01 August 2008


When I was in college, I worked a couple summers as an intern for Skil power tools in their marketing department. The job was fine, although I did very little and spent most of my time trying to look busy. I also tried to shave my head and look like Chris Martin circa summer of 2003, but it was a huge disaster. Anyway, it got me interested in why and how people buy things and how you are talked into buying something by a company.

We had a promotion we ran while I was there in which people entered a drawing at Home Depot or Lowe's or whatever to win a Skil saw that was painted like an American flag. In retrospect, it sounds kinda dumb, but what I remember most about the whole thing was that actually running the promotion was a huge pain in the ass. We had to make all the materials: the cards for people to write their addresses on, the boxes to put the cards in, the media surrounding it, getting everything into the stores, getting it out of the stores, and on and on. The cost of promoting the promotion was much, much more than the value of the saws by maybe 100 times. In the end, there were very few names we actually got and I realized that companies at the size of Skil could easily run a promotion like that, promise to give something away and then never actually give anything away and no one would know.

We did, I think, actually give the saws away, but it was after I left.

The point is, do you ever buy a product because you might win something? It seems to me that if a product can't stand on it's own as something you want or need without the possibility of winning something, it's sort of a problem. I imagine this is different in products like drinks or food where you might be standing in a convenience store and choose Pepsi over Coke because of a promotion, and I'm sure there is a bunch of market research about how often this happens. And as I think about it, its probably more than I think because people do it all the time. Maybe it's just me who doesn't get it...

There's another kind of promotion that kills me in Japan: point cards. Every store has a point card that you get stamped whenever you buy something. The problem is, the points usually accumulate to be about a 1% discount and it's not worth the trouble of carrying them all around, but everyone is always asking for them and I'm always like, Yeah, I have one, but I don't have it with me. The one exception is the electronics store that gives you 10 yen for every 100 yen you buy, which is just incredible and totally worth carrying around. If you buy a 100,000 yen computer, you have 10,000 yen to spend in the store just from the points.

A friend of mine just got a new iPhone and I want it so badly. Now that is a product you don't need to promote. I picked it up, used it, and I immediately saw its value. I don't need any points or free saws or anything to be enticed into buying one of those.