A Gulf Coast advertising firm's top national client was in dire need of a creative, and a winning, campaign. The result could be a glimpse at where online marketing is headed.
Business. Eric Mower and Associates, Sarasota
Key. Firm created an interactive online advertising campaign for Remington, a men's electric and shaving grooming company.
Sarasota advertising executive Patricia Courtois laid out a Rubik's Cube-like dilemma for her staff in January 2009. The task: create a way to advertise to a group of potential customers who, says Courtois, detest “being advertised to.”
It was a perilous time. Ad agencies nationwide were retracting in the face of the recession. Courtois' 14-person firm, the Sarasota division of Syracuse, N.Y.-based Eric Mower and Associates, needed to find its way in the changing advertising industry landscape — without losing too much of its client base in the process.
High stakes with the client upped the ante further.
First off, the client posing the challenge was Remington, which makes electric shavers and other men's and women's grooming products. Remington had been a client with the Sarasota office of EMA for three years and was one of its two biggest accounts, as well as a top 10 client for all of EMA. Courtois declined to elaborate on how much Remington was worth in revenues to EMA, only to say its contributions are “significant.”
A prior string of ad campaigns for Remington's products that involved celebrities and other product placements targeting 18 to 34-year-old males — that hard-to-reach group — had fizzled somewhat.
Then, there was this: Remington's parent company, Atlanta-based Spectrum Brands, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 2009. The company said it expected it would come out of the reorganization intact by the summer of 2009.
“There was urgency on [Remington's] part to prove that it could have a successful holiday season and turn things around,” says Courtois, an EMA partner. “So we had some real pressure to provide them with an integrated breakthrough campaign. We needed to come up with something to link with that elusive prospect.”
That something was actually a somebody named Jake.
And from Jake, the firm would tap into a team of creative thinkers in multiple EMA offices, all in a successful effort to reshape its entire advertising approach for Remington. It was the first time the Sarasota office coordinated a cross-office campaign for EMA since the New York-based parent bought the firm, then known as Clarke Advertising and Public Relations, in January 2008.
The Remington campaign, Courtois says, also “provided the agency with a terrific model of what can be done in this type of experiential marketing.”
But it all started with Jake, a fictional character created in an EMA boardroom soon after Courtois presented the staff with the Remington challenge. Jake is a young man between the life stages of college graduate and having a wife and kids. That makes him a cross between a bachelor who seeks a good time and a career focused young professional.
As such, Jake is a also a man who likes to experiment with different looks and styles, including facial hair, says EMA account supervisor Heather McLain. Ultimately, the agency expanded Jake's back-story to include psychographic information, down to what he reads, the movies he likes and his hobbies. (See related story.)
“It was our way of putting a face to what we had to do,” says McLain. “We then focused on what his grooming style would be.”
The creation of Jake was also step one in a nine-month process that resulted in an entire overhaul of the Remington advertising campaign. The results of that makeover could be seen in the Face of Success Challenge, an online game and sweepstakes EMA created as the centerpiece of its Remington campaign.
The game involved using several sultry and scantily dressed models as supporting characters. While that might work for Jake, the corporate executives at Spectrum Brands and Remington were another challenge entirely.
Says Courtois: “This is probably the sexiest thing they've ever done.”
Courtois led a team of EMA employees April 15 to pitch the concept and campaign to Spectrum and Remington executives in a meeting in New York City.
The executives liked what they saw and decided to take a chance on the campaign.
One advantage EMA held in developing and selling the concepts in the campaign is that it wasn't the only time the Sarasota office has been able to show off its creativity skills.
For example, the office recently led high-profile brand makeovers for the Sarasota Orchestra and All Faiths Food Bank. And prior to being bought by EMA, the firm's client roster included Venice-based drinkware firm Tervis Tumbler and the Cincinnati Reds.
The other seven offices of EMA, likewise, have been noted nationally for some of its creative work. The 42-year-old firm projects that it will reach about $215 million in revenues in 2009, which is down about $7 million since 2008, but up more than $45 million since 2007.
Trade publications regularly rank EMA in the top 50 of advertising companies nationwide and its client list includes such prominent companies as FedEx, Fisher-Price and Motorola.
The Remington account, meanwhile, was in jeopardy until the staff created the campaign it successfully pitched to corporate executives last April. The online game and contest became the centerpiece, with Jake as its guide.
The Face of Success Challenge, which ended Jan. 15, allowed players to create an online avatar by choosing from a combination of facial hair and hairstyles.
Players used pickup lines on five fictional female characters in interactive conversations that focused on grooming and styling. The grand prize of the sweepstakes side of the promotion is a trip for four to Las Vegas.
The contest and game spawned several other EMA-designed marketing components for the campaign, ranging from Facebook fan pages and Twitter posts to some television commercials.
To be sure, online contests to promote products are not novel. But the force, manpower and technological knowhow EMA put into the campaign show just how important the project was to the firm and how crucial it was to create a winning concept.
For example, Dave Bulger, a senior partner with EMA who works out of the Syracuse office, says the trick with the game and the script behind it was to create something sophisticated and stylish, yet also simple and straightforward. Bulger and McLain didn't want to unleash yet another bombastic online game that dumbs down its target audience, like so many other brands have done.
Bulger, who created Myers-Briggs personality tests for all the characters in the Face of Success Challenge, would seem to be a good choice to play lead writer on the project. His past jobs include Hollywood screenwriter and a training consultant for the CIA.
With a background like that in understanding people, Bulger easily got one other key aspect of the entire campaign: That women make a lot of buying decisions, even when it comes to men's grooming products.
“Most of these games are cheesy,” says Bulger. “Our goal was to write a romantic comedy with the women in charge.”
So as the 2009 holiday season makes way for 2010, one big question lingers for EMA, and by extension Remington: Did the campaign and all its parts translate to more sales of Remington products?
Full results in terms of sales of actual Remington products weren't available by early January. But as of Jan. 4, the sweepstakes part of the campaign had validated 134,000 entries. And nearly 40,000 online users had played the Face of Success Challenge.
Courtois says sales data might not be available until early February, but until then she can rely on the online metrics and this anecdote as proof of success: Remington executives told her the campaign exceeded any previous holiday promotions the company has ever done.
One other advantage for Remington, adds Courtois, is that the company has priced its products, which range from a $160 men's pivot and flex rotary shaver to an $8 titanium nose and ear trimmer, lower than its competition. Chief among that competition are brands such as Norelco and Braun.
“This is a very challenging [economic] time,” says Courtois. “But because Remington is a value brand, it has an opportunity to pick up market share.”
A psycho trump card
Advertising firms value demographic data like a farmer does weather.
But at the Sarasota office of EMA, a $215 million nationwide ad agency, there is something that sometimes even trumps demographics. That would be psychographic data, or someone's attitude, lifestyle and values.
“For every client and every project, we identify who our target audience is and look at the demographics and psychographics,” says Heather McLain, an account supervisor with EMA's Sarasota office. “It's important to look at both characteristics in order to create an emotional connection with that consumer.”
The company took just that approach with one of its most recent, and biggest, projects: Designing an online game and sweepstakes to go along with its advertising campaign for Remington, a shaving and grooming products company.
It's crucial to have data for both categories when developing an ad campaign strategy, EMA executives say, because the differences between psychographics and demographics can be stark.
For example, says McLain, hippie singer Jerry Garcia and televangelist and pastor Jerry Falwell were in the same demographics, as far as being white, male and of a similar age. But the duo obviously shared little in psychographics.
Ditto for Bruce Springsteen and Bill O'Reilly, the singer and talk show host, respectively. The duo has similar demographics, but contrasting psychographics.
Contact Mark Gordon at [email protected].