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For companies that make their living selling gasoline, it seems counterproductive to give the product away. But that's exactly what an increasing number of convenience and petroleum retailers are doing to drive more consumers to their locations.
In recent months, Convenience Store News reported on at least a dozen industry players running giveaways where the prize is a year's worth of free fuel. According to retailers, gas giveaways are a best practice for generating excitement and positive word-of-mouth around their brands; building customer loyalty; and ultimately giving consumers another reason to fuel up at their stations and shop in their convenience stores.
"Gasoline is a part of our core business, and by giving it away during promotion activities in the form of gift cards, it is a tactic to attract customers to our sites multiple times," said Monica Albornoz, brand manager for Texaco, which offered gas-for- a-year prizes as part of its "Texaco Everyday Performance Instant Win Game" held in August 2009. "After having that customer for a year, we have a very loyal customer, and he or she will be a brand ambassador and communicate their Texaco experience to friends and family."
The goal of Texaco's promotion, which ran for a four-week period, was to connect with customers at the brand's more than 2,000 U.S. locations, while providing those consumers more value to get through the difficult economic times. Plus, from a purely business perspective, the promotion was aimed at driving additional traffic to Texaco's network of sites.
Each time a customer visited a Texaco location, they received a game card inviting them to visit a specially designed Web site and play for the chance to win different prizes, including 21 gas-for-a-year prizes presented as Texaco gift cards, and 10 Chevy Camaros. Winners were named every day during the monthlong contest.
Considering the sales increases and improvement in brand metrics the company realized, Albornoz said Texaco was very happy with the results. Among the brand metrics Texaco tracks bimonthly are: brand awareness, brand of choice and fuel preference.
"We exceeded all of our objectives. We set a clear objective for the number of customers we wanted to play in the promotion, and that number was exceeded," she noted.
The greatest benefit that came out of this promotion, she said, was it energized and provided excitement to the brand, and engaged Texaco marketers and retailers. "It is our intention to do more of these giveaways in the future," Albornoz said.
Texaco's sister brand, Chevron, is a believer in gas giveaways as well. Chevron gives away gasoline in the form of gift cards as part of several local and regional programs and promotions, particularly as part of its sports sponsorships.
This summer, though, Chevron did a national giveaway with similar objectives to the Texaco contest: to generate excitement among its marketers and retailers, and acquire more visits by loyal customers to its more than 7,000 branded sites in the U.S.
Chevron's Summer Road Trip Giveaway, which ran June 1 through July 12, offered the chance to win 39 prizes of Chevron gasoline for a year; three 2009 Chevrolet Malibu LS vehicles; 2,000 TomTom GPS units; and 5,000 one-night stays at participating La Quinta Inns & Suites. In all, the promotion featured more than 40,000 prizes.
Consumers entered the giveaway by going to a participating Chevron station for a game card and then registering to play online at www.chevrongiveaway.com. After entering their game card code, participants were notified by e-mail if they had won. More than 1,000 online, instant-win prizes were available daily during the contest period.
A one-time registration on the Web site also gave participants an opportunity to enter the Chevron Car Hunt contest, where they could use online clues to locate hidden Chevron Cars in selected cities and then collect the virtual Chevron Cars by retrieving the car name and unique code online. The player who found the most Chevron Cars in the least amount of time was the winner of a 2009 Chevrolet Corvette 1LT Coupe.
Chevron Brand Manager Jeanine Rogers said gas gift cards were a perfect fit for the road trip-themed promotion because there can't be a road trip without gas. To figure out just how much a year's worth of gas is, she said they look at syndicated data showing the average amount of gas people buy per year, and then calculate that out for a year's time.
Since it is an investment, Chevron uses a scorecard of different measures to determine its return-on-investment (ROI). These measures include number of people who logged onto the site; number of people who played the game; and volume generated.
"And since our game was not solely acquisition based, but was about generating more loyalty among our base and providing more value to existing customers, we also looked at the number of multiple visits," Rogers noted. "We wanted people to play multiple times."
While declining to release any proprietary information, she said the giveaway was successful in meeting its objectives, and will be followed by other giveaways. "We continue to evaluate and switch up our program to see what the right mix is for the year," Rogers said.
A Lasting Impression
Like San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron Corp., Hess Corp. is also trying to determine whether gas giveaways should be a part of the company's promotional mix. The New York-based retailer launched its first-ever free fuel promotion in February.
"Whenever we've spoken to consumers before and asked them what they would like from Hess as part of a loyalty program, the response is always 'We want free gas,'" said Pat McAndrew, director of marketing projects for Hess' more than 1,350 locations along the East Coast. "Hess has always been known for strong value pricing on gas, so we felt this was the way to go. Also, gas is the one thing all of our locations sell."
The Hess Gas Giveaway, which ended March 31, was an online contest that offered consumers in 12 of Hess' 16 states the chance to win a year's worth of free gas. (The contest was not offered in the other four states because of below-cost selling laws.)
The goals of the giveaway were threefold: to say thank you to customers; build long-term loyalty; and assemble a database of e-mail addresses for future communications.
"We want it to be memorable for our consumers, something they appreciate and something that ultimately drives business to our locations," McAndrew said.
During the promotion, contestants could enter once a day by registering online at www.hessexpress.com. Once they did, they were eligible to instantly win a $50 Hess gas card and receive special offers. All contestants also were automatically entered to win the grand prize of free gas for a year, awarded as a $2,000 Hess gas card.
Hess decided to make the giveaway an online-only contest, believing it was the best way to collect names and e-mail addresses, and less costly to administer. "It's very easy for consumers to opt in [to receive future e-mails] online," McAndrew explained. "We're very early on in our stages of e-mail marketing; we're getting our feet wet slowly. But from this, we hope to establish a long-term relationship with consumers."
Building that lasting connection is also paramount for CITGO Petroleum Corp., which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. While gasoline has been a part of the company's roots since the beginning, so has community service. Recently, the Houston-based retailer created a giveaway that not only combined both of these core focuses, but also allowed all 6,500 of CITGO's local marketers to be involved.
Launched in June 2009, CITGO's Fueling Good program rewards individuals who go above and beyond to positively impact the lives of others with a year's worth of gas.
Under last year's program, which wrapped up in January, people were invited to submit stories of the good they do in their communities, and each month, five finalists were selected by an online vote at www.fuelinggood.com. The entry receiving the most votes was awarded a CITGO gift card valued at a year's worth of gasoline. The other four finalists received $50 CITGO gift cards. The 2010 Fueling Good program is in development, and expected to launch in late spring or early summer.
"We feel this is the best way to integrate the two things that are most important to us … and the perfect way to put our core value [of helping others] into practice in the communities where we have stations," reasoned Jennifer Moos, general manager of brand development for CITGO. "And everybody uses gasoline; you can't argue with that."
Of course, she said the company also wants to "move the needle of CITGO brand preference" and give consumers another reason to shop CITGO stations. To promote the program, CITGO is using social media, Web sites, TV spots and print ads -- all tied into its comprehensive advertising campaign. "The goal of our brand and every brand is to convince the motoring public that our brand is the best brand out there," she said.
According to the company's research, the Fueling Good program is moving the needle. Community involvement as a reason for purchase is higher for CITGO than for any other major gasoline brand -- something Moos attributes to the giveaway, as well as the millions of dollars and volunteer hours CITGO spends each year helping those in need.
The program increased the positive conversation about CITGO as well, especially in the social media space -- Twitter, Facebook and YouTube -- where online metrics have shown a positive response to CITGO overall, and this promotion in particular.
"The Fueling Good program has been great for generating awareness of the brand," Moos said. "Anytime you give away something, there's a huge amount of buzz that goes on around the brand during that period. People love to win anything."