When it comes to promotional ideas, there’s quite a range, from brilliant, to bad, to colossally stupid. I’ll start with a field I know well: Major League Baseball.
The Giants are almost always marketing gold, but even they swing and miss occasionally.
Take Photo Ball Day, a promotion they held to boost ticket sales back in the Candlestick Park days. The first 20,000 fans received a baseball with a star player’s photo on it. Pretty nifty give-way, right?
Baseball fans can be salty and love hurling insults at opposing players and umpires. Turned out they also liked hurling baseballs, and stadium security couldn’t control the scene. Promotional balls rained on the field after every bad call.
Believe it or not, the Giants also used to hold Bat Day - fans received actual baseball bats. They had the good sense to cancel this event well before fan rage turned ugly in stadiums across the country.
Decades ago, in 1979, the Chicago White Sox held Disco Demolition Night. They encouraged fans to bring their disco records to the game. They made a pile in the outfield and blew them up. Then, the real fireworks started.
Fans flung records like Frisbees, they stormed the field and a near-riot erupted. The game was cancelled; a rare forfeit by the hometown team.
This promotional disaster eclipsed Ten-Cent Beer Night in Cleveland, held five years earlier, which featured countless brawls and men urinating in the stands.
There’s an old adage about baseball - it doesn’t matter how many games you’ve seen, you’ll see something new every time.
The animal welfare field can’t claim major disasters on this scale, but has had some questionable promotions.
A shelter in Kentucky partnered with Hooters restaurant (which, let’s say, isn’t known for its wings). Hooters for Neuters was meant to entice manly men to neuter their dogs. They brought their dogs to a Hooters parking lot where their dogs were “fixed” in a mobile clinic, while they enjoyed the (ahem) wings inside. Other groups have since co-opted the promotion; it won’t go away despite the backlash.
The nation’s largest and richest national animal welfare organization, the Humane Society of the United States - which contributes exactly $0 to PHS/SPCA and animals here in San Mateo County - put their top thinkers together and decided to stand next to Michael Vick after he was released from prison for torturing dogs and running an illegal and horrific dog fighting program and compound. The details of his operation sickened everyone.
Vick paid a price. He lost fans, million-dollar endorsements and prime earning years in the already short career of an NFL quarterback. Still, many people felt very strongly he was the last person an animal welfare group should hold hands with for photos opps.
Here at the Peninsula Humane Society, we think we have our clever moments. Our Giants-themed promotion, which reduced fees for all black and orange-ish dogs and cats during the Giants’ magical play-off run in 2010, was magic. Loads of animals found new homes in record time.
But, we turned down a similar idea proposed by one local resident who pulled for the cross-Bay rival. “You should do the same for A’s fans!” he argued. Just one small snag with that: not many green or gold pets available for adoption.
We also turned down another one: a local pole dance instructor wanted to hold an event to raise funds for shelter dogs. Poles for Pets or Lap Dances for Lap Dogs just didn’t sound right.
But, in the coming weeks, we’ll be trying something a bit controversial: paying people to adopt Chihuahuas! The pint-sized pups are the most common breed in all Bay Area shelters. Some organizations have actually sent small numbers on flights to other parts of the country.
We think there is an easier way to rehome them. In addition to waiving the adoption fee, we’ll give adopters 10 "fun bucks" to spend at our retail store. Given the fact that some of these dogs await their new, forever homes in shelters for months simply because there are so many, $10 is next to nothing when compared to the costs to care for a dog for an extended period in a shelter.
Don’t worry, we won’t simply open our doors and hand out Chihuahuas and ten-spots. The promotion is real, but we will carefully screen potential adopters, as we always do.
No cute name yet for our promotion (Bo Derek isn’t available for a Perfect 10! promotion) , but we’ll entertain your ideas. For inspiration, check out our featured pups – Ginger, Mrs. Henderson and Mort -- alongside this column.
Do you have an idea for PHS' Chihuahua promotion? Tell us in the comments - Scott will be checking!