Wake-up Call: Roll Back

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Wake-up Call: Roll Back

By David Diamond - 06/17/2011

Sometimes, little things mean a lot or have a big effect. This is especially true in marketing. No one really knows what little seed will blossom into the next big marketing idea. I recently came across something that could become a big idea in marketing, and I wanted to share it before it became ubiquitous.

Back in the 1990s, Walmart dominated the retail marketplace. Everything was working for the mega-retailer, including its advertising, which featured the cute smiley face bouncing around the stores, colliding with price signs and causing the prices to fall -- literally: As the mascot hit the sign, you could watch the price roll back from the current price to the new, lower price.

Much more recently, I watched a new reality TV show, Extreme Couponing, which chronicles the lives and spending habits of the coupon-obsessed. I won’t comment on the show here, except to say that everyone in the food business should watch it once --  but probably only once -- as each episode is just like all of the others. The one thing that really struck me, though, was the use of the rollback. The dramatic structure of each episode is built on a consumer buying a ton of groceries, reaching a total of $500 or even $1,000, and then watching that total whittled away by coupons and discounts.

I’m familiar enough with how stores run to know that cashiers routinely ask for frequent shopper cards at the beginning of the transaction. But on Extreme Couponing, they make sure to scan frequent shopper cards after all of the groceries have been scanned -- which leads the POS to immediately reduce the total using a long list of applicable discounts. So the the dramatic climax of each episode is the rollback. First, the frequent shopper discounts are deducted and then, more slowly and more dramatically, coupons are applied to the order. At the end of the process, the $500 total has been reduced to a shockingly low revised total: $5 or $10 in general. The shopper then proudly leaves the store with her haul, after spending almost no money at all.

In both cases, it seems clear that part of the power of the marketing effort is in the dramatic presentation of the rollback. There seems to be something about presenting the high price and then being able to watch it melt away that makes consumers want to snap into action. Walmart used the rollback to visually convince consumers that it has lowered prices, and Extreme Couponing uses it to add drama to a pretty tame situation. It seems to work both ways.

Think about using the rollback as part of your own marketing efforts. This could mean simply having the cashier scan the frequent shopper card at the end of the transaction to demonstrate more dramatically the resultant savings, or it could manifest itself as an advertising demonstration that uses the rollback to show how much cheaper a cartful of groceries is at your store than at a competitor’s. The mechanism, the seemingly contradictory action of the cash register rolling back the “wrong” way, seems to hold real power for consumers. It’s our challenge as marketers to use this creatively, cleverly and effectively as a powerful way to communicate value.