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The pros and cons of pocket promotions

By collegemktgrp | June 29, 2009 | Brands/Advertisers

Many college marketers are tasked with getting on campus to interact with students, press the flesh, and hype up their new product or service. Some fall into the trap of overthinking their execution and feel that a full-fledged event is in order. Not so. Well-timed, professionally executed “pocket promotions” can eliminate the need for full-scale campus events and tours. Designing tents, securing permits, and navigating other logistical hurdles can take months and cause you to miss an opportunity to be on campus right away.

Pocket promotions work well when your timing is, well, timely. For example, a timely pocket promotion might be a beverage company handing out free product to a campus that has just won an NCAA championship. Small pocket promotions work even better when the promotion is part of a larger national campaign you are running. A hypothetical example of this might be Taco Bell dovetailing a late-night college bar promotion with the national release of a new menu item. Methods like this work because you are bringing an extension of your campaign into niche markets for direct impact.

Understand that a pocket promotion is a short-lived event (just a few hours) promotion in a highly targeted area (on campus, at a beach, tailgating event, etc.) where, usually, a street team is interacting with a consumer one-on-one about something very specific with a mixture of some custom media. Maybe you are promoting a new movie release, or creating awareness about drunk driving. No matter what your message, it needs to be quick and to the point and offer an opportunity for people to walk away from your conversation understanding what you want them to do while encouraging them to share it with their friends.

Here are some pros and cons to pocket promotions:


  • Minimal start-up: These types of promotions are nimble and can be created quickly to seize an opportunity.
  • Expeditious: Doesn’t require months of planning or the need to secure permits.
  • Portable: Can be picked up and moved to where your customers are.
  • Economical: Staff models, management, product, and basic metrics are easy on the budget. Some simple guerilla media (wild postings, chalking, projection ads) also give it a fun feel.
  • Scalable: If it works, you can get it up and running in other markets on a dime.
  • PR: If your promotion is creative, ties in a great cause, delivers a cool message, or utilizes unique media, you are bound to get some press.


  • Backlash: These pocket promotions are typically done ambush style. It may result in being asked to leave a location, fines, or complaints from citizens, depending on what you are doing.
  • No one home: With proper scouting, you should be hitting the right places at a time when your customers are there. You always run the risk that they might not show up when you want them to.
  • Short-lived: Not a good strategy if you need anything sustained. Engaging your customer in a more meaningful dialogue over time and building a relationship is always better than a here-and-gone approach.
  • Inclement weather: Unless you are an umbrella company, rain will probably ruin your pocket promotion. Bad weather (rain, snow, bitter cold, etc.) can be a buzzkill and sometimes rescheduling just won’t work.

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