Marketers Cross Industry Lines to Cut Through Ad Clutter

BUYERS of Frito-Lay's Ruffles potato chips are finding a "prize" in the bag: an offer of 15 minutes of free long-distance calling from MCI Communications Corporation.

The promotion, also advertised on the outside of the bag, invites snackers to dial 1-800-288-CRUNCH to switch permanently to MCI as a long-distance carrier. Callers can also comment on whether Frito-Lay's latest chips are crunchier and more flavorful than they were before.

The deal is typical of a different kind of two-for-the-price-of-one offer that many corporations are trying: When consumers by one product, they also get a little bit of another.

"It's a relatively inexpensive way for both organizations to piggyback off each other and offer customers more value," says Bill Ross, professor of marketing at the the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in Philadelphia.

Professor Ross says such efforts, because they are unusual, can help a company cut through the "clutter" of other advertising and affect people's purchasing decisions.

"Any time I can put an ad in some location where it's new and different, ... [that's] a lot better than being the third of five commercials at 8 o'clock on a Tuesday evening," he says.

Pepsico Inc., which owns Frito-Lay, teamed up with numerous other companies this summer to promote its beverage division, giving out 40 million "Gotta Have It" cards with its drink packs. Consumers used the plastic cards to get discounts from other companies.

"It's like carrying a little piece of Pepsi in your wallet all summer long," says Pepsi spokeswoman Leigh Curtin, referring to the advertising value of the card.

For the other "Gotta Have It" partners, the gain comes in added sales volume: Reebok reported 338,000 people using its discount offer, Blockbuster Video 571,000 users, and MCI 139,000 users. For some participants - Avis, Continental Airlines, Norwegian Cruise Line, and MCI - the offer lasts through the end of the year.

A more permanent cross-industry promotion is Air Miles, by which consumers can earn free airline tickets by purchasing specific brands of consumer goods. The program, which is completely separate from the "frequent flyer" bonuses awarded by many airlines, has attracted 800,000 users since its launch in the United States this past April. Air Miles started in Britain in 1987.

"In most cases the miles are credited electronically," although sometimes participants must send in proof of purchase, says Michael Miles, marketing vice president for Loyalty Management Group in Boston, which runs the program.

Participants can get miles automatically each time they use a Citibank MasterCard or Citibank Visa, for example. And General Cinema will automatically credit Air Miles participants if they buy their movie tickets in the form of certificates.

Airlines gain by selling excess seat capacity to the Air Miles program, while the sponsoring companies sell more products. American Telephone & Telegraph Company, MCI's larger rival, is one of the many sponsors of Air Miles.

MCI spokeswoman Kate Fralin says "we've had an excellent response" from the snack-bag promotion. She says the company is planning more such "joint promotion" campaigns. "We're trying to partner with the top one or two brands in each product category," Ms. Fralin says. Recent promotions were linked to purchases of products from Polaroid and Procter & Gamble.

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