retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

To amend a well-known phrase, the road to great marketing is paved with unforeseen challenges. Or to put it another way, sometimes a great idea can really be too great.

That was both the enviable and unfortunate problem faced recently by one of the nation’s best supermarket retailers - H-E-B - thanks to a special promotion. H-E-B should get credit for an incredible connection with an icon for local consumers, but that great effort turned sour when the promotion took off to unimaginable levels.

As reported in the Daily Meal, HEB featured a special reusable shopping bag for $2. Nothing unusual there, but this bag featured a picture of Selena Quintanilla Perez and all proceeds went to her foundation. Consumers in Texas’s Latin community went crazy for the bags quickly buying out the entire inventory and bringing down H-E-B’s website in the process. Within hours of the bag’s release, some were selling on E-Bay for more than $100. (As of this writing, the special bags were priced as high as $240 on eBay.)

Now many of you might be wondering who Ms. Perez is or was and why a bag with her likeness is in such incredible demand. If that’s so, this is where H-E-B’s market insight should wow you.

Selena Quintanilla was an incredibly popular Tejano singer until her murder nearly 25 years ago. Her story was memorably captured in the wonderful 1997 biopic Selena, and later used in a chapter about marketing knowledge in “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies,” the book Kevin and I co-authored. (And which continues to be available on Amazon. Just FYI.)

Although Selena was widely unknown in much of the US, her legend and legacy has remained enormous among the Mexican-American population, especially in many of the Texas cities where H-E-B is so dominant. It is to H-E-B’s credit that the chain recognized the ongoing sales power of the long-dead singer and the willingness of her fans to support her foundation, which is dedicated to helping children. At last reports, H-E-B had donated $25,000 in proceeds from the bags.

The promotion demonstrates in a small way why H-E- B is so good: clearly the company understands all the many population segments in the very diverse Lone Star state. On the flip side, H-E-B now has to repair connections to that same massive shopper base that is clamoring for more Selena bags and questioning why the company wasn’t ready for the onslaught in the first place.

But honestly, this is meant more to praise than criticize H-E-B. The scene in the movie Selena that stood out to me involves the singer getting ignored at a clothing store because the sales clerks saw her as nothing more than a poor Mexican immigrant. It’s only once Selena leaves the store and is surrounded by hoards of fans do those same clerks realize the enormity of their mistake.

In real life, Selena got her revenge by opening her own clothing stores and achieving the same level of success she had as a performer.

Unlike that clothing store, H-E-B understood the power and importance of Selena. They just needed to understand it a whole lot more.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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