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Yuan Shao promotion a fiasco, or marketing genius?
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-08-18 04:36 PM
Chairman Steve Day of the Wowprime Group continues to push the envelope in his management and promotional strategies. Recently he announced that he would focus on one of the group’s growing stable of brands each year as Wowprime moves into the international market. And a promotion that looked like a PR disaster when people protested they were being cheated out of discount coupons may in fact pay off handsomely for one restaurant chain.

Wowprime’s Sufood Vegetarian Restaurants has already been established in Singapore and 12 Sabu Hotpot Restaurants is moving into the US, and the Yuan Shao restaurant brand – which grabbed a few headlines during the past couple of days over a coupon give-away that reportedly went astray – is set to make its way into the US market as well. Yuan Shao marked its tenth year of operation on August 16 with a supposedly poorly-considered promotion that media and the Internet played up as a potential PR disaster for the restaurant. On second thought, however, did things not turn out as they were supposed to, or was it all part of an ingenious inside-out marketing strategy?

Noted lawyer Richard Chiou-yuan Lu noted on Facebook Monday that in his view, "This promotional ‘faux pas’ was engineered from beginning to end by Wowprime Group boss Steve Day. If this is not an example of marketing genius, then what is?"

Lu recounts an apocryphal story which says that multi-billionaire Bill Gates once said that if he was walking down the street and saw a hundred dollar bill on the ground he would not pick it up. This was supposedly because with his software fortune growing by about two hundred dollars a second, if he were to lose one second by stopping and stooping over to pick up the bill, he would be losing money.

Of course, Bill Gates himself later came forward to clarify the point. He pointed out that if he saw a hundred-dollar bill on the ground, naturally he would stop and pick it up.

The story hinges on how you value your time. To begin with, if Gates uses one second of the time he is on the job to pick up the dollar bill, then he is losing money. But if that one second comes out of time he would spend taking a restroom break, then he should consider picking it up. After all, even Bill Gates is not ‘on the clock’ all the time.

Lu notes that if he put the same monetary value on the time he spends chatting with friends as the time he spends in legal consultations, he would soon find that he doesn’t have any friends. In our world, says Lu, every opportunity comes at a cost – it’s the same for everything you do.

Transferring the concept to the question of gasoline prices, if it has been announced that the price of gas is going up tomorrow, should you go out tonight and queue up to top up the tank? From the perspective of opportunity cost, it’s not a good deal. If you buy 60 liters of gasoline you might save NT$6. But then, figure in the cost of idling the motor while you wait in line and slowly creep closer to the pump, plus the fuel consumed in driving to the station and back, plus the equivalent cost of your time spent waiting in line at the station, and it all adds up to considerably more than NT$6.

Using this kind of logic, then, a rational person will not go out of his or her way to fill up the tank on the eve of a price hike unless it can be done in a minimum of time and with no unnecessary expense in terms of fuel or time. Spending 20 minutes to save NT$6 is not economical when time and other factors are figured in. Anyone who will trade 20 minutes of his time for NT$6 is putting too low a price tag on his time.

Now look at the Yuan Shao promotion. The promotion keyed on producing an NT$10 coin minted ten years ago in 2004 to exchange for a ‘Buy one, get one free” coupon worth NT$560. From this perspective, it is obvious that any rational person would see this is no bargain. Still, posing it as a ‘limited offer’ will inspire some people to spend time searching for a coin from the right mintage, then travel to the store location the night before the handout and spend all night in line. Assume about eight hours on the sidewalk with maybe a sheet of cardboard or a sleeping bag. Eight hours of sleeplessness or fitful sleep at best, for NT$560, that works out to about NT$70 an hour.

Maybe some people are willing to queue up all night to earn a coupon at the rate of NT$70 an hour, says Lu. But if that is the case, he says, then maybe we should re-think things like the Labor Standards Law and the minimum wage.

Steve Day is certain to have had all this in mind as he designed this marketing ploy. The cost per store for Wowprime will probably work out to less than NT$100,000 (calculated on the basis of buy one get one free). Once the news of the promotion and the public’s reaction hits the media, however, as it did this time, the value of publicity generated is incalculable. The restaurant gets free media coverage and the public sees images of long lines of people waiting for coupons.

Even if the whole thing was just a publicity stunt, a lot of people were willing to wait in line to take advantage of it. Perhaps this is just one more indicator of the poor state of the economy when people are willing to wait in line for the equivalent of NT$70 an hour. Maybe they just want to refute the old saw that says, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” In this case, perhaps what was free was the publicity.

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