always be the same: to protect and safeguard the reputation of the promotion, the brand, the company, and the marketing industry.

The reputational and financial risk of a poorly executed promotion can be enormous. In some cases, in the past these have made a brand toxic and devalued it in the eyes of consumers.

It is only by meticulous planning, attention to detail and asking the question “what if?” when you consider every single stage that you will end with a promotion that works for all.


Neil Barnes founded Enable in 1993, and the company is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2018. Enable is acknowledged in the industry as expert in ensuring promotional marketing campaigns meet best practice, are legal and compliant with UK marketing codes, free from fraud or theft and are logistically sound.

Enable works with FMCG companies, suppliers, digital solutions agencies, printers, insurance companies, and creative promotional marketing agencies alike, assisting in the smooth running of their promotional marketing campaigns and helping implement protective measures against fraudulent entry or other activity which could damage the integrity of a promotion.

Enable is a member of the IPM, and is an IPM Education and Training ‘Module Hero’, supporting the IPM Diploma in Promotional Marketing.

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