The Sunday Star-Times is New Zealand’s only nationwide newspaper. A high proportion of its circulation is from retail sales.

This meant we needed to develop a promotion that would drive retail sales of the newspaper through two of the largest retail channels in the country — Countdown (a supermarket brand) and Z Energy (a gas station brand) — whilst delivering a clear return on investment on the marketing budget.

We focused on these two retailers because they are head office-controlled versus being franchises or owner-operated businesses, which ensured consistent store compliance across the promotion. This also allowed us to keep the distribution cost down. 

For the promotion, we decided to focus on a giveaway of Hot Wheels cars in partnership with Mattel. People who bought a copy of the Sunday Star-Times from Countdown or Z Energy received a free Hot Wheels car during a two-week time period for as long as stock lasted. 

We were specifically interested in having a gift-with-purchase offer due to a relatively small marketing budget, and we needed a partner to provide the gift for free in return for the media value that company would gain from being part of the promotion. 

Mattel was interested in creating awareness of its new toy car range and driving sales in Countdown stores, so this partnership was a win-win situation for both of us.

Our target market for the promotion was parents and grandparents aged 30-70 years old. Our messaging — “Pick up the Sunday Star-Times from Countdown or Z Energy and get a FREE Hot Wheels car (while stocks last)” — was promoted with a marketing campaign that included television, radio, print, and digital advertising.

Advertisements ran Thursday through Saturday night each week of the two-week promotion, plus we had a visible retail display in the stores. The biggest challenge we encountered with the promotion was distribution and ensuring that each store had enough cars to satisfy demand while moving stock from stores that were not doing well to those that were.

During the promotional period, we saw a 29% increase in unit sales. Compared to an average decline of -17% in sales, this was an outstanding achievement. This increase continued after the promotion in the two retail channels, particularly Z Energy, for several weeks as well.

The key to this successful promotion was the creative television and radio advertisement. It had a very clear message that really got through to customers. Also, the in-store merchandising ensured the Hot Wheels promotional bin was located next to the newspaper stand along with the promotional placard, so it was easy for consumers to understand what the giveaway was. 

We learned that you can never underestimate the power of a free gift, especially a recognisable product that appeals to kids. Most consumers of newspapers have children in their lives, and they want to keep their kids happy.