The Grayson Report

The Growing Importance of ‘Permission to Buy’

By Suzanne and Bob Grayson , Grayson Associates | March 5, 2007

Readers of this column have long been subjected to our insistence to include permission to believe (claims/promises) as part of any company or product message. Permission to believe is wrapped around the product and its positioning. We would now like to add permission to buy. That is, other real and/or imagined reasons that send the consumer  to the store or to the internet. Among the powerful reasons would be added value, i.e, a promotional incentive; service experience, i.e., satisfactory interaction with a beauty advisor; recommendation, i.e., magazine or friend, and more recently, a reward/enhanced self-esteem; i.e., status goods or “doing something good,” such as buying the product from a company that supports a charity. Doing something good resonates with young shoppers, who may still be determined to change the world while forming life-long consumption habits.

A recent study by Cone Inc./AMP Insights provided clues about how 13-25 year-olds view cause-related marketing.
    • 89% are likely to switch brands (given equal price and quality) to support a cause;
    • 74% are more likely to pay attention to messages of companies deeply committed to a cause;
    • 69% consider a company’s social commitment when deciding where to shop; and
    • 66% consider a company’s social commitment when recommending products.

With all these advantages, and no downside risk, it would seem that a management objective should be to create awareness of and get the charity-giving message to the target audience. We searched the web for examples and found two different approaches.

L’Oréal promotes and contributes to organizations such as Hairdressers of the World Against AIDS, Soft Sheen Scholarship Program, Women for Science Program, Ovarian Cancer and a variety of other worthy causes under its Charitable Giving Program. All seem to be targeted at health, science and education.

MAC’s Viva Glam program to fight AIDS is another good example of cause-related marketing. MAC promotes the fact that 100% of revenue from Viva Glam lipstick and gloss sales go directly to the program. It’s pretty much the only national advertising that MAC does, and is very well-tied to the entire MAC persona.

The difference between the two, regardless of the actual financial contribution, is that MAC’s “cause” is tied very directly to its culture and image, while L’Oréal’s contributions are mostly invisible to the consumer.

Getting back to the Cone/AMP study, it seems to us that making the corporate contributions well known provide strong permission to buy. That can be an important differentiating factor in the prospective consumer’s mind and at the point-of-sale, especially as so many products and positions are similar. Coming away with “I did some good” also relieves any guilt for purchasing something that was not really needed.

The Package is the Ad!

StriVectin has plenty of money for advertising, but its much more specialized flanker products will naturally suffer from a lack of budget. Thus the package becomes the communication device for the benefits—front and center. If the potential buyer picks up the product, she is also picking up the “ad” with permission to believe right in her hand.

It empowers the consumer! All the StriVectin retail store ads we’ve seen are mostly full page, with huge photos of the packages, including flanker products (with different company names), so that the claims can be read. That’s all there is—virtually no other copy (and no GWPs!). Perhaps retailers don’t want to get involved with “clinical claim support?” That’s what we think.

Cute, But What Does it Do?

Look at this ad  for Sunsilk. The fine print on the pink product includes “Hydra TLC.” Of course, that’s not readable in the ads, but if the ads are designed to get the reader to the store, then only the major graphic will do the job. And what does the graphic really do?

It sets up undesirable hair situations in a roundabout manner that may very well leave the consumer cold. In the two seconds that the ad has to deliver the message does “My hair’s split like a Hollywood marriage?” lead her to the conclusion that Sunsilk will solve her problems? Is this permission to believe?

Another Sunsilk ad, “My hair’s so poofy I should stuff my bra with it,” again sets up the problem without a solution (other than the product shot). Since most of the ads are spreads, and often four pages, one would think that somewhere, in keeping with the fun attitude of the graphic, some specifics would seal the deal.

At the bottom of the ad is a website, With some time to kill before this column went to press, we logged on. It’s a gas! Lots of fun—no sell, just fun. Perfect for the under 18 crowd with time on its hands. But sell? We were so busy reading the blogs and watching the vignettes that we never got around to visiting the product stories. But then, we’re not 18 anymore.

Sunsilk has set out to differentiate itself by tapping into the consumer’s running tape as well as her culture. Both will provide the brand with high energy and lots of buzz. A little product reinforcement wouldn’t hurt.

Loyalty...Going, going, gone!

A lengthy conversation with Britt Beemer, president of America’s Research Group, shed some interesting light on “loyalty.” A recent report from his company listed the product with the highest loyalty—bath soap at 37.8%. We asked, “how do you define ‘loyalty?’” His answer:
    1. It is considered by the consumer to be her favorite brand;
    2. If the store is out of stock, the consumer will go to another store to get it; and
    3. If, having received a coupon, buy-one-get-one-free for another brand, the consumer would not switch.

We also discussed the size of the loyalty numbers for the 10 categories of consumer goods involved with the study—the lowest being shoes at 27.9%. Ten years ago those high loyalty numbers were in the 50s and 60s. The answer seems to lie in commoditization. That is, so many products in a given category are perceived to be equal or nearly equal that there is a tendency to switch, often to cheaper brands, or to a more newsworthy brand. Or, in the case of department store brands, to buy at the counter with the best gift!

So, we end up with a question of a definition for brand loyalty. Is the consumer loyal to a brand, or a gift, or a display, or a store? Which brings us full circle to the marketer’s role in the business world. The No. 1 job is product differentiation.

Unfortunately, with technology being what it is today, any product differentiation has a very short “exclusive” shelf life. So what’s left? Image. Work on that! No one can take it away from you.  l