Every company would like their product or brand name to become and remain a household word. To succeed, one needs some ingenuity and a long-range plan, but the ultimate rewards are more than worthwhile.

Many folks will be deliriously happy when next week’s annual Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating contest gets underway, especially the makers of Rolaids and Maalox, whose antacid products will be needed in copious quantities by participants who will down as many as 60 or more hot dogs in ten minutes. Ugghh!! Many others will be elated, if not inflated, when the contest is over and the coveted “Mustard Belt” and grand prize of around $10,000 has been awarded to the winner (who hopes that it will cover his gastroenterologist’s bill).

This annual contest that Nathan’s has cooked up has become part of America’s July 4th ritual, along with apple pie, fireworks and doubleheaders. To whet people’s appetites, Nathan’s Famous erected a huge electronic scoreboard at the contest site in Coney Island, which they call the Wall of Fame. It shows pictures of previous contest winners and, most importantly from a publicist’s point of view, a countdown clock with blinking red LED numbers showing how many days, hours, minutes and seconds until the contest begins. What Nathan’s scoreboard boils down to is a year-long advertising and promotional campaign for a competition that lasts all of 10 or 12 minutes.

Is it worth it?

If you were to grill me about this, I would tell you that a small part of me can relate to those who bellyache and feel that the surrounding publicity is overdone, which is a terrible thing to do to a hot dog.

Now, I’m certainly not advocating for the product itself, which we all know is strictly non-kosher, but from a marketing point of view, Nathan’s concept has a lot of beef to it. People have to eat three times a day. There are tens of thousands of food products from which to choose and even when a person decides to eat out, there are hundreds of choices. How do you get people to keep your fare topmost in their minds? Nathan’s figured out they had to something, even something wacky, to keep their name at the top of the menu.

It really works for them. A recent click on Nathan’s on Google Finance displayed their top ten news stories. Seven of those ten were either about this upcoming contest or other smaller ones the company sponsors nationwide. Today, Nathan’s has expanded to become an international fast food chain with a market value of $93 million. That’s not bad for a company that started with one stand in Coney Island in 1916 where they sold hot dogs for a nickel. That’s probably what a parking fine cost back then in case you got nabbed double-parking along the boardwalk. (Yes, they had cars back then too – a Ford Model T cost about $360!)

There is also a method to Nathan’s madness. Their campaign accomplishes much more than what appears at face value. The Wendover Group in England recently conducted a study on customer retention during difficult economic times. They say that in most industries, customer attrition can be anywhere between10% and 40% in any single year. Losing a customer is costly in more ways than one. Besides the lost revenue, you have to find a new customer and Wendover analysts say replacing a customer is typically five to ten times more expensive than keeping existing ones.

One way to retain customers is to keep your name out there. We touched on this concept a bit three months ago when we discussed all-season marketing in regards to Montana, where the vast majority of their messaging is a winter message for skiers but they also include some all-season messaging to build Montana brand awareness year-round.

Of course nothing makes a company into a top dog more than a good product at a fair price plus great service. Yet, we can all learn from Nathan’s that if you want to keep your name at the tips of customer’s tongues, you first have to position it constantly in their minds (and in this case, their bellies).

This Week’s Bottom Line Action Step: Sometimes you can get some “glatt” marketing ideas, from unkosher methods!

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