This guest post was written by Julie Busha, Food Marketing Pro extraordinaire at Nicole Foods, the makers of America’s hottest new condiment: Slawsa. If you are an entrepreneur with a food product you want to market, take my advice: look at what Julie has done with Slawsa in only one year with a limited marketing budget, and do what she did! Julie appeared in episode 510. While she was unsuccessful at hooking a Shark, her pitch resonated with Sharks and viewers alike.
Back in 2009, I wrote an article that appeared in Sports Business Journal that discussed the importance of the RFP Process, and in reference, I mentioned some of the unethical means of acquiring new business that I had witnessed over the years. That was actually a very small portion of the article but still relevant to the conversation. In the week after it was published, I came into the office greeted with countless emails and phone calls, predominantly from small agencies like mine, commending me for bringing out into the open a topic that frustrated them over the years. “You said exactly what we were thinking or have experienced ourselves” were such comments. It was a good week. Sure, I ruffled some feathers amongst some of the larger competition who perhaps operated in ways our agency didn't, but ethics is a big deal for me…they always have been.
Since appearing on Shark Tank (season 5), I've been approached with one specific question time and time again. It seems like a similar situation to explain why I do things the way I do so I thought I'd write out my response once again. The question is this: “Why don't you use the Shark Tank logo on your packaging and point-of-sale materials to drive sales?” The reality is that Slawsa has pretty expansive distribution and retailer confidence, so doing a shelf or neck hanger, adding a sticker on my product or incorporating the logo into my case stack displays would be very easy and inexpensive to execute. In fact, buyers love stuff like this. It would really make our product “pop” in the eyes of consumers who may not have necessarily even seen my episode or the show itself. It would certainly drive incremental sales because there is value in the logo and the perception that comes in which businesses who appear on the show are legit in some respects.
However, my response is relatively straight-forward each and every time…”I can't, because contractual obligations prohibit me from doing so.” I guess I'm one of those stupid rule follower-types. What's written in contracts that I sign have meaning to me. I use “As Seen on Shark Tank” on our social media and web site, as I am permitted to do, but I don't use it on anything related to “retail marketing,” as I am not permitted to do. To me, it's a pretty cut and dry concept however, I've been bullied by another Shark Tank entrepreneur group for being vocal about my stance. That's life. Bullies are everywhere.
Why would a hit show not want their logo plastered everywhere to drive viewership one might ask? When the Shark Tank logo is used on anything as it relates to marketing in the retail sense, it implies that those affiliated with the show “ENDORSE” that item. Weight Watchers wouldn't approve an unhealthy item to use their logo (even if they could pay the associated fees with doing so) because they hold a high standard for what types of products they endorse. A consumer is likely to buy a Weight Watcher-approved product simply because it has that implied endorsement. Does a product earn the Shark Tank endorsement by simply appearing on the show? Or, is it only fair to offer the opportunity to invested businesses with every else left out?
Now, think about it in the legal sense. What if a consumer used or ate a product and it resulted in sickness, injury or even death? While many products from the show are not likely to end up in litigation, there are medical devices that may not function as advertised or there are food items that could be prone to a recall situation. Many small businesses may not have extensive Risk Management policies, and as such, they may not communicate choking, suffocation or allergen dangers. I venture to guess most of the food companies don’t have internal traceability programs either….and that's a very scary thing. (By the way, Slawsa does and ours is quite extensive.) Imagine if someone died because Listeria or e.coli was later found in one of the ingredients a food business purchased and a recall did not happen in time? The idea is not so far-fetched as we hear about recalls on a daily basis. The saddest reality is that frivolous lawsuits in the US are a dime a dozen… and who has deep pockets? That's right, the network and production company does.
You will see several chains like Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond or Staples create Shark Tank displays of Shark-invested products. What a great opportunity offered to those invested entrepreneurs. Because those are separate cross-promotional partnerships struck up between the network, sharks and the retail chain, permission for that point-of-sale signage has been granted. That’s a whole different scenario. But, I've seen more than a dozen Shark Tank entrepreneurs, invested businesses or not, who plaster the logo all over their packaging and marketing at the point of sale. Maybe that's the hook the buyer needs to put it on the shelf. Maybe some feel they can get away with it because an invested business can get away with more or a non-invested business gets overlooked. Maybe their Shark received permission for them….at least I hope so. Maybe it's as simple as a means to an end to sell more product, no matter what the costs. From signage on pallet displays to Facebook paid advertisements, from table-top displays to boldly putting stickers on the packaging itself, I see it often.
Some would consider me extremely stupid for not trying to get away with using the logo until I get a slap on my hand. But, because others do, does that make it right? While the massive expense in having to issue a recall if I am caught is deterrent enough, I guess my decision is driven more by the voice telling me to stand by the contract I signed. I like to think that Slawsa is a delicious and unique-enough product that will excel on its own merit. I like to think that like-minded consumers are proud to support the larger population of entrepreneurs from the show who do hold their businesses to a higher standard and choose to abide by their contracts too. After all, the majority feel as I do. My decision to stand by my word is my decision for personal reasons and I'm certainly not judging others who make other choices.
For me, it was a privilege to be selected to appear on Shark Tank and a great professional experience at that. While it didn’t turn out the way I expected, do I not owe this professional group the courtesy to abide by my contracts? Or, should it be “all about the money” and doing everything possible to sell product?
What would you do?