Countdown to Halloween Town: Mobile Madness

Version_5_back_2Just as we're preparing to ship over 300,000 Halloween Town mobiles for sale at various retailers during the month of October, I came across an article from the gang at Think Personality that gave me hope that there is an easier, more eco-friendly way to do point-of-purchase programs.

Kevin writes about The JC Penny After School Fund, which you can read about here and here.  Much like the mobiles we sell, Kevin was asked at the register if he would like to donate or, in his case, "round-up" his tab to the nearest dollar.  The beauty is that it involved no mobiles--or "paper icons" as they are sometimes called--which can be a horrible waste of paper and money.  Our Halloween Town mobile program raises hundreds of thousands of dollars, but many boxes of mobiles--some not even opened!--end up in the trash.

It seems crazy not to follow JC Penny's lead and have a simple "register ask" program, but there are some challenges.

Version_5_front_2First, the mobile is a very visible icon of the donor's support for the hospital.  Shoppers write their names on them and stores hang them all over the place.  iParty stores string the mobiles from the ceilings and plaster them on walls and registers.  It really makes the program much more visible and impactful.  Dare I say more successful because shoppers are made much more aware of the program and are more likely to purchase one?

Second, for us, the mobile is more than just a fundraising tool, it's a promotional tool for Halloween Town.  Each mobile includes information about the event and, in previous years, has even included a discount on admission.  Does it work?  You bet it does.  One in five attendees learned about the event from a mobile they bought.

Third, the mobile is important to sponsors that include their coupons on it.  They especially like the fact that their coupon is distributed in six other retail chains during the busy month of October.  For instance, iParty's 40 stores are very busy in October--as Halloween, not surprisingly, is their biggest holiday all year--and they see up to 60,000 customers in just one weekend.

So it doesn't look like we'll be getting rid of our printed mobiles anytime soon.  Although we will try to manage the numbers and costs so we aren't wasting money, time and trees.

Two comments on Kevin's post.  First, he bemoans that the JC Penny program was only a month long.  While I totally agree with Kevin that a program longer than a month would be better, register programs have a lifespan of a month or less.  With our programs, I've found that checkout employees begin to lose steam after two weeks.  Our mobile programs generally run about a month too.  But the fundraising numbers from the first two weeks--even with threats, incentives, pep talks, etc.--are very different from the second.

Second, Kevin rightfully mentions that the JC Penny program has no credibility and no visibility with consumers.  Who the heck has heard of it?  I know two people who haven't: Kevin and me!  But, truthfully, I don't think consumers really care.  I've always thought that consumers are more concerned that a company is doing something in the community and less about what and for whomiParty will sell our Halloween Town mobiles in Florida next month and they'll sell as well there as they would in Boston--even with the BMC name on it.  It's really all about the ask.  That Florida checkout clerk is trained NOT to ask the shopper to donate a buck to a Boston hospital.  Instead they ask: "Would you like to donate a dollar to help a sick child."  Who can say no to that?

As far as the wisdom of JC Penny running an in-house program as opposed to working with a well known charity like the Salvation Army or the United Way, Penny's "After School Fund" could be the right course for the retailer.  When I was a kid we had a restaurant down the street from my house.  Every year the week before Labor Day they had all sorts of posters and cannisters displayed to raise money for Jerry Lewis and MDA.  Then one year it was all gone.  I asked the manager why.  "We raise money for our own charity now," he replied.  "Have you ever heard of the Ronald McDonald House?"