Bill and Kevin recall the lost days of marketing, and what the drywall industry now offers its consumers

As a salesperson, it's interesting to note how popular you become when you walk onto a job site with an armload of shirts. You can be a rep for a sewage recycling company, with a corporate logo showing a honey dipper truck bearing the caption, "Your s#@$ is our bread and butter" and workers will line up around the block to get one. These individuals don't even have to be card-carrying members of the local honey dippers union. They often times are your average Joe and Jane public, who will likely wear this freebie to the local taproom with pride, seemingly unembarrassed by the fact they are promoting the disposal of bodily fluids.

Advertisers know how valuable it is to have a recognizable trademark with which the public can identify. If we mention the name Clydesdale, you automatically think of a specific brand of beer. If you see a billboard with a cowboy riding a horse, it can be caption-free and you know what product is being hawked. And when was the last time you saw a camel without sunglasses?

The last of the good 'ol days

Another age-old marketing ploy is the give-away. We remember a time when our mothers loyally purchased items only from stores that advertised they gave away green stamps. We aren't sure whether this marketing concept is still even in existence. It was a stroke of genius. The stamp savers were rabid in their loyalty to participating retailers. Shopping trips revolved around a little sign posted at the door, "We give S&H Greenstamps." Memories of a bitter tasting, paper cut tongue following an afternoon of helping Mom lick pages of foul-tasting, little green squares are forever burned into our consciousness. The redemption of these books, filled with years of well-planned purchases, was an event to be anticipated. Luggage for a future trip, a globe for a much younger Kevin's school studies, and a sundry of other equally cherished disposables are fondly remembered.

A more recent example of a major company using these tactics to improve brand loyalty was the "miles" program offered by Phillip Morris. People who didn't even smoke were spotted scavenging the trash for empty packs wearing the magical little coupon offering them "miles" to redeem. After a designated mile total had been achieved, these could be redeemed for prizes ranging from hats to pool tables. While it was possible for the average smoker to accumulate enough "miles" to receive a hat, shirt or even a jacket or gym bag (for a smoker?) before going past the dreaded cut-off date, friends would have to team up with others to pool enough "miles" to get prizes of any great significance. This was a giant step backwards in the battle against smoking, but it was a brilliant marketing scheme. While we don't have statistics on how much consumption went up or how many people actually switched brands, it seemed that it worked, as the promotion was extended a number of times.

Texaco has been running a promotion that if you purchase a given amount of gasoline each month, you receive coverage on a number of things including reimbursement for tire damage and expenses incurred if your car gives out on a trip. Although this quid pro quo isn't likely to sway your Uncle Marty away from Mobil, it makes regular customers more willing to search out that big red star when it's time to fill up the Buick while away from home.

Now it's our turn

More and more promotional items are finding their way onto construction job sites, as well. While some companies are more pro-active in this endeavor, others seem to be a little lackluster in their attempt to appease their customers. We may be a bit more sensitive to this issue as we have been on both sides of the table. As contractors, it was nice from time to time to receive a sweatshirt or hat from a supplier with whom just you spent tens of thousands of dollars.

One contractor recently voiced his bitterness toward a promotion offering hats and shirts to get him to spend what amounted to hundreds of dollars on a new product. His contention was that "If they've got their name plastered all over the hats and shirts, they should pay me to wear them." Somehow it didn't offend him to wear the logo of the company of a product he already used. But if he were going to change brands, it wasn't going to be because of a golf shirt. The conversation didn't go on long enough to find out if a free trip to the Cayman Islands would have done the trick or not.

Since we like to consider ourselves to be the Rodney Kings ("Can't we all just get along?") of the drywall world, we tried to come up with ideas on how to bribe contractors into using products while remaining oblivious to the obvious. First of all, if it's a shirt or hat, give it away. Don't put stipulations on how much of this or that to buy. If it has your company's name on it, it's free advertising. Think of it as a traveling billboard. If you want to have a program where you give away prizes for specific usages, make the prizes cool. You can still plaster your name all over every surface if you want to. Make it a challenge. If you produce board, put a coupon on the tabs. Make the customers work for it. Make them save something. The center of the roll of tape would be a challenging choice for a redemption token. How about mud buckets? Copy the Mountain Dew promotion for a start. Put messages inside the lid. "Sorry, you lose. The faster you empty this bucket the sooner you will be able to try again." Or, "You're a winner. Go to the nearest dealer to redeem your pit pass to the next race at Rockingham." Any prize involving NASCAR seems to be a winner.

But maybe it's time to "step outside of the ropes" and make the giveaways suit the needs of the potential winners. Perhaps the drywall materials manufacturers could take the contests to the next level. Some ideas:

o The Black Thumb Award for furiously fingering screws and collecting enough metal splinters under your thumb to permanently change the pigment of the skin. Prizes might include a year's worth of free hitchhiking in the Bronx.

o The Annual Alligator Award for the most hideously cracked, calloused hands from overexposure. The winner would have the opportunity to massage the neck of his or her favorite joint compound chemist.

o The Scaffold Skydiving Award for the most creative fall. The winner would receive his or her choice of a replacement internal organ.

o The Missing Digit Award for that crazy index finger that simply refused to yield to the utility knife. The winner would have a lifetime servant for opening beer cans.

As usual, we could go on here, but we think you get the idea. From the boxes and buckets on your job to the stickers on your hardhat, from the logo on your shirt to the logo on your truck, isn't it comforting to know that you paid money to promote what you paid for?

No, drywall's not just a job. It's also a unique opportunity for you to become a three-dimensional commercial.