November 9, 2011

Choose promotions wisely…they may last for 20 years.

Tell me you wouldn't wait on line for this. Mmmm.

When Redpoint was hired recently by Nova Scotia Tourism to lead a series of Marketing Boot Camps throughout the province for hospitality professionals, I shamelessly admit that my first thought was:  mmmmm, fried pepperoni. 

Popular in Atlantic Canada, but shockingly elusive in my hometown of NYC, I had heard about this deliciously indulgent snack (which should probably come with a side of cholesterol medication instead of the traditional honey mustard sauce) and couldn’t wait to try it.

So at 2:30pm on the Saturday afternoon of my stay in Halifax, I finally scored a table at The Maxwell’s Plum (where I saw the coveted item on the menu posted outside)…only to survey my surroundings and wonder if I was going to regret it.  Every single empty table was littered with the remains of food & drink, beverage menus were scattered about the floor, and servers were nowhere to be found.  Was anyone ever going to clean these tables…or mine, which was free of clutter but so sticky I could actually SEE the residue on the surface?

Suddenly, a waitress appeared out of nowhere and all she said was:  “So, are ya havin’ the breakfast then?”

After a quick second thinking how much I adore the “Nova Scotian accent,” which often comes mingled with a crisp Scottish lilt, I realized something:  there is “a” breakfast, and I had no idea what it was.

I said no (surely, fried pepperoni can’t be on the breakfast menu, can it?), and asked to see a lunch menu…and man, did that stop her in her tracks!  After gaping at me for a moment (and looking pointedly at her watch), she walked away and then came back smiling, with a lunch menu, a glass of water, flatware, a napkin, and a cloth to clean the table.  Hooray!  I was officially acknowledged as a “real customer!”  But what the heck was going on?

Here’s the deal.  A few years ago, the pub tried a promotion called the $2 Breakfast:  from 11am to 3pm on Saturdays, you get 3 eggs, 5 strips of bacon, toast, and homefries…all for 2 bucks with the purchase of a drink.  No one at the pub – not even the manager – could tell me if they ever officially advertised or promoted it…it may have just been word of mouth.  But almost from the very first Saturday, the pub was mobbed from exactly 10:59am to 2:59pm, every week, like clockwork.  And it’s been that way ever since. 

If the goal was to fill tables on previously-slow Saturday afternoons, it was achieved with gusto.  I passed the pub several times on my stroll around Halifax before being able to get anywhere near the door, let alone get through the crowds to get a table.  But can they really make money on this promotion?  The manager’s response:

“Well, a while back, we tried to raise the price to $2.99, and customers had a fit.  They kind of stopped coming.  So we went back to 2 bucks and the next week, we were packed again.”

Consumer behavior (or “behaviour” since this was Canada, after all) is fascinating.  If The Maxwell’s Plum had started their promotion with a $2.99 Breakfast, they would probably still have been packed every Saturday (did you really grasp how much food was on that platter?) and they’d be getting a buck more per person.  But they STARTED with the 2 buck price and instantly, that became the “right” of the people.   (Footnote: the restaurant was spotless by 3:10pm, which shows that the staff is precisely attuned to the rhythms of these insane Saturday mob scenes.)

I thought about this unreasonable rebellion over 99 cents at 4:30 that same afternoon, when I walked into Your Father’s Moustache, another packed-house pub in Halifax (doesn’t Halifax sound fun?)…but it was packed for different reasons.  A fun, funky, groovy blues band – Joe Murphy and the Water Street Blues Band – plays there every Saturday afternoon from 4pm to 8pm, and the crowd of regulars is huge.  More than a dozen couples were actually dancing (I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a dance floor, but what the heck, eh?), and drinks and food – at full price – were being consumed like crazy.  This has been the routine there for the past 20+ years, and a discount has never been part of the equation.  And yet…a packed house.

Did The Maxwell’s Plum or Your Father’s Moustache have any clue when they started those Saturday afternoon promotions that the public was going to latch on to them so tightly, and for so long?  Probably not.  We all hope that when we try cool promotions, people are going to respond favorably to them…but before you discount too deeply, or lock yourself into something with no end date, just consider how it will impact your financials long term.  Just remember, even if you launch something for a “limited time,” you can always extend it if it works.  But if you launch it indefinitely and then try to take it away…oh the drama!

There are a few happy endings to this story.  1) Maxwell’s Plum has more than 60 beers on tap, so don’t feel badly for them…they do just fine.  2) The dancers (who welcomed me as a local) at Your Father’s Moustache proved to me that Canadians really are some of the nicest people – and best dance partners – in the world.

And 3)…damn…fried pepperoni is AMAZING.

Want a break at your desk?  Check out a tune by Joe Murphy and the Water Street Blues Band by clicking here.  Love that killer harmonica, baby. 

One thought on “Choose promotions wisely…they may last for 20 years.

  1. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for creating a late afternoon diversion for me on my second day back from vacation! Sorting through 200+ emails and responding to them with clarity has been a challenge as I still have Florida sand in my hair and am more than ready for a relaxing glass of wine on the 8th floor deck looking out at the Atlantic! As always your marketing thoughts are insightful and practical. Even better was the upbeat sounds of Joe Murphy & The Water Street Blues Band with Brendan ‘Fire Fingers’. Thank you for sharing, again.