Saturday, January 06, 2007

Toying with the Public

The first baby born in America in 2007 has created quite a stir across this land, exposing hypocrisy, greed, and bone-headedness that is, unfortunately, par for the course.

Toys-R-Us ran a contest promising a $25,000 savings bond for the first kid to crown on New Year’s Day, urging all expectant mothers to apply.

You know how these things work: A retailer draws you in with a cool contest, and while you’re in the store, it is hoped you will buy a couple-hundred dollars’ worth of stuff.

Been there done that…it’s not hard to drop several Benjamin’s in Toys-R-us. (We used to buy diapers in bulk at T-R-U when our kids were infants.)

The sweepstakes rules were printed in 3-point pica with all manner of legalese, including the stipulation that mothers-to-be must be American citizens in order for their child to be eligible to win the $25k bond.

What the Mensa’s in the marketing department at Toys-R-Us failed to realize is that this is no longer white-bread America, and that the odds of the winning child being born of an American mother were slimmer than in years past…and that’s exactly what happened.

Yuki Lin, the offspring of a Chinese-American union, checked-in at Midnight on the nose in New York City. Her mom, alas, is not a US citizen.

Toys-R-Us faced a dilemma:
The company jas just opened its first store in Mainland China in the past month. Yet the sweepstakes administrator disqualified the Chinese-American baby according to the posted rules of the contest, and gave the bond to a baby born 19-seconds later in Gainsville, Georgia.
That kid won by a nose…there was a third child that also qualified for the prize.

Two lessons to draw from this experience, first for marketers:
Make sure your contest is truly inclusive.
June and Ward Cleaver aren’t the only one’s shopping in your stores.

If you’re running a contest to attract more customers and generate more business, why exclude potential consumers? A non-American citizen is just as likely to spend US dollars in your store as any homeboy and his brood.

The second lesson for all of us to remember is that the demographics of the United States is changing. Why open a store in China when you’re going to discriminate against non-Americans at home?

Businesses sometimes fail to consider what’s going on from the outside looking in. Instead of walking a mile in another’s moccasins, simple walk the aisle of your shop with the eyes of an outsider.

Toys-R-Us' Solomonic solution to the gaffe (all three kids received 1st-prizes) may have cost them more than the three $25,000 savings bonds. As the MasterCard ads like to proclaim, the cost of your credibility as an impartial marketer: priceless.

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