Online Marketing: What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

Posted on November 10, 2009. Filed under: Other | Tags: , , , |

I like a game of chance just as much as the next person.  When I graduated from high school, my parents took me on a cruise and I spent late nights gambling with my Dad on board the ship.  And after I turned 21, there was a trip to Las Vegas for me with more late night gambling with my Dad.  He taught me to treat gambling like entertainment — allocate so much money for the entire trip and divide it up into the number of days.  If you lose your allocation for the day then stop and do something else.  Otherwise, it’s no longer fun. 

I’ve studied about all sorts of games of chance and read about gaming theory in social science settings.  What I find really interesting is how marketers are incorporating “chance” into their online marketing techniques.  Below are three examples from emails I have received from companies who are marketing some aspect of chance and how I personally feel about each of  these type of offers.


1. Old Navy: The Magical Mystery Offer



Old Navy offered 10%, 20%, 30%, or even 50% off any Old Navy online purchase.   For me, the trouble is that 10% or 20% wouldn’t motivate me to stop what I was doing and place an online order.  I’d strongly consider making an order if I was told in advance that I would receive 30% off but then I’d probably be unhappy with the 30% knowing that there was a possibility that I could have received a 50% discount.  That is why I don’t like these mystery offers.  If I don’t know in advance the price that I’ll end up paying for the merchandise then I don’t want to invest my time in browsing the website and adding items to the cart only to be disappointed later.

I’m competitive so if I only receive a 20% or 30% discount after I have done my shopping then I have a sinking feeling, knowing that I didn’t get the best of what was offered.  And I have a sense of fairness, too, so even if I don’t like the idea of some people getting a 30% discount while others receive “extreme discounts” of only a 10% discount or as high as 50%. 

I’m a shopper who satisfices.  I don’t have to find the very best price with the limited time that I have to shop.  I know some people that will spend hours or days finding the absolute best price on an item and would drive across the city to save a nickel.  There is nothing wrong that shopping philosophy but it’s not me.  When I find a deal that I consider to be good I buy.  It doesn’t have to be the absolute best deal and I’m okay with that because I would have to give up more time than it’s worth to me in order to find the absolute best deal.

Having said all that (that I’m a shopper who satisfices), I still don’t like knowing that my deal with a store could be a different deal than the next person.  It’s not about the actual money but rather the concept.  Same store + same product = same price for everyone.  That is how I think the equation should work when all the input variables are the same.  Honestly, I don’t have a problem with a store (online or offline) sending me a coupon for 20% off and yet sending another customer, one who spends twice as much in a year than I do, a coupon for 50% off.  I just don’t want it put in my face that I’m getting 20% while someone else is getting 50%.  And mystery offers put it in my face.

I’m sure that Mystery Offers are a successful marketing technique with some consumers — perhaps folks who enjoy the thrill of shopping as a form of entertainment — but it just doesn’t work for me.


2. Wigix: Grab Bag (I call it the Pig and a Poke Offering)



Recently, Wigix online marketplace has been sending out emails offering “Grab Bags”.  The above offer is a grab bag offer for $5 including shipping.  Inside the Grab Bag is one of the following: South Park or CSI DVDs, a paperback by Stephen King, a cuddly stuffed animal, other “random stuff” or even an iPod Shuffle 1st Generation.

So, the person who ends up with the iPod Shuffle is the “winner” and everyone else gets a booby prize.  Great way to clear out junk, I suppose, except for one thing.  How many dissatisfied customers are you creating with this type of promotion?  Not only will many of the buyers who pay their $5 be disappointed with their purchase (I can hear it now — darn this cuddly stuffed animal, I really wanted the South Park DVD) but what about those who missed out on this awesome deal of the century?

When Wigix sends out these Grab Bag emails, all the Grab Bags are sold almost instantly.  So, if you’re not one of the first 20 people to order a Grab Bag, what do you see when you click on the Grab Bag Offer.  Well, you see the following:




Now, assuming I had my heart set on ordering a Wigix Grab Bag, I’d really be unhappy if I missed out on the opportunity.  This type of online marketing gets two big thumbs down from me.


3. Papa John’s Cowboy Toppings for Touchdowns




Now, here is a “chance” promotion that I love!  A large cheese pizza from Papa John’s is $7.99 and every time the Dallas Cowboys football team plays and scores touchdowns, Papa John’s will add free toppings to the cheese pizza.  The number of free toppings is based on the number of touchdowns that the Cowboys score.  So, for example, the Cowboys scored 2 touchdowns this past Sunday so on Monday and/or Tuesday, a hungry pizza eater can get a large 2-topping pizza from Papa Johns for only $7.99 (the cheese pizza is $7.99 and the 2 toppings are free).

In my opinion, this is a great promotion.  It’s social in nature and everyone is a winner.  And even those of us who are not Dallas Cowboys fans get to take advantage of the Cowboy’s luck on the field.  Some weeks we have been offered 3 or 4 toppings for “free” but everyone who uses the online code “Pile2” receives the same special offer.

And there you have it… my Monday morning quarterback critique of 3 online marketing ads using chance offers to entice their buyers.


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