Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Friday, June 21, 2024 79° Today's Paper

Lee Cataluna

Direct marketing hits with subtlety of hammer

It’s like Bruce Lee walking through the room of mirrors in "Enter the Dragon." At every turn there’s another one waiting to pounce. Every step, every corner, every inadvertent meeting of the eyes brings the potential of another engagement.

All for a box of cereal at the grocery store.

The "Just for U" program at Safeway has its fans. People say it’s easy to sign up, very cool to use and results in appreciable savings on your grocery bill. That’s great. (Not too happy about the "no more clipping coupons" line, which strikes fear in the hearts of newspaper people.)

But the in-store sign-up campaign is about as overcharged and unctuous as a group of Hannemann supporters at a debate. There’s no saying no when they’re out in force, bright-eyed and grinning and telling you how great your life is gonna be.

Have you heard about the new program? Have you signed up? Have you heard about the new program? Have you signed up?

It’s a lot of pressure for the bread and peanut butter aisle when all you’re trying to think about is Skippy or Jif.

"We really try to offer as many education and engagement opportunities in the store as possible," said Susan Houghton, Safeway director of public and government affairs. "People have questions, and some people may not be web savvy, so for those, we can help them get signed up right in the store."

It’s a sign of the times. Subtlety is passe. Direct marketing is, above all, direct. When you buy a shirt at a chain store, you get the whole sign-up-for-our-credit-card pitch if you try to pay cash, regardless of the line of fuming customers waiting behind you hissing, "Don’t you make me wait while you sign up so you can save $2!" If you pass by the booth in the mall, they chase after you with flatirons trying to straighten your hair. Even the sweet, beleaguered bank tellers are made to upsell every product and service when you’re just trying to deposit a check. If you head them off with a "No, thank you," they look at you with tired eyes, grateful they don’t have to go through the whole sales spiel one more time.

The new wave in customer engagement is more "excuse me, miss!" body-lotion-kiosk-near-the-mall-center-stage action. The guy in the grubby sheep costume who used to stand outside the mattress store on Kapiolani waving at cars was old-fashioned by comparison. If he were still around, he’d have to jump on the hood of your Camry, eyes wild, yelling "Hey, lady!" while grinning like a sheep gone wild to keep up with the latest sales techniques.

Perhaps online marketing has set the tone of in-person sales. The approach is just as friendly, direct and repetitive as e-mail solicitations or viral promotions. In real life, though, there’s no delete button or blocking function. The only Bruce Lee self-defense moves are "No thank you" and "I already signed up."

Lee Cataluna can be reached at lcataluna@staradvertiser.com.


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