Jan 25 2014, 8:04am CST | by Forbes
With over 100 million salivating Super Bowl viewers on deck, it no longer shocks me that companies will pay $4 million for a spot. I also acquiesced to the notion that this event is not a football game anymore. It’s an event by tall cotton corporate America using football as a prop for the pursuit of profitability. But then this year one company made an exception.
Some small business will get a free commercial in a prime spot among the $4 million spots. If I asked you: “Do you believe getting something for free that’s worth $4 million is too good to be true? Of course you’d say yes. And in this one refreshing and brilliant instance, you would be wrong.
Actually it’s a trick question. Intuit, the software maker of Quicken is making the payment. Intuit pays for a professionally prepared spot and it really does then give it away to a small business. Why? Intuit, of course, is not the Salvation Army. They want to build their client base among small businesses that use Quicken software to do their own accounting rather than hiring an expensive accounting firm.
The genius is this: Intuit’s give-away taps into the base instinct that drives sports – competition. Small businesses with no more than 50 employees must submit their own promotional videos, like American Idol contestants submit their talent. The videos go to a special website where the companies can urge their community of friends to vote for them. The top four vote-getters are then finalists for Intuit’s selection. The drama builds as companies are eliminated through rounds of competition.
This competition has spurred whole communities to get behind their own candidate. Among the four finalists is Locally Laid Egg Company. They’ve had yard signs, even free billboards urging the community to vote. It has made a cult following out of the boring business of selling eggs to local grocers.
Intuit therefore has developed a strategy that uses charity of a prop to create win-win business deals. It uses its target clients’ competitive juices to create a bigger buzz so Intuit can gain unprecedented exposure to grow even more clients among those who are competing against each other. The competitive give-away grows goodwill with millions of small businesses, though only one of them wins. It gets special publicity because of its uniqueness, beyond its costs, while at the same time growing goodwill with its business clients.
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