For the last four years, thousands of Toronto Star subscribers have acted as “brand ambassadors” for the newspaper through our annual Christmas holiday offer promotion.

A brand ambassador can be described as an individual hired by a company to act as the representative of the company with respect to sales and marketing. This individual is meant to symbolise the corporate image.

Many organisations pay big money to well-known entertainment and sports personalities to act as their brand ambassadors and endorse their products or services. But there is nothing more authentic than having your own customers sing your praise.

Our annual holiday offer promotion allows Toronto Star subscribers the opportunity to give a free Saturday gift subscription to their non-subscriber friends and family. Based on the response that we have had from subscribers over the last four years, they absolutely love this programme. This past December, subscribers gave a Star gift subscription to more than 9,000 non-subscribers in the Toronto area.

You may think that giving away 9,000 free Saturday subscriptions sounds like a major investment. However, the marketing cost of acquiring these new readers was a mere C$2.60 per sample. We kept the marketing cost for this campaign low by utilising our contractors’ carrier force to deliver the promotional letters to select subscribers. This allowed for significant savings on postage. We also sent an e-blast and ran in-newspaper ads promoting the offer to our subscribers.

In Canada, readership is the primary metric for many newspapers. This campaign helped us accomplish two key objectives:

  1. We added 9,000 new readers during a key NADbank period. 

  2. We added 9,000 hot leads to grow our subscriber base.

Near the end of the free subscription term, the households are sent a paid subscription offer. Last year we had a fantastic response rate from this group, with close to 7% of households signing up for paid home delivery service. The cost per order for these new subscribers was C$14.

We added a twist to the campaign this year and extended the gift-giving opportunity to our employees, which is another logical group of brand ambassadors. All employees had the chance to share a free gift subscription with their friends and family. We added a splash of fun and competitive spirit by offering a free lunch to anyone who signed up more friends and family than our vice president of consumer marketing. Just a note: Six of us beat him.

I can certainly understand the appeal of a celebrity endorsement, but for me there is nothing that motivates my purchase decisions more than a referral from a friend or family member. How else can you encourage your readers to tell two friends and so on and so on and so on...?