CHAPTER 4 – OUR INITIAL PROMOTIONS FOR SHELL
Our first meeting with Shell took place in May 1981 at Shell-Mex House, an art deco masterpiece located in The Strand, London. We put forward a proposal for a new legal format for Shell “Make Money” – a matching halves game which had been a great success for Shell in 1967 but which came to an untimely end because it was deemed to be illegal. Basically if a motorist was lucky enough to collect two matching imitation currency notes – a left and right hand half note for the same cash prize denomination, they won that prize.
The presentation was made to Paul King, a short somewhat edgy individual in his early thirties. An agreement was made, (formalised in an exchange of letters) that Shell and Don Marketing would share joint rights to the new “Make Money” format in exchange for a financial contribution from Shell, which they subsequently made.
Right from the outset, confidentiality was the cornerstone of the relationship between Shell and our company. Indeed, it was in both parties best interest to maintain confidentiality - we wanted to protect our ideas and Shell wanted to preserve secrecy in relation to its marketing plans. No one knew that this meeting would lead to a decade long relationship with Shell on an international basis nor that the relationship would end in years of acrimonious litigation, the likes of which had never been seen before.
The “Make Money” project, codenamed Operation Leo, was developed in great secrecy over many months without any word leaking out to rival brands. Ken Danson, Shell’s Sales Development Manager - a former Shell Area Manager, headed up the project. A streetwise sometimes rather dogmatic individual, Ken was about the same height and age as Paul King, who was not one of his fans. John Donovan and John Chambers always got on very well with Ken. They also worked closely with Michael Beach, Shell’s Advertising Manager - a tall stylishly dressed man, who unfortunately ended up a few years later in jail after misappropriating Shell funds.
Make Money was eventually launched in February 1984 with a fanfare of adverts in the national press. It ran for six weeks. It should have run for longer, but the promotion caught the imagination of the public to the degree that Shell actually had problems keeping their stations supplied with enough fuel to meet demand. Shell also discovered to their consternation that they had not ordered enough game pieces and that it was too late to have more printed.
There was huge media interest in the promotion. Since none of the relevant staff at Shell, Ken Danson, Paul King, Michael Beach, or even their boss, John Smeddle, were prepared to be interviewed – possibly because the national focus on the game was unprecedented and could possibly backfire in some unexpected way, Don Marketing took care of press relations. We were eager to do so because it gave us the opportunity to raise the profile of our company.
Several members of our staff appeared on the Michael Aspel TV programme in a feature about the lengths to which some motorists were going in their attempt to obtain matching halves. John Chambers was interviewed on the Today programme on BBC Radio. There were numerous articles in the national and international press. One article quoted Michael Beach, as saying that Shell had accepted the argument Don Marketing had been putting to them in favour of Make Money for as much as two and-a-half years. We later won an award from the Institute of Sales Promotion for the promotion. This was topped in 1999, when our Make Money game was voted for by leading figures in the sales promotion profession, as being the most successful promotion of the century.
While Make Money was still in progress, John Chambers and my son, John, had a celebration lunch with John Smeddle (Shell UK’s then Retail Sales Manager) and Ken Danson, at a French restaurant in Covent Garden. The two John’s had been invited as Shell's honoured guests because Shell was absolutely delighted by the spectacular increase in petrol sales generated by the Make Money promotion. As far as Shell was concerned, we were nothing less than miracle workers. We subsequently supplied Make Money games for Shell Singapore and Irish Shell, which achieved stunning success in both markets.
By now our number of staff had grown considerably. Ken Brown, formally an oil company executive, was our Operations Director; Valerie Hewitt was the Office Manager. My good-looking grandson, Steven, joined the company initially working in the computer room and subsequently became Computer Ops Manager. Steven was quiet but listened keenly to everything going on. We later realised that behind the shy deferential exterior lay a brilliant mind. We also had a young university undergraduate, Swen Olsen, a tall very pleasant young Swede. Swen soon demolished the company car supplied for his frequent visits to Dobson & Crowther in North Wales, a promotional game printer.
When the UK Make Money game was coming to a close, Shell was considering how they could capitalise on its huge impact by launching a follow-up. A director of their artwork design company, a wonderful man called Chris Noel-Johnson (of McBain, Noel-Johnson), suggested a promotional game based on "Mastermind", the then popular BBC TV series. Chris and his company had earned considerable respect at Shell because of their involvement with us in the Make Money project team. Shell liked their idea, but was faced with the apparently insurmountable problem of translating the ultimate game of skill into an easy-to-play format suitable for a promotion on petrol forecourts. The last thing Shell wanted was for drivers to be sitting in their vehicles whilst trying to solve a brainteaser on a game card. The challenge was passed to us when no one else could find a solution. During a "brainstorming"' session, Don Redhead had a creative inspiration. As a result, we devised a simple concept, which fully exploited the Mastermind theme but in the setting of a simple matching halves game. 96 million game pieces were printed for the promotion with over 3 million prizes on offer. The promotion was supported by a national advertising campaign, which included a series of humorous TV commercials. Our work for Shell on the Mastermind game was featured in "The Money Programme" on BBC TV. A number of our staff including Don Redhead appeared in the programme, which also featured an interview with John Chambers. By this time, Shell had become by far our most important client.
While the Mastermind game was in progress, Shell invited us to present proposals for a promotion to run in the Christmas period of 1984. We devised a "Make Merry" instant win game linked to Harrods, with the idea that Shell would give away millions of Harrods food prizes on their forecourts. Roger Sotherton made initial contact with Harrods by telephone. When he made his first visit to the famous food hall in Harrods, a member of staff asked him want he wanted. He replied that he had come to purchase 6 million mince pies. They thought that he was joking and asked if it was a Candid Camera stunt. Ken Danson and senior Shell management enthusiastically accepted the concept. We negotiated the purchase of over £2.5 million of Harrods Xmas themed prizes. Harrods was at that time a very old-fashioned organisation – not very commercial to say the least. When Roger took some Shell managers to attend a meeting at the store they were shown into an office the size of a broom cupboard. When Shell later requested 25 Christmas puddings to give to reporters at a press conference at the Savoy hotel to launch the promotion, Harrods invoiced them for the 25 puddings and for the motorbike messenger who delivered them. An order for £2.5 million (over $3.5 million US dollars) obviously had not impressed them.
The Make Merry promotion also caught the attention of the national media. Channel 4 News broadcast a feature on the promotion including a segment filmed at Harrods and an interview with John Chambers and Roger filmed at Shell-Mex House. Shell managers were still keeping out of the limelight just in case something went disastrously wrong.
In 1985 while travelling home from Shell after a meeting, John had the idea pop into his head of a playing card themed game. This became "Bruce's Lucky Deal", a game offering over £4.5 worth of prizes, which was linked to Bruce Forsyth, the popular host of the UK TV game show, "Play Your Cards Right”. The novelty of the promotion launched in the summer of 1985 once again generated media interest and an article in the Financial Times mentioned that the order for 4 million packs playing cards was the world's largest ever purchase of its kind. 85 million instant win scratch cards were printed. “Brucie” loved our game because he received £50,000 for use of his name and likeness and a huge sum for appearing in a series of amusing and popular TV commercials promoting the game.
Shell never had an on-going contract with us. Consequently they were open to promotional ideas submitted by other agencies from the UK and overseas. Our proposals were assessed on sheer merit. We were all therefore extremely proud that Shell had opted for a series of our concepts, which were all secure and achieved an excellent reputation for Shell as having the most innovative and memorable promotions on UK forecourts.
One day in 1985 we received a telephone call from an unusually cheerful and excited Ken Danson. He asked whether we had heard that Esso (Exxon) had just been forced to cancel their “NOUGHTS & CROSSES” instant win game because of a printing error which resulted in 21 winning claims for £100,000 already being received (when only two £100,000 winners were supposed to have been printed). The promotion was an unmitigated public relations disaster for Esso and the repercussions went on for years. Shell was mightily relieved that they had chosen Don Marketing and by now had 110% faith in our expertise. So much so, that they recommended our services to the Bass Brewery Group who became another important client to whom we supplied over a dozen promotions. We had by this time become the best-known promotional consultants in the UK. John Chambers standing had risen to such lofty heights as a result of our success with Shell and other clients, that he left Don Marketing shortly after the conclusion of Bruce’s Lucky Deal” to become Chief Executive of a division of Leo Burnett – one of the worlds largest advertising agencies. A meteoric but deserved ascendancy.
In 1986, we proposed a multibrand promotion to Shell which we had first put forward during the celebration lunch in Covent Garden with John Smeddle and Ken Danson. This time Ken gave us permission to put together a consortium of major retailers with a view to mounting the largest promotion ever conducted in the UK. We approached Woolworth, Bass, Express Newspapers and Sketchley. We organised and chaired numerous meetings between the parties over several months at a hotel in Park Lane, London. Consumer research was carried out and when the promotion reached an advanced stage of development, the prospective partners attended a presentation by Leo Burnett (arranged by John Chambers) with a view to appointing Leo Burnett to handle the publicity campaign.
Unfortunately the scheme had to be shelved when Ken Danson advised us that he had recommended to senior management that Shell should move into a long-term collection scheme, which involved motorists saving up vouchers that could be exchanged for gifts. This meant that blockbuster promotional games were off the agenda as far as Shell was concerned.
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