As the newest member of the promotional team, sales promotion has sulfured from a serious identity crisis. For example, initially the American Marketing Association (AMA) defines sales promotion as: "marketing activities, other than personal selling, advertising, and publicity, that stimulate consumer purchasing and dealer effectiveness, such as displays, shows and exhibitions, demonstrations, and various non-recurrent selling efforts not in the ordinary routine".6 In the AMA view, sales promotion supplements both personal selling and advertising, coordinates them, and helps make them more effective.6 However, this does not provide an accurate portrayal of the role played by sales promotion. A simple way of viewing sales promotion is to say that it means special offers: special in the sense that they are extra as well as specific in time or place; offers in the sense that they are direct propositions, acceptance of which forms a deal. Simply, it increases the perceived value of the product.
As in most aspects of marketing, the rationale of sales promotion is to provide a direct stimulus to produce a desired response by customers. It is not always clear, however, what the distinctions are between sales promotion and advertising, personal selling and public relations. For example, suppose that Pillsbury decides to tape three cans of their buttermilk canned biscuits together and sell them for a price slightly cheaper than the three sold individually. Is that a branded multipack special offer and therefore promotional? Or is it just an example of a giant-sized economy pack, and therefore a product or packaging tactic? In order to sort out which it is, the question has to be asked, is it intended to be a permanent feature of the manufacturer's product policy to have the family pack as a component of the product? If it is not, it is a sales promotion scheme.
The same sort of problem comes up when studying strategies run by firms in service industries. If a hotel offers cut-price accommodations at off-peak times of the year, is it a feature of the hotel management's pricing policy or is it a promotional tactic? If the hotel management provides price reductions on tickets to local theaters for their guests, is it part of the product or is it a device to attract customers for a limited period only? Again, answer can only be given once the question about performance is asked. Even then, there still tend to be elements of advertising, personal selling, public relations and sales promotion in many promotional vehicles, and this may be the right approach. A candy manufacturer, for instance, has made substantial contributions of both cash and products to the local heart fund telethon. Immediately following the telethon, they run a full-page ad in several magazines describing their contributions, and describing a special rebate of USD .05 for every candy wrapper mailed in. The USD .05 can be donated to the heart fund if the customer wishes. The sales reps also have copies of this promotion to show their customers. Clearly, this strategy has all four components of the IMC mix.