Capitalizing on the fast-approaching April 15 income tax deadline, a rush of retailers have created their own versions of "tax relief" in the form of tax-time tie-ins.
From pizza makers to massage services, they are trying to turn one of the most dreaded days of the year into a promotional vehicle with discounts and giveaways.
Papa John's pzza will target last-minute filers with a "pro-crust-inators" online order deal April 13-15. In a nod to the dreaded federal tax form 1040, the promotion offers a pizza with three toppings for $10.40.
In a related stunt, Papa John's franchisees in 15 markets will dole out free slices on April 15 at high-traffic post offices.
Consumers dropping off their taxes on that day often owe money, "so they're not in a great mood," says Keith Sullins, a franchisee in the Houston area. Giving them free grub and "putting a smile on their face" will give the brand a boost while getting people to sample its fare.
"There are lots of people who have never tried (our pizza) before," says Sullins. "It's a great opportunity to give them a taste of it."
Consumers can expect more promotions tied to such offbeat "holidays" as companies try to stand out from competitors and boost sales in a sluggish economy, says Allen Adamson, managing director at branding agency Landor Associates.
"It underscores the pressure that marketers are under today to get noticed," he says, pointing out recent promotions linked to Feb. 29 Leap Day and Feb. 2 Groundhog Day. "The other traditional holidays are so overdone."
Many attempts at tax-time promotions will "fall into the trying-too-hard category," he says, but if they're relevant, such as offering organizing tools, or offer unexpected fun, they can work.
Others trying to get in on the IRS action:
•Retailers. Office-supply retailer Staples spls will use tax day to showcase its Copy & Print Center services. Filers can make a free copy of their 2007 return up to 20 pages.
The Container Store is promoting its "tax time sale" on its website, with in-store banners and a special catalog mailing. The message for consumers is to "organize before you itemize." Deals include a six-pack of hanging file folders for $5.99 instead of $6.99 and a receipt file at $4.99, down from $6.99.
•Travel companies. According to a National Retail Federation survey, 12% of people expecting a refund this year say they'll use it for a vacation. Last year, refunds averaged $2,259, according to the IRS. Armed with those statistics, Marriott & Renaissance Caribbean & Mexico Resorts has launched a 1040 Family Travel deal to chase that money. Package rates for five nights at one of nine resorts begin at $725, saving up to 40%.
The San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is offering an Escape from Taxes Package in which the discount for refund spenders is a refund of the local 11% general tax and $5 occupancy tax on their room.
•Beermakers. Molson Coors Brewing tap will use April 15 to launch can designs for Coors and Coors Light that have a "vent" next to the opening for smoother drinking. The beermaker will christen April 15 National Venting Day. Street teams will fan out in major cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Tampa to hand out promotional pamphlets that say, "Now that your taxes are in the mail, call your friends and start venting tonight. Highest refund buys."
•Restaurants. Chicago's Pops For Champagne will host a 1040 Tax Relief Celebration. Among the deals: Three sparkling wines that normally range from $15 to $30 a glass will be offered at $10.40 each. Guests who drop by at 10:40 p.m. on April 15 can pick up a $10.40 gift certificate to the restaurant.
Tristan in Charleston, S.C., will host a Toast to Better Times celebration on April 15. A post-office receipt or online filing confirmation will get guests a free glass of champagne.
•Massage providers. Two Grand Rapids, Mich., therapeutic massage services — HealthPath and Stress Less Massage Clinic — will set up shop at the post office on April 15 and offer free back massages to stressed-out filers.
Both companies will have a lot of opportunity to showcase how massage reduces tension. "People don't want to give their money to (Uncle) Sam," says HealthPath owner Donna Greenman.
NEW & NOTABLE
A Rolling Stone gathers luxury luggage
Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards isn't exactly a GQ model, but fashion-focused Louis Vuitton put an Annie Leibovitz portrait of the wrinkled rocker on a billboard in London and soon coming to the USA, along with print ads. The subtle plug: Richards plays his guitar in a hotel room, and a guitar case with an LV logo sits next to him on the bed. The theme: "Some journeys cannot be put into words." It's the lux luggage maker's latest ad in a series highlighting notable "personal journeys," says Laurent Janneau of Vuitton ad agency Ogilvy & Mather Paris. Other notables include Mikhail Gorbachev and actress Catherine Deneuve.
Its first TV and cinema ad is just as subtle. It began Feb. 15 and will show in 13 languages worldwide. "Life is a journey" is the theme of 90 seconds of moody images and words about journeys, set to guitar music by Gustavo Santaolalla, an Oscar winner for film scores for Brokeback Mountain and Babel. The only overt brand pitch is the Louis Vuitton Web address at the close.
False ad claims nothing to sneeze at
Airborne herbal tablets, once advertised as a cold remedy, agreed last week to a $23 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in California by the Center for Science in the Public Interest that charged that the marketing claims could not be supported.
The deal calls for refunds of average retail prices of $2.75 to $10.50 to buyers from May 2001 through November 2007. It also calls for Airborne to buy ads about the refund program in Better Homes & Gardens, Parade, People, Newsweek and other magazines and newspapers. The Federal Trade Commission and 24 state attorneys general are continuing to investigate Airborne's marketing.
Recycled ads for recycling
Sony Electronics wants to help eco-conscious consumers recycle their outdated electronics and buy some shiny new gadgets (Sony, of course). The company has teamed with Waste Management Recycle America to host "recycling events" nationwide to collect dusty computers, VCRs, fax machines and other devices of yore.
To get the word out, Sony will recycle old ads showing clunky gear from the 1980s. "We're recycling our old commercials to remind you to recycle your old electronics," says Stuart Redsun, senior vice president of corporate marketing. The ads haven't been picked yet, but Redsun jokes they could "show a camcorder that is probably as big as your car."
Boom — or bust
Here's a ground-shaking new drink from the beverage gurus at Sonic drive-in: Sonic Boom. It's an extra shot of espresso, at 50 cents, for any of Sonic's new premium coffee beverages. Guess that extra shot would make the new premium double-espresso coffee a Sonic Boom Boom.
The economy may be going to the dogs, but in a promotion designed to raise spirits (and, perhaps, indigestion levels) a family of five can chow down for $5 at hot dog chain Wienerschnitzel. A limited-time "5 for $5" deal offers five Original Chili Dogs for five bucks (the dogs usually are $1.35 each). It is a response to "budget-conscious consumers," says Tom Amberger, vice president of marketing. Since the promotion began late last month, sales are up "significantly," he says.
Audi revs up its image
Audi's Super Bowl ad parody of the horse head in the bed scene from The Godfather has driven up its brand awareness. The ad for the $109,000 R8 had more than 2.2 million views online, lured nearly a million people to audiusa.com within 72 hours of airing and made Audi R8 the top Google search term the day after the game.
Audi's Big Game publicity may have given it a few miles' head start as other makers of superluxury cars (that's $100,000 stickers and up) gun for more U.S. sales. Italy's Maserati will roll out its latest super-ride this week, the Gran Turismo S.
Can't decide between the Audi and Maserati? In Manhattan, an Audi showcase and a Ferrari-Maserati dealer are just eight blocks apart on Park Avenue. In the unlikely event that there was no traffic, an R8 could cover that in less than 20 seconds and reach maybe 120 mph before you had to hit the brakes.
ASK THE AD TEAM
Q: Who sings the songs that include the lyrics "Hold on Tight to Your Dreams" in the Honda Accord ads and "I Start the World with You" in a GMC Acadia ad?
— Kenn Hanson, Reno
A: Electric Light Orchestra, also known as ELO, sings the song Hold on Tight that currently is heard in three ads for the newly revamped Accord. The song plays as images of everyday life (walks on the beach, kids soccer games, flowers growing) are projected onto on a wall behind the moving car.
The band, formed in 1970 in Birmingham, England, had numerous Top 10 hits, including Can't Get it Out of My Head, Evil Woman and the song in the Honda ad. In earlier ad work, the band's Mr. Blue Sky was the track in a Volkswagen ad in 2002.
In the Acadia ad, the song is titled Melt With You and includes the lyrics "I'll stop the world and melt with you." The original song is by Modern English, but the ads use a remixed version by Nouvelle Vague. The ads in the series show inspirations such as jeweled necklaces and skylights, that went into the making of an Acadia. They first appeared last year as part of the campaign to launch the new crossover vehicle. The ads still run locally in some markets. A new ad for Acadia was featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The comic sported a red vinyl mini dress to promote the 2008 Acadia in a live commercial.