A few years ago, as a prank, a national humor magazine sent a small "rebate check" under a fictitious business name to a famous multimillionaire. The amount of the check was something like $1.06. The idea was to see if this extremely wealthy individual (whose name you'd recognize in an instant) would actually cash such a puny check. And, sure enough, he did!
What that said to me is that no matter what one's station in life, the lust for a discount--any discount--is so indelibly etched on our psyche that it is never completely erased. Is it any wonder that we've made the terms "sale" and its benefit, "save," the most ubiquitous in all of marketing and advertising?
These terms, in their various forms, have had a long, successful run--a testament to their near-hypnotic power to motivate buyers. Psychologists could have a field day dissecting that sense of satisfaction we all feel when we think we've paid even a dime less than the going price for anything. Of course, over the years, merchants have developed embellishments on the original theme to boost interest. Generally, despite how much money they have, people still crane their heads at a one-cent sale. My wife has a weakness for spring sales. Then there's the white sale, the anniversary sale, the Labor Day sale, the Washington's Birthday sale . . . and, of course, who can resist camping out overnight to be first in line for the 7-hour sale?
A few effective synonyms for the event have come thundering into the marketplace as well. "Close-out" has certainly gotten the turnstiles spinning, as has "Everything must go," "Liquidation in progress" and the powerful "Buy one, get one free!" A couple years ago, a computer superstore chain in my city started using the term "Blowout" to lead off its busy, sidewalk-sale type of Saturday newspaper ads. Apparently, sales exploded with the use of that term, and it began appearing at the top of virtually all their ads. Then, inevitably, a bunch of copycat ads began appearing in various other retailing areas, which, in turn, caused the pollination of such headlines as "sales explosion" and "sales blast." Maybe such pyrotechnic phraseology is raining down on your city as well. But, suffice it to say, any way you can creatively communicate the fact that you're offering the prospect a special deal is probably the best way to maximize results at the cash register.
I say "creatively" because the term "sale" has so saturated advertising that giving it a fresh context usually helps grab attention. That's my message to Dan Bowers of Hunt Valley, Maryland, who wrote recently. Bowers operates Fitness Trading Company in his city, an outfit that deals primarily in used and "scratched and dented" exercise equipment. This is a great product category for steep-discount believability. It's also a great marketing niche because this stuff can be pricey bought new, and Bowers offers an affordable way to get in on some of the most popular items, such as treadmills, steppers, bikes, cross-country ski simulators and so on, without spending a fortune. And let's face it: Many of us have a small graveyard of discarded fitness equipment, tossed aside from dissipated interest. So it behooves the new exercise zealot to think about low-cost used equipment as an initial purchase. Bowers offers warranties on all equipment to overcome any concerns that the products may be worn out from use or abuse.
Unfortunately, Bowers' advertising is not working--even though he's pitching big discounts. He feels one of his problems is trying to include all the relevant information in a small-space ad. He says when he attempts to fit it in, the ad gets so cluttered and indistinguishable from other ads that even he sometimes skips right past it when he's looking for the ad. Not a good sign. I think there are ways to improve it.