Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Gift of (Face) Value

In the early 1960s, our small Sales Promotion Department at The West Bend Company devoted considerable time to analyzing the desirability of various types of prizes. We usually had two or three national sales contests running simultaneously, and district managers and distributors sponsored many additional smaller contests.

There were two “golden rules” in the award selection arena. First, as with a gift item, a good prize was something desirable that the recipient wasn’t able or likely to get for themselves. Second, good prizes should appear to be worth more than they actually cost. Trophies and brief vacations at resorts were good. Clothing was not. One time, we gave away lots of Green Stamps, bought at a steep discount, of course.

Consider the savings bond. At the time, a $25 or $50 bond represented a fairly significant amount of extra cash for a salesperson. The grateful recipients seldom noted that our company paid only $18.75 or $37.50 for those bonds, and they would have to wait years to collect the advertised value.

Sandy and I recently qualified for a “face value” award, proving that the marketing maneuver remains in use. We wanted to get a Discover credit card to facilitate trading at a favorite discount store near our new home. Out of the blue came an ad displaying “$100” in big type as an incentive for new card owners. The small type said the $100 was a savings bond. Of course, the ad did not say that Discover would buy that wonderful $100 gift for $50.

I chuckled and ordered the card, citing the offer number. After all, $50 was a nice little bonus, and we wanted a card anyway. The very next day a new Discover ad came in the mail. This time the bonus was $100 in cash. I quickly got on the phone and asked if I could switch to the new offer, since our card order had only been approved a few hours earlier. The agent seemed surprised by my request. She said, “You mean cash is better than a bond?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. She excused herself for a huddle with her boss. The verdict, delivered with several apologies, was that the savings bond was the only reward available to me.

Maybe there should be a golden rule for prize receiving--Don’t be too hasty about applying.

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