The Role of "Borrowed Interest" Advertising

Last Updated Aug 20, 2007 4:49 PM EDT

Marketers across the country are looking to take advantage of America's superstitions this weekend, using a marketing tactic called borrowed interest. This Saturday will be 7/7/07, and the lucky triple-seven is an auspicious sign that's expected to give rise to host of supernormal behavior. Borrowed interest advertising -- so-named because firms "borrow" consumers' interest in something outside the company -- is a way for companies to ride the coattails of larger events, whether it be the Olympics, a president's birthday, or a steep rise in gas prices. Stuart Elliott with the New York Times gives some examples of borrowed interest promotions for the lucky calendar date this weekend:
The efforts include a "Lucky in Love" contest sponsored by Wal-Mart, giving seven couples free weddings to be held Saturday at seven Wal-Mart Supercenter stores around the country; a sweepstakes from Papa John's pizza with "777 ways to win" prizes; and a "7 Layers of Love" contest sponsored by Taco Bell, offering the winner a chance to propose to his sweetheart on a virtual sign to be displayed Saturday during baseball games on Fox Broadcasting.
The borrowed interest tactic may seem clever, but some marketing mavens thinks it's a recipe for mediocrity. When every other company is "borrowing" from the same interest in a particular event, how can you expect to differentiate your firm? That's the point Martin Jelsema makes on The Branding Blog:
[...] Borrowed interest just means there's no real value in the product or service you offer, or at least the [advertising] agency people couldn't find it, or were more concerned with a "creative" portfolio that might impress other ad people. But why on earth would the advertiser approve it?
The counterpoint to Jelsema's view is that some borrowed interest promos are necessary just to stay competitive. A jewelry store, for example, shouldn't expect killer profits on February 14 without a Valentine's day promotion in line with all the other jewelers' campaigns. Ultimately, borrowed interest ads can provide a boost, but they shouldn't form the backbone of your advertising strategy.