P&G puts the spotlight back on product sampling

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Procter & Gamble – the world’s biggest advertiser – is placing a renewed focus on product sampling, according to a report in Advertising Age. Dubbing the practice “Point of Market Entry” or POME, P&G is planning to use the technique of letting consumers try before they buy to address shortcomings amongst their biggest brands. For example, Swiffer has only been tried by 10 percent of U.S. households, which may explain the “Lee & Morty” ads that prominently show a likably old-fashioned elderly U.S. couple trying (and liking) the cleaning product.

P&G’s Gillette brand is also getting a massive sampling shot in the arm with a bold plan to send every American male a new Fusion ProGlide Razor with FlexBall technology on his 18th birthday.

POME isn’t new. Back in the 1990s, America Online became one of the most openly mocked companies because of their apparent mission to litter the North American landscape with floppy disks containing their software. People would joke about how they appreciated the ability to simply format the disk and use it for their own storage needs. When CD-ROM discs eventually replaced the floppies, the jokes quickly turned to “AOL’s free coaster” strategy.

AOL endured the jeers and stayed the course with their marketing campaign, which proved to be one for the record books. In a recent Quora interview, former CEO Steve Case said, “in 1992 we had less than 200,000 subscribers; a decade later the number was in the 25 million range.”

There has always been a strong correlation between sampling and purchasing. The AOL example is far from an outlier. In a 2003 study by IMI International, a majority of consumers identified sampling as having the greatest impact on their intent to purchase.

And yet, product sampling has remained near the bottom of companies’ budgets in recent years as marketers have responded to the siren song of digital media. In 2005, CPG companies spent less than 1% of their promotional budget on sampling. P&G’s new moves in this area could be a signal that this trend could be about to change in a big way. The question is, why has one of the world’s largest CPG companies chosen this time to up its sampling strategy?

The answer might be found within a new breed of sampling campaigns. Call it Smart Sampling or maybe Sampling 2.0 – the name matters a lot less than what it can deliver: Targeted and measurable results.

One of the players at the forefront of Smart Sampling is Exact Media. The New York-based company has created a network that lets brands target consumers based on their online retail purchases. Unilever, a P&G competitor, used the network to get samples of their Tresemmé, Nexus, Dove Hair, Clear Dove’s Men and Dove’s Men products included in the shipping boxes from Coastal.com and Beyond The Rack.

According to AdWeek, The Exact Media system “will also invite e-commerce customers to request particular Unilever samples during checkout.”

In a recent company press release, co-founder Ray Cao described the practice: “When brands blindly give samples away to anyone and everyone, most of them end up in the trash. Our smart sampling network reduces all that waste, and provides better targeting and measurable results for brands.”

P&G was also an early Exact Media partner. At the beginning of the year, Exact was able to reach 25 million households – a number that Cao expects to triple by year-end.

Joann Marks, founder and CEO of Cosmetic Promotions, a Florida-based business that specializes in providing sampling programs for CPG companies, says that P&G’s move comes at a time when traditional marketing methods – even digital ones – are becoming less effective.

“They are looking at the changing demographics and see the decline in magazine readership, people skipping TV commercials and people getting inundated with emails,” Marks says. “Knowing that people are beginning to ignore these messages; they are smart to put their money into something a person can’t ignore – a real product in your hand.”

Photo via P&G

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Simon Cohen

Simon Cohen

Simon Cohen is one of Canada’s most experienced consumer tech writers. He created Sync.ca, an award-winning Canadian technology blog which had an audience of over 500,000 monthly visitors. He covers start-ups and the latest crowdfunding gadgets on VentureBeat.com and has written about the business of getting hired at Workopolis.com. You can always find his personal thoughts and musings on his blog at excitable.ca.
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