Many Happy Returns

The Oxford English dictionary defines a promotion as;

‘the publicising of a product, organisation or venture so as to increase sales or public awareness’.

It’s an old fashioned notion that if you tell people about something and offer them some kind of incentive to ‘act now’, they will do your bidding, buy your stuff and ‘hey presto’ you get a short-term sales boost!

In FMCG terms the power of the major grocery mults has meant that products and brands are locked into a permanent cycle of being ‘on promo’ so much so that buying patterns have become ingrained, with consumers simply not buying un-promoted products. Upshot is your margin is buggered and brand loyalty diluted. By definition – if its expected its no longer a promotion.

At Guerilla we do a lot of work for the rail industry which represents a unique set of challenges for the marketer in that there is scant opportunity to control the 4 P’s (oh how I miss the 80’s), or at least 3 of them.

Price – Erm no that’s set and increased annually by the Government much to every passengers annoyance.

Product – From A to B on a train, hopefully with a seat with no opportunity to bring out a ‘salted caramel’ season ticket if you know what I mean.

Place – Well not really, the tracks and stations don’t really move and it’s difficult to add new ones.

Promotion – now here’s the thing…

When we started Guerilla in April 2000 we our founding client was a rail company, Great Eastern. At the time the then Marketing Manager warned us that there was no hope for the 4 P’s. When we collected the Institute of Sales Promotion Gold award for the promotional launch of Group-Save some 18 months later it seemed that one of those ‘P’s was still alive and well in the industry.

Rail companies actually have a vast array of promotional products available, but as opposed to the FMCG cycle of on / off promotions, these rail promo’s are ‘always on’ – because of the inter-availability of most tickets across the different Operating companies.

• Cheap Day Returns
• Rover tickets
• Grouptravel tickets
• Kids ½ price tickets

(to name but a few)

You can ask for one at any time, so they miss out on the ‘act now’ aspect of promoting, ie the ‘do it now’ and save aspect. Shame, it prevents Rail companies from using this technique to boost sales at key times because frankly it’s cheaper Off Peak every day, so what’s the incentive to do it today?

(Here’s the but).


If used a bit more tactically and offered from a different angle, these “every day” promotions can be really effective and drive measurable boosts to sales. Guerilla has worked with Arriva Trains North to developed a technique using local and regional press titles to offer readers Flat Fare ticket prices for limited periods of time. These same offers are available year round but unless people are told about them and promoted to by an independent voice with a defined user group (in this case newspaper readership) why would they know to ask for them? The results are really something (I can’t quote numbers here, but believe me it works).

Yes it takes a lot of organizing but as a technique to bring promotional marketing back to life and boost sales in an industry handcuffed and tongue tied by legislation and physical boundaries, it deserves a place in the calendar of every senior marketer in the industry.

Naturally this is a shameful piece of self promotion and all markets and all businesses are different but if you are interested in getting more good old fashioned ‘bang’ for your promotional ‘buck’ give us a call and let’s have a chat 01628 819007 or you could kick our tyres at or email us at