How Do You Get One Year’s Worth of Advertising with a One-Month Budget? Here’s How.

It’s no surprise that I love chocolate.

Chocolate and travel are my two passions in life and when I worked at Carat, I had clients of both. How lucky can a girl get?!

19 years ago I inherited a lovely little chocolate brand that I had never heard of before.

Media planning for Guylian seemed like a cinch. For the past decade they had run one ad in Bon Appetit & Gourmet in the November/December timeframe. That’s it. Easy peasy.

But as I took the client on, it kept nagging at me – there was no form of engagement.

Let’s take a step back and see what we got. A small client. Minuscule budget. Two publications. 1-month flight in a 12 month potential. No matter how great the buy, two magazine ads aren’t going to cut it. They’ll see a blip on the radar and then go into 11 months of radio silence. And what’s more, they were paying open rate with these publications and there hadn’t been any added-value included in their buys. For 10 years.

I took two years worth of Bon Appetit & Gourmet and spread them around me. I scoured each issue to dissect their likenesses and differences. Who were their core readers? What did they care about? I was looking for that connective tissue. What is it about these publications that resonate with our brand?

It was through this research that I developed an insight. Their readers were aspirational. They wanted the best. The best vacations, hotels, restaurants. Let’s face it. They wanted the best life. Some could afford it. A rarer some could live it. And the majority that couldn’t still wanted to at least look at it.

They wanted to live a dream. If they couldn’t afford to stay at a five-star hotel in Bali, they could afford to indulge in a box of chocolates. Let’s take this relatively unknown brand and present it as a top-tier brand. Fill that need and create a brand identity in the process.

The next step in the research was to tackle their barriers. What was holding them back from being a key competitor in their category? Awareness, limited advertising dollars, and distribution.

The first two I could solve with my media plan, so I put those aside. Distribution was different. That was something I had no control over. But then it hit me. The Internet. Now remember, two decades ago online shopping wasn’t what it is today and many were leery to purchase a product in the ether. Typing in your credit card number felt ludicrous and way too risky.

But online shopping enabled me to turn their barrier of “they’re hard to find because of regional distribution” to “they’re hard to find because their exclusive”. Guylian became a brand you could discover and take credit for finding as you gift them to family and friends (think early brand ambassadors).

Digging through the data unearthed another gem. Once someone tries it, they love it, and they seek it out for repurchase (which was a little Captain Obvious to me). OK, so I just have to get these mouth-watering yummies into their hands. It’s chocolate right? Not a hard sell there. Into… their… hands… *tapping pencil* how… how… how…?

Sitting on the floor, surrounded by the magazines and boxes of client data, I looked down and saw it: “The Top 50 Nominees for America’s Best New Restaurants”. Eureka! That’s it!

I partner with the publications and use their relationship with the top-rated restaurants to distribute my samples!

Making that happen though, was much more challenging.

I first had to speak with the President of Guylian and ask her permission to potentially walk away from Bon Appetit & Gourmet. Once she saw that they were not only charging Guylian open rates but also not giving them even one ounce of added-value, she was on board. Perfect. Now I can negotiate. Side note, here’s the toughie: if you’re working on a campaign and the vendor knows that they’re a must-buy (for whatever reason), your negotiating legs are cut off. You can bump down the rates a %, but your options are extremely limited.

Once given the green light, I reached out to the publications with my strategy. As you can imagine, they were unhappily surprised to get my call.

One thing I will pat myself on the back for is that I’m a good negotiator. Nay, a great negotiator. It is definitely a skill and takes a lot of practice to develop your own personal style, but it absolutely must be done. To this day, I am shocked when I look over a project and there is little to no added-value. This extension of your campaign, for your client, cannot be left on the table (my campaigns typically overvalue 4x the base budget). But that’s a blog for another time.

I “guess” I can understand why they were put off by my call. They wanted an insertion order and I was wanting them to not only do the work that they should be doing to get on this year’s buy, but I was asking for retribution. For. 10. Years. They balked. I countered. They refused. I told them they weren’t a must-buy. They called my bluff. They learned I wasn’t bluffing. They acquiesced.

Guylian was thrilled. They still received their one-page ads (except this year it had a matching advertorial) and the sampling partnership was 100% added-value.

Time to get down to the nitty gritty. I had a list of the best restaurants in the world. Their status folded in perfectly to the brand identity I wanted to showcase with Guylian. And Guylian had to look the part. I asked my client to create an ultra-premium custom box of four chocolates tied with a beautiful bow. Think Tiffany’s robin’s-egg blue box. A true gift. Once diners finished their meal they were presented with Guylian’s beautiful box and a note that read “Thank you for dining with us. As our gift to you, please accept this delicious box of chocolates complements of Guylian”. Each box also included information on how to order online for future purchases.

The restaurant sampling program was so successful, we branched out. At the most luxurious hotels guests were given Guylian’s gift box of chocolates as part of their turndown service. Guylian also became a participant in events that the publications sponsored (one example was a snow skiing “Lift Ticket To Ride” event).

Guylian had a full-year advertising campaign for the cost of two magazine ads.

Let that sink in. The budget did not change. I did not get the sampling opportunities because I was able to significantly increase spend. I got the sampling opportunities by strongly negotiating added-value and making those existing dollars work. It was also overwhelmingly successful because the partnerships were just that. We all (Guylian, the agency, the magazines, and the sampling hosts) had a stake in the game and it was really fun and exciting to watch that spark of an idea play out and give our customers a memorable, one-on-one engaging experience.

Well great. Now I want some chocolate.


I would be remiss if I did not include ordering information for my beloved Guylian, the client that still holds a special place in my heart:

Is A Super Bowl Ad Worth $5.6MM?

Is A Super Bowl Ad Worth $5.6MM?

The Super Bowl is LIV years in and the ads are still talked about as much as the team and players. How could they not be with that price tag? $5,600,000. For a :30 advertisement. That’s roughly $186,000 per second. To put that in perspective, let’s take...

read more
The Worthlessness of Logos

The Worthlessness of Logos

Pretty harsh, right?Well, not really.Logos, when a business is beginning, and it's new and exciting and filled with "What is that?" have some merit. It's the logos that we are most familiar with that we tend to notice the least.Have I got a story about...

read more
Root Root Root for the Home Team

Root Root Root for the Home Team

Baseball is as American as apple pie. Or cowboy boots. Or McDonald’s.Throw in tiny humans playing the game and what’s not to love?I had been working on the McDonald’s account for about a year when an owner/operator came to me with a...

read more