News Analysis

By The Drum, Administrator

December 14, 2006 | 5 min read

Wasn’t it nice of Thresher Group to give everyone an early Christmas present? The 40 percent discount voucher for the store was intended only for staff and family members. However, it wasn't long before everyone and their mum - literally - had discovered the 'secret' online voucher. (When the mother of this Drum journalist sends a link to the deal, you know that pretty much everyone else in Britain must have got that email too.) But was it an accident, as Thresher claimed, or a brilliant piece of marketing?

First, emails were circulated and blog sites posted links to the voucher. Next followed the mainstream media. Newspapers dedicated columns to the offer - billed by many as the biggest blunder since Hoover's notorious free flights campaign. However, could it be that Threshers’ Christmas deal was, in fact, one of the most shrewd marketing plans to utilise the powers of viral marketing to date?

“Let's face it, there's nothing people like more than feeling like they've beaten the system and have got one up on the corporate giants,” says Juliet Simpson of PR agency Stripe.

“By putting the customer ahead of their own profits and taking the hit for their own mistake, Threshers got their PR positioning just right. Whether it was a targeted promotion that just spiralled out of control, or not, the more Threshers claimed to have made a mistake, the more customers believed the offer was too good to pass up and the more the media covered the story. The reports of stock running out only seemed to fuel the hype, adding a sense of urgency."

Only the team at Threshers will know if it was a huge promotional blunder or a brilliantly planned PR exercise. But, what it does do, is prove the power of true viral marketing. Customers thought that they were receiving something they shouldn't be and passed it on with urgency. Which, in the face of cut-throat competition, not only prompted massive media exposure for the off-licence chain but, much more importantly, also drove customers into Threshers stores.

Threshers’ current ‘three for two’ offer represented a 33.3 percent discount, so by going just that little bit further and offering 40 percent the chain has dramatically increased store traffic, while using the opportunity to cross-sell and up-sell, encouraging customers to spend more in store than normal. For now, Thresher is deeming the 'promotion' a success, but only their p&l sheet will tell the whole story.

Stuart Bell, head of trading at FeatherBrooksbank, believes that this is a practice that retailers are likely to utilise more in the future: “There’s been tremendous coverage in the press and a hell of a lot of PR which has been positive. They’ll have done their sums and hopefully, if they’ve done them right, it will have worked out really well for them. I’ve received a lot of similar e-mail-based offers this year - although not many that, on the surface, looked as attractive as the Threshers’ one.

"There’s been a lot of advertising bought, based on really good offers leading up to Christmas, so this [online voucher] has been a really good marketing ploy."

Caroline Laing, newly appointed MD of Arc Worldwide, who has previously worked with Thresher as a client, believes that it is now irrelevant whether or not the offer falling into the hands of the public was a mistake. "Whatever has happened, it’s served the purpose of putting Threshers on Christmas retail lists.

"Threshers has obviously struggled in light of the big superstore names doing such great promotions on wine and Champagne. Now they’ve managed to get footfall into their stores at a key trading period. They offer three-for-two offers quite consistently and, despite the fuss, this isn’t too different.” Laing points out, though, that the retailer could see a potential pitfall in the ploy: “People will bulk buy in December and they’ve probably given themselves a pretty low January. However, if they get people bulk-buying from Threshers and not from Tesco then it’s a result for them.

“A few years back, Threshers ran a ‘buy one bottle get one free’ campaign on wine in the Daily Mail," continues Laing. "It was absolutely massive for them, so they are familiar with the technique. That’s why I’m not surprised that they’ve run this online promotion. They’ll be squeezing the suppliers to get the best price out of them, therefore they can pass that discount on."

Despite all the fuss, as all true bargin-hunters would already know, it is interesting to note that the 40 percent discount offered by Threshers still doesn’t beat some of Tesco’s promotional Christmas prices on wine and Champagne. Yet there are few blog spots providing links to the supermarket giant's offers. There are no mums attempting to work e-mail for the first time in order to forward their offers on. And, other than the millions spent on advertising, there is certainly no wide-scale word-of-mouth communication spreading the message. It only goes to prove that to shout loudest in marketing, it is sometimes wise not to shout at all. Just let others do it for you.

Since its ‘friends and family’ deal came to an end on 10 December, reports suggest Threshers has posted a 60 per cent increase in sales.

“We didn't know we had so many friends and family,” said Thresher boss Roger Whiteside, no doubt ready for a very merry Christmas indeed.


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