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A fresh take on the Loyalty Asterisk™

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A fresh take on the Loyalty Asterisk™
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When kicked off in 2006, two posts describing the Loyalty Asterisk™ were among the first published. Over the years, we’ve seen theses insidious elements of program execution remain all too common. The time seems right to dust off this two-part post which we’ll share this week. To wrap it up, we’ll add a fresh take on why brands should be attentive to the details of loyalty program execution.

Here’s our original post, titled Things we can’t live without

We have created a world with so many things that we cannot live without. Cell phones, instant messaging, and unlimited texting all qualify, with prioritization based on your age and techno-savvy quotient. If kids were cowboys, the six shooters on their belt would be IM on one side and unlimited mobile phone texting on the other.

The highway billboard I recently passed shouting “dnt txt whl u drv” hints that we’ve let the devices exert too much influence over us. But, as Stuart Scott advises on Sportscenter “don’t hate the player, hate the game”, therefore I would urge you to not hate the devices or the technology, just the way they are often put to use.

In the business world, we have indispensible items as well. One of them is so implausibly small that it defies logic.

It’s the asterisk!

This little character is making a name in all corners of life, not just in print ads for cars and trucks, but also in sports record books – thanks most recently to Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, and Floyd Landis (among some updates to account for the passage of time, Lance Armstrong would have to be included here).

The asterisk even landed among the top 10 internet searches on We don’t really understand why, but a spokesman who declined to elaborate further said the symbol is “linked to illicit activity the company blocks”.

The television equivalent of the asterisk is the paragraph of fine print that is so small it can only be deciphered by hitting the TIVO pause button. In radio, it is the gushy blitz of words that signifies the end of most ad spots.

The meaning of the asterisk is simple. A suitable synonym would be “disclaimer”. Need a modern definition of disclaimer adapted for the world of commerce? It’s the legal department’s hedging of lofty promises made by the Marketing department.

A few examples of notable disclaimers in action clearly illustrate why marketers have become so dependent on the asterisk to ply their trade:

Some restrictions apply
Imagine that you and your significant other have just spent the morning reading through ads and looking for that perfect furniture set for your new family room. Having just identified the perfect mix of fashion, color, and price, you are delighted to see that if you make the purchase today before the 4pm closing time, you can have the items delivered to your home the next day.

Then you see it…the asterisk. Just as quickly as your balloon inflated with expectations, it is immediately burst by sighting of the asterisk. You don’t even need to read the fine print to know that some condition is included that will ruin it all. Disgusted, you throw the paper aside and decide to watch yet another Law and Order repeat.

Results not typical
Bitten by the triathlon bug years ago, I consider myself to be a pretty healthy guy. A few Rogaine ads later, I was beginning to think that improvements could be made. The acceleration of ads promoting prescription drugs designed to better us from head to toe – and in between – has me scratching the hair I have left.

If I were ever convinced to look for a magic pill to solve a physical problem that I am purported to have, I would still apply the brakes upon sighting of the asterisk at the bottom of the ad accompanied by the words “results not typical”. Even the devoted optimist would pause, wondering if he could be in the 1% of the sample where the drug not only failed to work, but actually triggered the nasty side effects enumerated on the inside label.

Actual mileage may vary
Who among us would not agree that buying a vehicle tops the list of unpleasant consumer experiences? The first point of reference for most potential buyers wandering the car lot is the sticker on the side of the vehicle. Now that US fuel prices seem destined to reside north of $3.00 per gallon (remember this was first published in 2006), more and more people are seeking mileage estimates as their second data point after price.

Trust plays a big role in influencing purchase decisions and unfortunately American consumers recently discovered that the mileage estimates used for the past several years were not representative of normal driving conditions. The Environmental Protection Agency recently disclosed that the tests conducted to determine fuel performance of new vehicles were conducted in unrealistic conditions, for instance driving an average speed of 48 mph in low humidity and with no air conditioning. The EPA disclosed that tests conducted in more typical conditions would reduce mileage numbers by 10 – 20%.

What’s the connection between the Asterisk and Loyalty Marketing? Stay tuned for Part 2.


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