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From Toasters to Blackberrys: Promotional Gifts Go Modern: For c by Perkal

With PNC Bank giving away Blackberrys and Citigroup doling out iPods, the age of the promotional gift has taken a new twist. PNC Bank's $30 million advertising campaign, which includes a free Blackberry to customers who open a new business or personal checking account, was launched in March and is tied to an "Easy as PNC" campaign for print, radio and outdoor ads. "We're trying to create some buzz," admits Matt Carter, svp of strategic marketing and brand management at PNC, who notes that a qualifying customer receives a voucher for the Blackberry, which requires an upfront, reimbursable ordering fee of $150 and a $75 monthly service plan with Cingular. The bank had weighed other gifts as well, including DVD players and portable satellite radio receivers from both XML and Sirius satellite radio.

"We felt that the Blackberry was pretty good for our customer base," Carter says. "It has a high perceived value and customers looked at that and said, 'It's really cool.' It's like frequent flyer points. We felt the Blackberry was also aligned to our overall positioning. It says 'easy confidence,' and offers a sense of optimism. Blackberry customers feel in control. Our company is all about giving power or voice to the customer."

Although Carter declined to provide figures for the first week of the promotion, he said the initial numbers were promising. "We're seeing people respond. We do know we're getting folks to walk in the doors and say, 'Hey, I want to sign up with PNC,'" he says. "But one of the key indicators we'll be looking at is whether people will switch [banks] and stay."

Citibank wound up its iPod giveaway in February, which gave away the popular music player to consumers who pay at least two bills a month for a year on-line, according to Citi spokesman Mark Rodgers, who declined to say how many iPods were handed out. The bank has given away DVD players, cruises, and cash incentives, he says, but the iPod was its most popular promotion.

"'Free' is still the most powerful word in marketing," quips Gary T. Naifeh, principal of Highlands Ranch, CO-based BrandSavvy. "The Blackberrys and iPods are just new ways to take advantage of an old idea." Blackberrys and iPods are savvy choices, he says, because they attract a certain type of customer. "It's a very specific profile of people interested in these items," he says. "They have higher educations and a higher income [than technophobes] and are more comfortable with banking on-line. ...The hit rate should be higher."

The key issue, says James Gresham, president and CEO of Dallas-based Rennhack Marketing Services, a provider of incentive products and services, is to find a gift that creates a "tipping point" for customers to actually switch banks, and not just shop around for the best gifts.

"All banks are commoditized," he says. "As a result, a bank has to make a decision: What other value do I have? I can buy other banks or buy customers. It's really that simple. ...What the incentive gift does is create a marketing effort that not only delivers added value, but is a tie breaker for customers to consider one bank over another."

For as long as banks' doors have been open, they've given away promotional gifts-plastic Tupperware, picnic baskets, coolers, pocket warmers, car-safety gifts, T-shirts and even the guns doled out by Billings, MT-based Western Security Bank made famous in the "Bowling for Columbine" documentary.

"Anything that requires effort on behalf of the consumer is less valuable," says Gresham. "What they like is instant gratification. They don't want it delivered in six weeks. They don't like cash deposited in their accounts. The consumer says, 'If you give me cash, I'll go fill up my car. I won't remember who gave it to me.' They are looking for practical gifts that are things they want but won't go out and buy for themselves."

One large national bank increased account openings by 111 percent in 2002 with a Foreman grill giveaway in four eight-week quarterly cycles, he says. Another bank reported a 40 percent lift with its Bushnell binocular giveaway. And another bank claimed a 75 percent spike with the Pyrex Portable.

But choosing the perfect gift is less marketing than art form. "It has to be a good enough gift to create a tipping point for the consumer, but not too good a gift that he's only going gift shopping," Gresham says.

This article was published on Tuesday 24 June, 2008.

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