Branded keyrings, customer feedback surveys and social media competitions – the trappings of traditional promotional marketing can lack soul when placed in the wrong hands.

At its best, it drives people to interact with a brand and at its worst it becomes a gimmick.  Yet, the core reason brands develop promotional marketing campaigns is to make brands relevant and present in everyday life, inciting consumers to engage in a deeper way. However, as many consumers become wise to the tried and tested promotional marketing methods, they are more reluctant to interact, let alone give their personal details away. Promotional marketing needs a refresh.

So how can promotional marketers lead change in the industry?

Tech and digital

With the rate of product innovation caused by progression in the tech and digital spaces, there’s no reason not to take advantage of the tools at our fingertips. Key to innovation in this field is the blending of the physical and digital world. Marketers need to consider how they can cover new ground using the old rules of promotional marketing.

Virtual reality (VR), for example, is the perfect device for a promotion. Consider that it’s fully immersive and allows customers to connect with the brand on a deeper level. Coca Cola harnessed the benefits with an Oculus Rift VR sleigh ride to promote the drink over the Christmas period. The experience took viewers on a tour of the world via a tiny headset. The BBC put an interesting spin on the trend, making its VR promotion for Children in Need accessible from anywhere with cardboard headsets. Children could purchase the headsets for £4 from the promotion website and in ASDA stores, which would enable them to view behind the scenes of the channel’s top shows from their sofas. Both experiences allowed customers to engage with the brand in a wholly engaging way, while being mindful of promoting the product.

Stopping the disconnect and winning loyal fans

The issue with giving away a branded USB or a pen is that the customer walks away with it and that could be the last time you see them. Whereas with a multi-channel promotional marketing campaign, it’s possible to track customer behaviour to inform how to improve product marketing thanks to trial and error. As with the Coca Cola and BBC Children in Need VR examples, both are trackable methods. Both the brands can keep tabs on the people engaging with their products, aggregate the data and use it to tailor the service to their needs.

Going one step further, Google’s Cupcake Ambush was a masterclass in the art of customer engagement. Google took to the streets of Austin, Texas in the US, with a truck full of cupcakes. Instead of asking people to pay for the cakes with cash, they asked them to take a photo with Google’s image app. The promotion was strategically “ambushed” by online clothing and shoe shop, Zappos, who sent a cardboard box that would dispense freebies in exchange for a Google cupcake. The two campaigns created a long line of interactions, even if shared among two brands, which further deepened the connection with old and new customers.

Improving the customer experience

The art of a good promotional marketing campaign is that it should interest passers-by enough to incite a further interaction. Charity donation heavily relies on an income through promotional campaigning. We recently developed prototypes for smart charity donation boxes to be used in local London retailers. The thinking behind this was that people are drawn to screens like moths to a flame, which adds an extra layer of interactivity for a worthy cause. Traditional collection boxes can be mundane, passive and are suffering in a cashless society. Smart collection boxes build the layers of interactivity, allowing people to choose their charity of choice and even having the option to click through and hear more (or less). A small tweak to the design of the charity boxes could drive the number of donations in a big way.

As promotional marketing matures, the threshold for creativity will grow. Marketers will need to get savvier with how they engage with customers by capturing their data and using it to improve customer experience. Customers will show their gratitude with their loyalty.

Matthew Morgan

Matthew Morgan


Matthew Morgan, Head of Innovation at Matrix