Is sales promotion really so odious?

Charlie againRemember the time when a binman was a binman and not a waste management executive? The marketing industry has a similar issue. Back in the day, there were three disciplines: advertising, direct marketing and sales promotion. And, rather like the famous 1966 Frost Report “class” sketch, each in turn had advantages and disadvantages against their counterparts.
In this scenario, advertising looked down on both DM and SP; DM looked up to advertising and down on SP, meanwhile SP “knew its place” and looked up to both. Of course, that was then and this is now. These days the waters have been muddied somewhat by the rise of digital, yet many people forget that digital is simply a channel and, by and large, the industry is still split between these disciplines.
Rather like Lord Snooty and his toff chums, advertising still sees itself as the upper class, although it is looking slightly threadbare in places. There are a few rumblings within DM, too, with some claiming it needs a rebrand, and at least one of the industry’s matchmakers advising agencies to drop the term altogether.
And then we come to SP. The Institute of Sales Promotion has recently rebranded as The Institute of Promotional Marketing, while the agency body has rebranded twice; from the Sales Promotion Consultants Association through the Marketing Communications Consultants Association to the present day Marketing Agencies Association. Both bodies claim the new names better reflect the industry today.
But trade bodies literally trade on their brand; it is one of the few things they get for free, so is it really wise to throw that all away? Now no-one could ever claim gondola ends, fridge magnets and shelf wobblers are Hollywood glamour, but much like the DM folk who’ve had to put up with “shit that folds” jibes, sales promotion is much, much more than that.
Anyone in any doubt should take a look at the winners at last week’s MAA Awards. Even so, not all can claim to be “strategic retail experience partners”; like it or not – and many do not – sales promotion is alive and kicking.
One of the founding fathers of the SP industry, the late Robert Sandleman, formed his sales promotion agency, Robert Brian Associates, in 1955 and went on to create the American Express Gold Card. In the UK, the discipline has made millionaires of the likes of Colin Lloyd, Kevin Twittey and Clive Mishon. With such a rich heritage, you have to wonder why the term is now deemed so odious…

Charlie McKelvey is publishing editor of DecisionMarketing

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