In Marketing Stunt, Massachusetts Bar Accepts Monopoly Money

"play money" taken for hot dog purchases, in bid for spot on worcester edition of board game

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

A Worcester bar accepted Monopoly money Thursday as part of a marketing campaign. Ralph’s Tavern took the board game’s tender in exchange for hot dogs and non-alcoholic Jell-O shots in hopes of securing a property square on a special-edition, local version of the game. Marketing efforts must identify what customers value.

Woman brainstorming marketing ideas for business
Comprehensive marketing plans include describing the offering of a product or service and its value to potential and current customers. Photo By / Shutterstock

People often mistake marketing for simply being TV commercials or ads in the newspaper or online. On the contrary, Ralph’s Tavern in Worcester, MA, found out recently that marketing is an exercise in what customers value.

For two hours on Thursday, the bar accepted Monopoly money for hot dogs and non-alcoholic Jell-O shots. It did so in a bid to attract attention and secure a property square on the game board of a Worcester edition of the popular Monopoly game.

In the video series Critical Business Skills for Success, Dr. Ryan Hamilton, Associate Professor of Marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, defined marketing for what it really is.

More Than a Clever Ad

“The biggest mistake people make in thinking about marketing is to define it too narrowly—many firms treat marketing as something that’s done after a product is developed and simply needs to be sold,” Dr. Hamilton said.

Marketing’s job is to create value for customers, not just communicate value that’s already been created. Marketing does this by understanding who the customer is, what they value, and how they can deliver that value better than the competition.”

Dr. Hamilton said that he believes that a product’s value should only be determined from the perspective of customers who are willing to buy it. Additionally, he said that innovation and value aren’t strictly born in labs, but need to be matched with a set of customers who appreciates them.

Then those innovations and values will need to be explained to customers in a way that the customer will understand, priced at an amount that customers will be willing to pay, and sold in stores at which customers are willing shop.

In other words, if nobody will go and buy the “Next Big Thing,” it doesn’t matter how well it was made. One such example was the Apple Newton in the 1980s, the first tablet computer. It was marketed poorly and sales bottomed out. Motorola suffered the same fate with the Envoy in 1994. It wasn’t until Palm introduced the PalmPilot in 1996 and targeted their customers that the market blew open.

Committing Marketing Suicide—Or Not?

Marketing can sometimes seem incredibly counterintuitive. Ralph’s Tavern in Worcester knows that they can’t spend Monopoly money anywhere or give it to their employees as substitutes for paychecks. However, they added social value to their bar—the ability to connect with others—by implying that people will be enjoying purchasing food while using Monopoly money.

Additionally, since Monopoly money is so inexpensive, they provide the customer with monetary value. A hot dog for a piece of paper from a kid’s game is an easier sell than asking for hard-earned paycheck money.

Some hospitals have adopted similar strategies of providing non-monetary value for people. “In a radical departure from decades of legal counsel, some large hospital systems have moved away from a policy of ‘admit nothing that could later be used against us in court’ to a policy of openness and honesty with patients when mistakes are made,” Dr. Hamilton said.

“This new shift makes no sense if patients, the hospitals’ customers, are primarily seeking monetary value. By admitting a mistake to someone who can sue you for malpractice, you’re essentially handing over your checkbook and asking him if he’d also like to borrow your pen.”

However, hospitals hypothesized that malpractice suits are driven by psychological value—the patients’ desires to feel respected, heard, and empowered. In a place like a hospital, where someone is particularly vulnerable, they’ll react poorly if the hospital puts up its defenses.

So what happened? “When some hospitals adopted this new system of seeking to provide non-monetary, psychological value to patients by admitting mistakes, sincerely apologizing, and keeping patients fully informed, an amazing thing happened: Malpractice lawsuits actually went down.”

For some hospitals, admitting wrongdoing is truly a “Get out of Jail Free” card.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily