Visa’s 2015 prom spending survey revealed that the average American family spends $919 on prom, but its more surprising finding was that one-third of that money – $324 – is spent on a promposal.
    On the off chance that you don’t already know, a promposal is a proposal, typically by a young man inviting a young woman to prom as his date.
    And if you thought promposals were a fad that would disappear before they really got started, think again: These often-elaborate invitations really started to take off in 2011 and now are almost de rigueur for any prom-attending couple.
    Promposals range from simple and sweet (a teddy bear with a note around its neck) to the extravagant (kittens with a message, signs on Good Morning America, ice carvings). But promposals are likely here to stay, and if that’s the case, bridal retailers should be getting in on the action. In fact, some already are.
    Wedding Belles Bridal Salon in Stevensville Mich., was part of a radio and social media promposal promotion this past spring.
    For a month, the radio station announced the contest, along with the names of all vendors involved. Interested couples had to submit a video via the radio station’s Instagram page and the best one won a package from the bridal store, a restaurant, a limousine company and a florist. Wedding Belles offered $250 toward the prom dress (which buys 50 to 75 percent of the dress, says co-owner and operations manager Will Sanders) and $200 for the tuxedo.
    Sanders expects the prize to evolve and grow next year “as the trend of doing promposals will increase and hence the benefits of exposure for vendors like us who supply to the prom industry.” He also says next year he’d like to make it a two- or three-tiered contest so more prom-goers can benefit from early April until the end of May.
    So how can you take advantage of this trend?

Getting Your Name Out
There is the First Step
    Wedding Belles chose to participate in an already existing promposal contest created by a local radio station. Such contests are becoming increasingly common these days, so begin by keeping your eyes and ears open around the community.
    “We got traditional radio advertising through it and that was nice,” Sanders says.
    “It went on every day for a month – you’d hear our name affiliated with the program,” he says. “Hundreds of kids participated in it because if you won, you won the whole package so it was a big deal.”
    In case you’re wondering, for this year’s winning entry the male student dressed up as Superman and got down on his knee.
    The entire contest revolved around video, Sanders says, which is what teenagers use these days, and Instagram is one of the top social-media sites they frequent. In fact, promposals, video and social media work in tandem and one typically doesn’t take place without the other, he adds.
    The total cost of having Wedding Belles mentioned for three weeks on the radio was $450 – the price of the gown and the tuxedo – but Sanders estimates that much radio exposure through traditional advertising would be closer to $1,000.
    “Our name was affiliated with prom and tuxedos every day - and just that repetition was great and it ran on four different radio stations,” he says. “It’s another way to get your name out there without it being in-your-face advertising.”
    Wedding Belles also gave the contest plenty of visibility on its own Instagram page. An employee handles this for Sanders and she shared it on the store’s page for several weeks, then included details and photos of the winners.
    Sanders is all for promposals and hopes to make the contest an annual thing.
    “Promposals get the boys more engaged and it forces them to get more creative about what they’re going to do,” he says. “They have to value this event, like the girls, and it gives them a driving purpose and it just makes it more fun and that really stands out. If you are going to have more fun you’re more likely to do something.”
    Promposals will just continue gaining momentum, he adds.
    “It’s good for our industry,” he says. “The word prom is affiliated with it so that’s good for us.” (Prom and party are 40 percent of Sanders’ business.)
    Other than the contest, Sanders plans to start asking young women about their promposal when they come into the store.
    “It’s a good way to engage featuring them and it means we have fun stories to share,” he says.

A Subtle Connection;
It’s Not a Hard Sell
    Jennifer Thompson learns about promposals via customers she’s following on Instagram and Twitter. And when they or someone they know posts one, Thompson reposts it. By default, this connects her store to prom.
    “It gets the word out and shows we’re part of the community,” says the owner of Tulsa, Okla.-based Facchianos Bridal and Formal Attire. “It’s all linking our store back to prom dresses.”
    It’s really important to keep on the cusp of everything new, Thompson says. The mother of a teenager daughter, Thompson is no stranger to Generation Z.
    “This generation really cares about what others think,” she says. “It’s all over the top and it’s all about who has the best promposal. Nothing is private these days.”
    Linking to promposals is a simple way to bring attention to Facchianos.
    “It’s not hard-selling and pictures get more play than text, which is what gets the younger generation’s attention,” Thompson says.
     Stephanie Wolfred, general manager and buyer at RaeLynn’s Boutique in Greenwood, Ind., says promposals are a great way to engage with customers when they’re in the store. Last year, RaeLynn’s jumped onto the trend with a blog on its website about 10 ideas for promposals. This year, it has featured some promposal ideas on its Instagram page, many of which came from the high school seniors who work at the store.
    The girls love the attention, Wolfred says, “and it makes them part of the store’s family.”
    RaeLynn’s also shares pictures and stories from customers who’ve bought their prom dress at the store.
    “Promposals are garnering more excitement for prom overall,” Wolfred says.
    Roxanne Murray plans to get the ball rolling early for both homecoming this fall and for prom next year, in terms of capitalizing on promposals. The owner of Roxanne’s Runway, a prom and homecoming store in Green Bay, Wisc., she is excited about this trend.
    “It adds to the overall enthusiasm of prom, almost like a marriage proposal,” she says.
    To add to the excitement the store will hold an in-store contest for the best promposal that is submitted via social media.
    The contest will recognize winners in three categories – most creative, sweetest and funniest promposal. The first place winner will receive a $100 gift certificate and second and third places will receive $50 and $25, respectively. A grand prize winner from all categories will win a $200 gift certificate.
    Murray will announce this through in-store flyers and on social media. The winners will be selected by a combination of the number of “likes” a promposal gets as well as votes from four employees.
    “As a prom retailer, we are having to target a new customer base each year, so I think this will help show off the exciting brands we carry along with the level of service we provide,” she says.

Blog All About It
To Capture Attention
    Golden Asp Prom Boutique in Bensalem, Penn., has been writing blog posts about promposals for about four years “and the promposal trend doesn’t seem to be dying off,” says owner Jon Liney.
    “In fact, it’s gotten more coverage in the general media this year,” Liney says. 
“Maybe it will be part of the tradition of prom.”
    The store has included blog posts on the worst promposals, the ultimate promposal guide and creative promposal ideas. Golden Asp tends to run its promposal blogs at the beginning of prom season.
    “We only sell prom dresses so I think anything that draws attention to prom is a good thing,” says Liney, who loves that this is a wholesome, fun activity. On top of that, he adds, “it’s definitely gotten the boys engaged and they’re now more invested in prom.”
    Indeed, promposals are a great opportunity for retailers to be creative and proactive, says Alyson Anderson, marketing mastermind and partner with Retail Concepts in Norwell, Mass.
    But beware, she says, “this target market doesn’t like to feel ‘sold’ to, so any promotions have to be done in a genuine and interesting way – not just another coupon. It needs to be fun and quirky.”
    Unfortunately many retailers are getting involved too late, says Doug Fleenor, president and managing partner of Sixth Star Consultants, a retail and customer experience consulting firm in Lexington, Mass.
    “I would start something about 30 days before people are asked to prom, so 60 to 75 days out,” he says. “I would promote it on your website, in the store, and to your customer database who bought a dress last year because they might have sisters, cousins, etc. I might also consider running some Facebook ads or Google ads where I can target by location.”
    He also encourages contacting the local paper, which are always looking for  human-interest stories.
    “The best advertising is just a unique idea that gets you on the front page,” he says.
    Fleenor also suggests partnering with others in the prom business. If you don’t do tuxedoes, maybe partner with a tux store, he suggests, and you can then cross promote to customers from both stores.
    And don’t be stingy with prizes, he says.
    “The cost of the dress is nothing compared to the publicity you’re getting,” he says.
    From a publicity standpoint, what retailers are doing with promposals is riding the coat tails of what’s going on, says Lorrie Thomas Ross, CEO of Web Marketing Therapy in Santa Barbara, Calif.
    “They’re basically supporting creativity and that’s what promposals are – they’re creative,” she says.
    Promposals are also, it seems, here to stay, so any strategies you can use to capitalize on them should be not just embraced but hugged as tightly as possible.



Go Social with Promposals

Social media is essential for retailers connecting with promposals, says Kirsten Green, a wedding/lifestyle publicist and founder of Something New For I Do in Atlanta.
    A promposal account on Instagram has almost a million followers, she says, and the promposal hashtag has more than 108,000 photos associated with it.
    “It opens the door for more content for your social media and your blog,” she says. “You need to be on social media and you need to be enticing these kids where you are.”
    The greatest thing about this is it’s not about a store being a pushy advertiser “but it’s a friendly way of tapping into these kids,” Green adds
    “I think they’ve been trained to tune out traditional advertising messages,” she says. “They want to concentrate on sharing and this is way more up their alley.”
    Teenagers, she adds, aim to portray their lives in a certain way on social media and promposals are just another part of that.
    This generation is all about video, says Doug Fleenor, president and managing partner of Sixth Star Consultants in Lexington, Mass., so retailers who run a competition should be sure to incorporate this component.
    “Kids video all the promposals,” he says. “You can even loop them in the store if you can to make it really interactive.”
    Teens tend to have the idea that if something doesn’t happen on social media it doesn’t happen at all, says Kate Turkcan, vice president/co-head of the TRU Youth Monitor, a division of The Futures Company in Chapel Hill, N.C.
    She’s watched the rise in popularity of promposals and has seen them transition from something people were spending a lot of money on to something that’s sweet or funny.
    “It’s less about what people are spending and more about the story they’re telling,” she says. “It’s about the creativity and doing something that doesn’t copy someone else.”
    While video is important to this generation, photography is too, she says, and retailers looking to capitalize on promposals should try to incorporate both, because teens are often so busy they don’t have time to devote to watching a video, however short it may be.