Meet the Promoters: Zeal Creative

For my latest Q&A with the people behind the prize promotions, I spoke to Stewart Hilton, founder of Zeal Creative, ‘the UK’s Most Effective Shopper Marketing Agency’. Since 2014 Zeal have created some of our favourite on-pack promotions for KitKat, Pringles and Kellogg’s. Over the last 10 years Stewart and his team have won over 50 creative effectiveness awards from the Institute of Promotional Marketing – more than any other creative team in the UK!

Stewart Hilton - Zeal Creative

Stewart and I enjoyed an hour long Zoom chat all about prize promotions, and I hope you find his insights as fascinating as I did!

Zeal specialises in creating successful promotions in supermarkets and convenience stores. What type of prize promotions work best for your clients?

A good promotion needs to work for the brand, the consumer and the retailer. It gets the retailer excited (so it’s given space in the shop), catches the shopper’s eye, and can generate a 10-20% increase in sales.  

I’ve never been the biggest fan of instant win promotions – because too many of them are instant loses! At Zeal we like to add extra opportunities to win – so when we do an instant win, the worse you’ll get back is ‘Sorry you’re not an instant winner this time, but you’ve been entered into a prize draw!’. Our clients are keen to give away all the prizes that are advertised so we always try to develop mechanics that do this. Where possible we like to have big prizes, but also a lot of lower value prizes too.

We want a promotion to encourage engagement with the brand and to give lots of people the chance to win – but unfortunately if there’s any effort involved, you’re only talking to 1-2% of people!  So ideally we will ask entrants to text a code from a pack (or enter it online), but we often won’t ask them for any more information, as we know people don’t like to share too much data.

People worry about competitions being scams – how can brands convince consumers they’re genuinely giving away prizes?

I think Good Morning Britain do it brilliantly by dramaticising the prize and showing real winners – it’s nice to be able to show that genuine people win. When we do the ‘lucky ticket’ promotions we share social media updates when the winning products are found – we don’t necessarily show the person, but do what we can to create excitement and show prizes are being won.

Kit Kat Winner

People worry that brands and businesses are always trying to get what they can from competition entrants – but the reality is that the brands are worried about asking winners for too much, so publicising them doesn’t happen as much as we would like it to. We do try to incentivise people into taking a photo of their prize and sharing on social media – or unboxing it – because that’s great for the brands. It’s always nice to know that winners appreciate a prize. 

What kind of promotion would you recommend to appeal to younger people?

For the younger audience, it’s definitely the more frictionless promotions that are easy to enter – text or entry via mobile. Brands have asked us to run campaigns with entry on Facebook – but redemption levels go through the floor because people don’t seem so keen to interact with brands on their social feed!

How do Zeal decide on the prizes or offers that work well for each individual brand?

It’s a combination of constant research and an understanding of what’s new and different. Even if you’ve got something that works, clients and brand managers get bored of it – and the retailers can get bored too! They’re always pushing for something new, but that’s not always what the shopper wants. So we need to understand what’s out there that feels fresh and different but that’s of its moment. At agencies we see tech products years in advance, but you need to choose the right time to give those away – if you’re giving away the ‘new VR system that will change the world’ for example, people won’t know what that is! Certainly with on-pack promotions, you have very little interaction time with the shopper – you’ve got about 3 seconds for them to consider a hundred different products, so it’s better if it’s a prize they recognise instantly like cash or a car. 

Where possible we try to find a prize that’s new and exciting for the brand and retailer, but that the consumer understands quickly – and this makes it very tough! For example, with Pringles we have pillars based around how people enjoy Pringles – music, travel, football, gaming. We run a gaming campaign each year but have to make it feel new each time – not only that, but we run these right across 42 different European markets, with different mechanics and rules, so it needs a lot of work. 

Talking of Pringles, tell me a bit about the current campaign!

With our current Pringles campaign, you’ll notice we don’t use the word Christmas because it’s not used in all 42 countries where the packs are sold, so instead it’s a ‘Celebration’ campaign, with the chance to create your own perfect celebration if you win. Mr. P (the guy with the moustache) is going to be your concierge and will help you decide how you want to create your ultimate celebration. It could be in your own home, at a venue, or abroad with plenty of time to organise it and a value of up to €5000. Those are the top tier prizes, but there’s also experience vouchers and a third tier of movie vouchers so that more people have a chance to win. 

How has coronavirus affected Zeal?

We plan and present concepts to clients like Pringles, Kellogg’s and Nestlé 18 months before you see them in the shops, so our first challenge is trying to second guess what people are going to be into in 18 months time. And then we come up with a great holiday prize, and of course now people might not be able to go on holiday! So we’ve had to scrap a lot of our promotions for 2020, because they’re completely inappropriate.  

When Covid first landed, all our clients went quiet for around three weeks, and it was really worrying. We found out later it was because all the brands were swimming upstream to deliver the absolute basics and get their products to the shelves. They had to cut back on the marketing spend in order to help the supply chain – one of our clients actually re-trained their marketing team to drive delivery vehicles for a time! I think every one of our clients asked us what they could do to help – and behind the scenes, they were doing lots. They were supplying confectionery to nurses to lift their spirits, and breakfasts to families that were struggling. 

We work with some fantastic clients, both in terms of the individuals and companies, and they were all very good in trying to give us some clarity and tell us what they would have to change. It’s all about making sure you’ve got contingency plans, so that winners are offered alternative experiences or the chance to postpone the prize. Rest assured, from the brand side of things, they only ever want to do the right thing by their winners and potential winners. Clients started to look at adapting their planned campaigns, to help the world bounce back – we worked with them on creating promotions to provide a bit of entertainment and escapism. 

All of Zeal’s clients are supermarket based and for months, the only place you could spend your money was in the supermarkets, so we were lucky. Other agencies have gone to the wall because their biggest clients were in travel or automotive and nobody wanted to promote those. But the issue now is the recession – if supermarkets end up in a price war, they might ask the brands to drop their prices rather than run promotions.

With people not encouraged to linger in public spaces right now, what alternatives do you have to experiential marketing and supermarket pop-ups?

We’re working on how to take a brand experience out to people’s homes in a safe way. So what previously probably would have been a quite a basic door drop leaflet with a coupon for Yeo Valley, for instance, is now a family activity box of things they can do at home to entertain the kids. The box even included a leaflet made from seeded paper, so you could grow it into a plant. 

As voice gets more important, we’re looking at how we can use it to create interaction with a brand – you can order product samples now simply by saying ‘Send me a Sample’ to your Google Home or Alexa. So that’s another way we’ve adapted. 

What can we see happening to product promotions in the months ahead?

At the start of the pandemic, retailers made it very clear that their priorities were getting shoppers through the stores safely, keeping staff safe, and getting products onto shelves. All the things that communicate in store promotions (like promotional dump bins and display units) got pulled. The only reliable way that we can guarantee the brand’s message gets into stores is via on-pack promotions, so we should see an increase in those. 

I expect to see a lot of cash promotions out there – with smaller prizes to put as much money as into as many pockets as possible, as opposed to one person doing really well. But there will also be a lot of escapism – campaigns that are a bit silly, to deliberately lift our spirits. Expect home and garden makeovers, and a lot of gadget packages – TVs, consoles, and things to make everything more bearable! The other trend I think you’ll see will be about thinking about others, so brands supporting worthy causes and charities with their promotions. 

There will still be holiday prizes and experiences of course – but with different opportunities and more flexibility with the prizes. You might see some campaigns coming up with Airbnb for example, who have adapted their model to offer online experiences! We’re able to buy prizes like this in bulk so we can have lots of winners.

Zeal have created lots of successful campaigns for Kit Kat! Tell me about those.

The personalised KitKat promotion was really popular with shoppers. With a thousand prizes every day, almost everyone who entered won a Personalised KitKat! If we had advertised it as a free Personalised KitKat, ten times as many people would have applied, and we wouldn’t have been able to afford it. But we ended up creating a promotion where pretty much everyone who wanted one, won one. 

Our KitKat ‘Make a Break for it’ campaign was a finalist in the Effie (effectiveness in marketing) awards this year – the first time a UK agency has been recognised. This is important to Zeal as it’s a worldwide benchmark to measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. The idea behind the campaign was that February is awful – everybody’s skint, bored and they want to dream about their next holiday. With KitKat’s slogan being Have a Break, we deliberately created a campaign that turned supermarkets into beaches. It really stood out in store – retailers loved it, and all had their own individual executions. We also engraved destinations into KitKat bars, it was the first time ever that they had tried that1 And although only ten winning holiday bars meant it was hard to win those instantly, we did have lots of runners up prizes to keep customers happy! 

It’s not a competition, but your Kellogg’s personalised box cover freebie has been so well received! Tell me more about that campaign. 

This is definitely the biggest campaign we have in the market at the minute – you can collect three boxes and apply for your own personalised ‘Back to School’ cereal box cover with your kid’s photo on the front and messages of support on the back. We came up with the idea 18 months ago – the client wanted to do personalised fridge magnets, but not everyone can use those on their fridges, so we went away and came up with something completely different. The idea of your child going back to school every September and watching them grow up is really emotional – it has Mums and Dads in tears on their child’s first day, and then so much joy when they come home and everything’s gone well! So we created a Back to School campaign that would allow families to create special personalised packs of Coco Pops or Rice Krispies to put on the breakfast table on that first emotional day back. And when we pitched it to the client, they said it was one of the best pieces of work they’d seen – some were even in tears! 

Of course, with the 2020 Back To School period being the one after Covid, it’s more emotional than ever before because children had been homeschooled for all that time. So it’s great to see the campaign doing well, and to see so many people sharing pictures of their own personalised packs! It’s a lot of effort, because we do have to check every single submission before it’s printed, but it’s really been worth it.

Kelloggs Back to SchoolWhat’s the most unusual prize promotion you’ve come up with?

In the early days at Zeal, one of our clients was Vileda Mops. And the problem with a product like mops is that when you go shopping, they’re always at the back of the store or upstairs – out of sight, and out of mind! So our brief was to encourage people to buy mops in the Spring Clean period, with a promotion that would excite retailers enough to move them to a prime position in stores. Consumers love our ‘free theme park ticket’ promotions, and they always do well – but retailers want something new and different. 

So we had an idea… one of the team spotted that Cinderella the movie was about to be released – we approached Disney to see about a partnership, but they weren’t interested. Then we realised there was nothing to stop us from doing our own Fairy Godmother campaign to win a £1,000 Cinderella makeover – and I thought it would be great to actually have a Fairy Godmother inside a mop! So we created a waterproof contraption that, when you used one of the eight winning mops, it came to life and sang to you. Retailers loved it and ordered freestanding display units full of mops – there was a 30% increase in sales, and we won our first IPM award for ‘Best Promotion in the Household Category’!

Vileda Magical Mops

And finally…. have you recruited many friends to comping?

I spend forever at dinner parties telling people which comps to enter! Ideally, a specific retailer promotion – so it’s not on thousands or millions of packs. Or find one that needs skill and judgement and then put yourself in the position of the brand manager who will probably judge it! Slogans are brilliant – come up with something creative and catchy. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to me Stewart! If you’re a brand and would like to work with Zeal contact

4 Responses

  1. Mei says:

    That was so interesting! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Alison Berrieman says:

    That was great.. Really interesting. Its amazing what goes on behind the scenes.

    • Di says:

      Isn’t it just! I was invited up to visit Zeal in Manchester and was keen to go, but hopefully I’ll be able to do that some time next year when it’s safer!

  3. Rebecca Beesley says:

    Another fab interview- I love reading these.

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