Two of my favorite marketers are Al Ries and Jack Trout, authors of Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind and Marketing Warfare.
One concept they espoused was “find a horse to ride.” Basically, it involves tying your product or service into another product or service that can broaden your reach.
There are many great marketing examples of this. Dairy Queen promotes popular candy bars and cookies in their Blizzard product. XM radio teams with automakers to have their radios installed in new automobiles, virtually assuring them a new customer after the 90-day free trial period expires. The movie production houses promote their new releases through tie-ins with fast food companies such as McDonald’s or Burger King.
I once advised a small business owner who sold bookkeeping services to team up with other vendors who provided similar businesses, such as payroll or temporary staffing. He enjoyed good success.
I also knew an industrial water meter salesman who teamed up with an industrial piping salesman. Each covered the same territories, so during sales pitches, they casually mentioned the other’s product and promoted it as superior to other brands. When the other salesman made his next call, he already had a favorable reference and usually wrote up an order on the spot.
While the concept is well proven, the trick is finding the right horse to ride. In the early 1990’s, McDonald’s did a tie-in with Warner Bros. in promoting their new movie, “Batman Returns.” During the promotion, customers purchasing a McDonald’s Happy Meal received one of several premiums, such as Batman in the Batmobile vehicle, along with figurines of archvillains Catwoman and Penguin. Unfortunately for McDonald’s, “Batman Returns” had been assigned the PG-13 rating, which encourages parental guidance for children more than 13 years of age. The film merited a PG-13 rating code as a result of its graphic scenes of electrocution, kidnapping and random gunfire.
The figurines were packed in Happy Meals and advertised as safe for children 1 year old and up. But they were designed to promote a movie created for viewers 13 years of age and over. The target age group was incongruent with the product tie-in. Teens weren’t eating Happy Meals, and toddlers weren’t viewing PG-13 movies.
McDonald’s took some flak from a Christian organization and had to issue an apology.
The promotion deal likely was made even before the movie was completed. And how would a marketing rep ever see a cartoon character, like Batman, as something less than wholesome.
Moral of the story: Like in any race, choose your horse carefully.