Marketing Madness

An ingenious giveaway scheme by Hoover backfires by working too well

BUY A VACUUM CLEANER OR WASHING MACHINE from Maytag's British subsidiary, Hoover, and get two air tickets to the U.S. or continental Europe, free! Sound like a good deal? You bet! Such a good deal, in fact, that Hoover sold tens of thousands of appliances -- far more than the company anticipated. Great! Right?

Not from a bottom-line perspective. The travel agents contracted by Hoover to supply the service were overwhelmed by the demand. They placed unreasonable conditions on the freebie flights -- expensive extras, inconvenient airports, undesirable departure dates -- that seemed designed to discourage customers from claiming their free...

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