Sony Hopes Mailer Fetches Consumer Interest

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Sony of Canada Ltd. has kicked off a direct marketing campaign in Canada to raise interest in its Aibo robotic pet and drive traffic to Sony stores nationwide in anticipation of the upcoming holiday shopping season.


Handled by Lowe RMP, Toronto, the campaign has two target audiences for the one-time drop of 60,000. One is the mostly suburban, casual customer who may not know much about electronics but can be more loyal. Members of the Sony store Connection loyalty program are the other recipients.


"The strategy is to convey the Sony Store's core message: The Sony store provides the visitor special value and opportunities," said Peter Coish, president of Lowe RMP. "The Sony store is interested in more than just a sale. They're interested in building a relationship with the visitor."


To build an aura of intrigue and anticipation around the mailer, the agency focused on the second-generation Aibo, an intelligent robotic pet.


The offer is simple. Consumers are asked to come to the Sony store and swipe a specially encoded card to see if they have won one of six Aibos. Each nonwinning card has a guaranteed value of $10.


Package design plays a key role. The front of the package seeks to build intrigue with a headline about a missing Aibo and a radar-sweep visual. The theme continues on the back with copy that reads, "A Top Secret Sony Store Connection Communique."


Inside, the usual letter has been replaced with a confidential memo. This note outlines the problem: the intercepted Aibo shipment, the call for help and the reward -- winning an Aibo.


In addition to being a card carrier, the accompanying brochure continues the story by offering details on the Aibo prize and mission.


Coish said the campaign was intended to work two ways. For the casual customers, who tend to be male, it seeks to deliver the experience of being treated like an insider. For the loyalty program members, this is a reaffirmation of their special status.


A similar Sony store campaign run last year met its targeted goals.


"Not only did it achieve a high response rate -- over 11 percent -- but it has received a number of direct response advertising awards," Coish said.


First launched in 1981, the Sony store sells Sony products like the CD Walkman, the digital Mavica camera, Handycam video camera, Vaio notebook computer, FD Trinitron WEGA and the PlayStation game console.


There are about 70 Sony home entertainment stores throughout Canada, mostly based in malls. However, only six of these stores will sell the Aibo.


"The real reason for this mailing is to get people excited about this product, and their chance to win," said Steven Bochenek, creative director at Lowe RMP. "But really, they come in to see if they have the winning thing ... so while they're in there, we hope they'll make a purchase."


Sony, like any manufacturer grappling with retail-channel conflict issues, has to tread gingerly with its marketing. So, this latest direct marketing offensive does not rely on price as a traffic driver.


"The price at the Sony store is never the lowest a consumer will find," Coish said. "Other retailers can cut profits to make a sale. The Sony store, however, can never put its wares on sale and sell for less than the suggested retail price.


"That's because over 90 percent of Sony Canada's sales are made by other retailers who view the Sony store as competition," he said. "To maintain a delicate peace in the marketplace, the Sony store will not sell on price."


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