- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2006

Businesses are cashing in on consumer frustrations with high fuel prices.

Their promotions vary, but they all have one feature in common: money for gas.

“This has got to be one of the biggest promotions we’ve ever done, just in the sense of crowd excitement,” said Mark Kaye, who co-hosts the “Hot Morning Mess with Mark and Kris” on Washington radio station WIHT-FM (99.5).

On April 27, the station started its “Gas Pump Payoff” promotion, which gives callers throughout the day an opportunity to win free gas by playing their odds with the Hot 99.5 “pump” — a computer that randomly selects an amount of money. Callers can stop the game and accept the cash or can choose to keep the dial running higher but risk getting nothing at all if the pump “breaks” or runs out of gas.

“Most of the promotions we do we get basically from what’s going on in the world,” said Mr. Kaye, who has given away as much as $390 to participants during the station’s morning show. “Other times, it could be like Katrina — all people wanted to do was find out where they could give money … of course, now it’s gas.”

Mr. Kaye said it’s good that the promotion ends Wednesday, because the station “went way over budget with this.”

Businesses across the spectrum have hopped on the gas-giveaway bandwagon. The travel industry, in particular, is using gas rebates and coupons to reassure otherwise wary vacationers that driving is still feasible with $3-per-gallon gas.

Online travel broker Hotels.com is giving customers who book a two-night stay before May 29 a $30 gas rebate. Customers who mail in a rebate coupon with a gas receipt from any point of the trip get $30 refunded to their credit cards.

“We’re all ready, we want to go [on vacation], but we see gas prices pushing $3 and you think, ‘Oh my goodness,’” said Nicole Hockin, a spokeswoman for Hotels.com. “But really, it’s so much less to drive than if you were going to deal with airlines raising their ticket prices to accommodate the gas crunch that they’re feeling.”

The Days Inn Web site invites visitors to play a computer game and compete for a $25 gas card.

Through weekly drawings, the Maryland Lottery is giving away 200 gas cards valued at $100 each to participants who mail in $5 worth of $1 and $2 non-winning scratch-off tickets.

Grocery store chain Harris Teeter is offering $40 Citgo gas cards to customers who spend $40 or more on a single trip each week for 16 out of 18 weeks.

Online sports book YouWager.com has, perhaps, one of the most creative gas promotions. The site’s contest asks entrants to propose, in 150 words or less, a solution to the United States’ dependence on oil. The winner gets free gas for the summer — up to $1,000.

“Gas is such a big issue right now that we figured we could do something for our customers,” said Cory Waters, operations manager.

Of the site’s 50 or so entries thus far, some are predictable — riding a bicycle to work — while others are a bit more unique. One entry proposed that the U.S. trade illegal aliens for barrels of oil from Mexico.

Gas-giveaway promotions can be advantageous for purchases such as sport utility vehicles, but businesses should strive to be the first in their industry to use such promotions or find a way to differentiate themselves in a way that competitors cannot, said Charlie Jones, chief marketing officer and director of account management for RedPeg Marketing in Alexandria.

“All these different businesses are extremely competitive — in many ways, there’s kind of a commodity quality to them,” Mr. Jones said. “When you’re going to jump on something newsworthy, you better be first and you also better be prepared that your advantage will be short-lived.”


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