AMBASSADOR STEPPING UP CO-MARKETING

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Ambassador Cards here and Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, N.Y., put a new spin on co-marketing this month, combining for a "Summer Savings" cross-promotion at the 122-unit ShopKo mass merchandising chain.The account-specific program, which ends Aug. 31, is the latest of a handful of co-marketing tests Ambassador has run jointly with manufacturers at several retailers since February,

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Ambassador Cards here and Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, N.Y., put a new spin on co-marketing this month, combining for a "Summer Savings" cross-promotion at the 122-unit ShopKo mass merchandising chain.

The account-specific program, which ends Aug. 31, is the latest of a handful of co-marketing tests Ambassador has run jointly with manufacturers at several retailers since February, Jim McDowell, vice president of marketing for the greeting card company, told Brand Marketing.

"Several of these programs are history," he said. "Lots more are going to happen in the next few months."

Ambassador's programs read like cases for the co-marketing textbook. They incorporate account-specific promotion, store-specific execution and incremental outpost display space, and layer on tie-in cooperation with other noncompeting manufacturers.

The greeting card company kicked off its co-marketing activities with a Valentine's Day promotion at Smith's Food & Drug Centers, the 132-unit supermarket chain based in Salt Lake City. Tying in with Hershey's Candies, Hershey, Pa., the promotion was titled, "Hugs, kisses and Valentine wishes."

A freestanding display unit in each store carried greeting cards and wraps and offered a $1 discount on 13- and 14-ounce bags of Hershey's Hugs and Kisses candies with the purchase of any three Ambassador cards.

The Summer Savings promotion at ShopKo centers on a giveaway of three Hawaiian vacations. Brochures distributed to shoppers contained an entry blank for the drawing as well as several ShopKo-specific coupon offers: $1 off on any three Ambassador Cards, a buy-one-get-one-free on Touch-Screen greetings, $1.50 off any Kodak Funsaver disposable camera and $1.50 off on Kodak 3-pack film.

Participating chains so far have been receptive to the events, which provide in-store excitement and sales with minimal effort from the retailer.

"Ambassador is handling the whole thing," said ShopKo spokeswoman Sherry Olsen. "They take all the burden of executing the promotion." ShopKo is based in Green Bay, Wis.

Ambassador's objective with programs like these, said McDowell, is to obtain well-located outpost display space and to leverage its strong in-store service presence against logical seasonal promotion opportunities with manufacturers of noncompeting brands.

Its in-line card departments, he said, normally capture 15% to 20% of a store's total traffic. "Once we get them in the aisle, we have an 85% conversion rate. That is extremely high. So it doesn't take rocket science to figure out that our primary objective is to capture more of that total traffic."

He continued, "To capture them we have to go where they live. That is not a greeting card need, but in most cases a food need. That means either outpost our products or link up with other parts of the store. Bakery, floral, photo finishing, candy and seasonal -- all have some affinity for greeting cards."

Ambassador likes to partner with brand marketers in other high-margin, high-impulse purchase categories, McDowell said. At first the company had a predeliction toward the leading brand. It quickly learned it is better to talk to the retailer first.

"We never do this in a vacuum," said McDowell. "First we ask the retailer, 'What other categories are important to you?' We would never want to link up with one that retailer does not consider important."

He noted that in some categories there is clearly a ubiquitous supplier that everybody does business with. Hershey, M&M Mars of Hackettstown, N.J., and Kodak are all examples. But Ambassador may tie-in with a brand that is not the No. 1 brand because it may have a strong presence in seasonal packaging and promotion.

Results from the Valentine's Day program at Smith's were positive enough to induce Hershey to participate in a second event that is timed for this coming Halloween, said Brad Wentz, regional manager for the candy maker.

"Halloween is not traditionally a time to sell a lot of cards. Here is an opportunity for Ambassador to leverage off the strength of Halloween candy sales," he said. The promotional plan calls for a tie-in with Hershey's snack size candies and Ambassador cards and holiday decorations.

Said McDowell, "With Hershey we both have a seasonal orientation. They have a strong name franchise with the consumer for their products. We can leverage this to their benefit. They also have a desire to promote.

"We provide strong store-by-store service and seasonal theming, both of which are very attractive to them. We measure results at the end, through point-of-sale at store level."