Dave Corlett
3 April 2018

In my opinion, too many promotional marketing campaigns are boring, ineffective or both.

I recognise that’s quite a bold statement. So let me elaborate…

They’re boring because they lack originality

Win a trip to California. Free theme park tickets. Endless selfie competitions.

Montage of selfie competition promotional campaigns

Every brand and his dog is doing the same thing. Over and over again.

They’re all zigging. It’s time to zag.

They’re boring because there’s little meaningful engagement

Downloading a coupon isn’t exciting. Neither is filling in a promo code on a website only to find out you haven’t won. In fact, it’s depressing.

Who in their right mind wants to be making their customers depressed?!

It’s time to give people positive experiences, rather than ambivalent or negative ones.

***By the way, I’m excluding experiential campaigns from this definition of promotional marketing. Having spent five years at an experiential agency, I know they’re great drivers for positive experiences. But personally, I don’t view experiential marketing as a ‘promotional’ tactic – unless the experience includes an offer or incentive to purchase, such as sampling for instance***

They’re ineffective because they’re too short-termist

Many promotional campaigns are run as one-off entities, designed to drive short-term sales uplift.

That’s all well and good I suppose, if that’s the objective. But often, these spikes are driven by customers who are primarily influenced by promotions. So next time they shop, if a competitor brand is running a campaign then they’ll plump for that product. Sales flatten again, and it’s back to square one.

a 3D graph showing a sales spike

It’s time to stop thinking short-term, and attract more valuable customers in the process.

They’re ineffective because they perpetuate negative experiences

This particularly applies to competitions and sweepstakes. Too often, the only interaction for most entrants is filling in a form or entering a code. Then not winning. Cue disappointment.

It’s 2018. There are a myriad of ways to create a more rewarding experience.

It’s time to turn your customers on, not turn them off.

An on switch

Ok, rant over. Bye!

Just kidding. Thankfully, I have six practical tips up my sleeve to turn boring, ineffective campaigns into sexy and effective ones. That’s right – sexy.


Building games, issuing challenges or creating even the simplest of interactive experiences can transform a dull competition into something truly engaging and enjoyable to participate in.

Experiences that challenge us, and offer rewards when we complete those challenges, push out beautiful little hits of dopamine. As humans, we are hard-wired to relish that sense of achievement.

Promotional marketing campaign for Eylure

Therefore, if your campaign offers prizes, invite your audience to complete a tricky challenge first. They’ll be much more likely to find it fun and rewarding, even if they don’t win.

And they’ve engaged with your brand a whole lot more in the process.


The dictionary definition of ‘competition’ is as follows:

“the activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others”

Let’s be honest. The act of taking a selfie or answering a ridiculously easy multiple-choice question doesn’t really qualify here.

Lady asleep at a desk

Appealing to people’s competitive nature is a really effective tactic. Particularly in game or quiz-based competitions, where skill is a factor. So consider these, along with elements such as leaderboards and unlimited entries to further boost engagement.

Also, research shows that consumers have a significant preference for instant over delayed gratification by around five to one. Think about offering a range of smaller, varied smaller prizes during a promotion as well as one big prize, and create a system where players are instantly notified.

This works particularly well if they can enter repeatedly, as they spend much more time interacting with your brand to try and win.

Hoppy Easter Quidco game


How well did your last promotional campaign communicate your product’s USPs? If at all?

We’ve seen some really tenuous links to product benefits from promotional campaigns. Free aquarium tickets because the product soaks up liquids is definitely up there.

Opting for bespoke, interactive campaigns means the experience can be tailored to your USPs, not just the incentive. Digital channels in particular offer infinite ways to build an experience that gets your message across.

ONe of the digital games Ready has built for kiddylicious

If your agency is creative enough, they should be thinking outside the box when it comes to the engagement part of your campaign – not just the prize on offer.


Got a batch of samples to hand out? Or a coupon to offer? Why not make these your smaller prizes?

The advantage of this approach is threefold:

  1. The opportunity to capture customer data in exchange for the sample or coupon means that it offers a better return for you. Now you have the ability to re-engage your audience post-campaign.
  2. In taking part, these individuals have already engaged with a brand experience that – done right – has communicated something about the product and its benefits. You’re handing samples and coupons to educated, aware consumers.
  3. Your audience (particularly in the case of discount coupons) feels like they’ve earned it. So naturally it feels more valuable to them than being handed it in the street or downloading it.

Add a further layer of appeal to this tactic by limiting the number of giveaways. Announcing prizes of 100 50%-off coupons, for instance, and using social media to post updates of how many are left, is a great way to urge participation.


Getting people talking about your campaign is a surefire way to boost its effectiveness.

If your campaign features a leaderboard, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how this encourages sharing too. Don’t underestimate those who love to brag about how nobody can beat their score.

Another way to encourage sharing is to offer prizes that benefit others, such as charity donations or initiatives. Not only does this benefit great causes, but it appeals to consumers’ altruistic nature.

We did this to great effect for baby and toddler food brand Kiddylicious’ Christmas promotion last year.

Some Facebook comments from a promotional marketing campaign

Alternatively, when offering prizes of coupons, provide an option to share them with friends and family – complete with an easy mechanic to send digitally.

Even a simple ‘share’ button works wonders. Honestly.

A range of share buttons for social media and digital marketing


Far too many promotional campaigns are delivered in isolation. Or simply repeated until the concept has been completely saturated.

For the best short and long-term results, it’s imperative to plan ahead.

A 2018 calendar on a Mac computer

What are your key selling periods? Which products are you looking to promote during them? And, crucially, is there a consistent theme that can be delivered across each experience, even if the product messaging is slightly different?

Our campaign for leading online cashback website Quidco is a perfect example of how to deliver consistency and excitement over a sustained period of time.

It’s textbook marketing 101. The more we as consumers are exposed to a message, the more effective it is. And promotional marketing shouldn’t be any different.


In today’s cluttered world of consumer brands, the only way to break through is to think differently – especially when it comes to promotional campaigns.

Your audience are all walking around with powerful connected computers in their pockets. Very few brands are using mobile in truly interesting ways to supplement on-pack promotions, or increase the effectiveness of online ones through original, engaging tactics.

Promotional marketing campaign on mobile for Soap & Glory

Worried about cost? Well firstly, the real value of course is in return on investment. That’s something that agencies like us can prove through experience.

But purely from a spend point of view, you might just be surprised at how creative we can be with limited budgets.

Fundamentally though, the formula to creating truly breakthrough promotional campaigns is…

The formula of success for promotional campaigns

And repeat…

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