02 October, 2010

How do you sell a lost dog?

Melbourne Herald Sun, 2 October 2010

How do you sell a lost dog, or a Japanese beer or a hay fever cure? There are thousands of products that don't fit the standard big-budget mass-marketed model that you see every night on TV.

But sometimes being out of the mainstream calls for very clever solutions - and a number of them featured in last week's Media Federation of Australia awards. Take the dogs. Literally.

Every year thousands of dogs die because nobody wants them. For two years Pedigree dog food ran TV commercials encouraging people to find a four-legged friend at the local pound, but with little success. In researching the problem, it seemed people saw "shelter dogs" as likely to have problems or be aggressive. But when they learned the history behind a dog they became more sympathetic. So the marketing task became - how to meet the dog.

The MFA judges were not looking for individual ads, but the clever use of media to achieve the objective - like this idea. The parks of Australia blossomed with thousands of yellow cut-out dogs. On each one was pasted a profile and history of an individual dog. The web is also particularly good at this - you were able to go on-line and browse through hundreds of available dogs.

The campaign was a huge success with over 3300 dogs adopted, where before it had been just a few hundred. It didn't do sales of Pedigree dog food any harm either - but this drive came from motives of sincerity, not cynicism. It deserved the Grand Prix.

I'm a bit less comfortable with the winner in the Food and Grocery section, Macleans toothpaste. Fighting against the Colgate giant is always hard work. They produced a popular-science travelling road show, a 60-minute "science spectacular". This was provided free to 100 schools in NSW. My twinge is at an education program to children, produced by a partisan company.

Other winners included Zyrtec antihistamine which produced a mobile phone widget to warn of high pollen counts. Land Rover followed six surfers, driving Defender 90s, and their adventures in getting to the Quicksilver Pro Event.

Researchers told New Balance sports clothiers that fitness fans follow what their instructors are wearing. So they made a partnership with Fitness First gyms, setting up 59 mini stores in the foyers of the gyms, and kitting out 4000 trainers and instructors with New Balance clothing. This boosted their sales - and gave them a new chain of retail distributors.

CUB wanted to position their Asahi beer as a premium, exclusive product - but working with a budget that was minute by beer-advertising standards.

So they set up a web site - The Internetwork - to create, said the judges: “An online community of early adopters who had an interest in art, fashion and music.” This positioned them ahead of the trendies, with avant garde art and ideas, believing that these style leaders would also influence drinking preference. In Victoria alone they claim a sales increase of 25%.

Advertising will forever get more expensive. So apart from the small group of super-rich companies with bottomless budgets, the rest of us have to rely on our wits. It means using all the media, thinking outside the TV-big media square, and coming up with some clever ideas.

Like this one from the other end of the beer market. Tooheys needed to hold the loyalty of the fickle 18-24 year old consumers of their Extra Dry. They latched on to the “6 degrees of separation” theory, launching a competition where four youngsters were selected to go hunt for their target celebrity - beer by beer around the world in a promotion called “6 Beers of Separation”.

Their progress was filmed and posted onto social media sites like Facebook and YouTube. The result was a 15 per cent increase in market share and over 700,000 on-line hits.

So maybe the answer to your marketing problem is not to spend more - but spend smarter.

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