By Pauline Tingas
For many marketers, the grassroots allure of eBay fits in nicely with some of their latest launch strategies.
Just last month, Coca-Cola flew under the national radar for the introduction of its newest product, Coca-Cola Zero, by offering a limited-edition sample pack for sale on the auction site. The kit included product samples and special-edition merchandise in a stainless steel cooler, though interest was largely spurred by the six contoured glass bottles inside. Numbers 1 through 6 of only 24 made, the Coke Zero shrink sleeve bottles, and the fact that they won’t be available at retail in 2005, are likely what drove the pack to a whopping $2,750 winning bid (proceeds went to charity).
Surely, it’s not the first time a brand has used eBay in its marketing efforts, but it’s a fresh approach for a behemoth like Coca-Cola in that it actually used the format in its go-to-market strategy. And though the concept of limited editions has often been abused, in this instance, the collectibles are an “honest” offer from a heritage brand.
The creative approach might be just in time for Coke, which, some say, is suffering from its success.
“The brand has become so ubiquitous that it has literally become invisible,” says Aaron Keller, managing principal of Capsule, a Minneapolis-based brand development firm. “They’re blending into the landscape of our lives.”
Coke is not alone. The saturated marketing environment is pressing brands of all sizes to engage consumers and become more relevant with guerilla tactics; and many are learning that a good way to “go guerilla” is through unconventional packs.
“It’s a rapidly evolving world where packaging can be used as a tactic to help consumers talk to one another about a brand,” says Keller. “Guerilla tactics at the moment of decision can be more effective than any other marketing medium can expect to be with today’s consumers.”
Packaging that comes off as out of the ordinary or more relevant is now becoming a necessity, he says. And while there’s no one way to do it, marketers in categories like mints, gum, soda and beer are leading the way by experimenting with their packaging.
Jones Soda is one brand that comes to mind. The simple concept of inviting consumers to co-create its labels has created enough buzz to carry the beverage company to $30 million in annual revenues.
Back in 1995, the brand’s inaugural photo labels were actually done by a photographer who helped design the brand’s identity, but the interest from customers who wanted to submit their own photos was immediate. “We thought it’d be great to open it up to consumers,” says Jennifer Cue, COO and CFO for the beverage brand.
Today, Jones swaps out its photo labels each month, with 20 new images per flavor per production run; photos are scrambled to ensure each unique label is distributed to varied geographic points and to encourage what Cue calls a “discovery process” for loyal customers.
Jones is confident that its guerilla approach will remain an equity. Using customer-submitted photos on labels is protected by trade dress rights across the beverage category. And the brand’s “My Jones” feature on its web site, where consumers can order personalized cases of the soda, was patented in 2002.
“We’ve got it down to a science,” says Cue. “The process we’ve created with our label supplier is efficient, not something that significantly adds to our costs.”
Let your label do the talking
Beer is another category primed for a guerilla approach. Molson Canadian recently met a challenge to develop unique packaging that would spur brand momentum in the venues where the product is consumed (bars and clubs).
The brand turned to Miami-based Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, who put a second or “twin” label on the bottle and created a series of labels with pick-up lines, statement of prowess and other loaded comments.
“The idea was that the twin label could be used as a tool to help young males target, meet and connect with women,” says Bill Wright, creative director at Crispin Porter.
Though the unconventional packaging was an expensive proposition for the beer brand—it required a million-dollar capital investment to retool their factory packaging lines—the results were quick; the brand has seen more than a dollar-for-dollar return. Sales went up by 48 percent in the year following the introduction of the twin labels.
Wright says the incredible success of the unusual program, which includes 232 labels in current circulation, can be credited to what he calls the “fortune cookie” effect. “It works to generate trial and retrial because consumer curiosity is so great,” he says.
Labels will continue to be positioned as versatile marketing media as the next wave of packaging innovations come to market. An emerging development is the can-top plastic label created by Dallas-based Advercan. According to company CEO Kenny Mac McClintock, the can-top label, which can be printed on both sides, adheres to the top of typical beverage cans and serves a dual function: as both as a marketing medium and a “cleancap” that protects can tops from dirt, germs and viruses.
The labels themselves offer a financial incentive for beverage companies to implement protective seals, because they are a potential source of media distribution.
McClintock says he’ll soon be test marketing the product in a Los Angeles school district with Switch Beverage Company, and that he is still working to finalize a specialized heat-shrink labeling process.
Not everyone sees such innovation as a good thing, though. Some experts say ambient media, which continues to invade every available “surface” in our lives, is creating somewhat of a backlash.
A recent study by Yankelovich Partners found that the growing intrusiveness of marketing is pushing consumer resistance to an all time high. According to the study, 60 percent of consumers have a much more negative opinion of marketing now than a few years ago; 61 percent feel the amount of marketing is out of control; and 65 percent feel constantly bombarded with too much advertising and marketing.
“A lot of guerilla marketing depends on saturation and above-average levels of intrusiveness,” says J. Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich. “And while that reaches people, it also adds to the clutter.”
Walker advocates a move from in-your-face efforts to more subtle guerilla marketing approaches. That’s where packaging can play a role. He says unusual packaging that engages consumers; is experiential, clever, credible and amusing; and pulls, rather than pushes consumers, can deliver a novel experience in environments where people are open to it.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Jerry Craven, senior vice president of creative services at Upshot, a marketing and promotions agency in Chicago.
“Consumers have seen it all,” he says. “When packaging features something that’s relevant or engaging in an entertaining way, you’ve got something that will really win with your target.”
Altoids, for example, has made great strides with its unconventional approach, Craven says.
Curiously chic tins
Indeed, Altoids’ Curiously Noir Tin, the latest version of its signature tin, reinforces that standing. The sleek black tin was designed by Tobias Wong, an emerging artist recently named “Best Young Designer” by Wallpaper magazine, and includes a diamond-accented gold chain that spells out Altoids’ signature word, “Curiously”.
“We’ve always felt the Altoids tin was a lifestyle accessory, so we’ve continued to surprise and delight our fans by introducing curious new versions of the signature tin over the years,” says Rich Hildebrandt, brand director for Altoids.
Eighty tins, valued at $100, have been created and, to date, only Academy Award nominees like Hillary Swank, Natalie Portman, Jamie Foxx and Johnny Depp have received them. Though, consumers will have the opportunity to receive one of three Noir tins by visiting the brand’s web site, www.altoids.com, through July 18, 2005.
According to Hildebrandt, the limited-edition tins are a unique way to offer an accessory that fits into the brand user’s lifestyle.
Technology is another way for a brand to be in touch with its customers. In the case of interactive, text-message marketing efforts, which can be incorporated on pack by companies like Evanston, Ill.,-based Vibes Media, marketers can communicate with, motivate and retain their customers in ways they never could before.
“The opportunities are enormous,” says Alex Campbell, CEO of Vibes Media. He says marketers can imprint packages with a keyword and a “short code”, a unique 5-digit code that consumers input into their cell phones, to run contests or foster interaction with the brand.
Currently, most consumer packaged goods who use on-pack wireless promotions ask their customers to input short codes on a Web site. But Campbell says there are more creative avenues for the technology, including bar promotions where consumers take a short code imprinted on the beer bottle they just purchased and text their own messages onto a jumbo screen. The benefit of the technology is clear, Campbell says, because the interaction is immediate.
He also says it avoids any privacy concerns. “You’re not signing someone on a list but getting them to send a text [message] through packaging,” he says. “Consumers initiate the dialogue.”
And since U.S. brands have yet to fully embrace the technology (our European and Asian counterparts have been doing it for years), it still passes the “guerilla” test in that consumers, for now, will find it a fresh approach.
Sometimes, though, technology, or any unusual marketing tactic for that matter, can have unexpected results. Take Coca-Cola’s GPS can. Sold in multi-packs, the can marked the first time the beverage company infused packages of Coca-Cola with cutting-edge technology: a GPS transponder and cellular phone.
Winners who found one of the 100 high-tech cans were to press a button on a recessed panel to activate the GPS system and await the Coca-Cola “prize patrol”. The packaging was supposed to engage consumers with the element of surprise—a worthy guerilla objective.
But, in this case, the technology itself took the brand by surprise. Officials at some of the nation’s military bases were alarmed that the cans might be used to eavesdrop, and facilities asked soldiers to examine their Coke cans before bringing them into sensitive meetings.
The concern was just a blip in the promotion, but media pickup on the controversy shed a less-than-favorable light on the unusual packaging.
Experts say that, while it was an example of what could go wrong, this scenario shouldn’t keep brands from taking an unusual approach with their packaging.
“There are risks with any marketing effort, but the real risk is not taking any in the first place,” says Upshot’s Craven. “Because, if you do the same thing time and time again, you may not alienate anyone, but you probably won’t attract anyone either.” BP
The author, Pauline Tingas, is the Senior Editor of BRANDPackaging magazine.
Where to go for more information...
Brand and package development. At Capsule, contact Aaron Keller at612.341.4525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Advertising and creative services. At Crispin Porter + Bogusky, contact Bill Wright at 305.859.2070 or email@example.com.
Can-top labels. At Advercan, reach Kenny Mac McClintock at 800.879.7050 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Marketing research and consulting. At Yankelovich Partners, contact J. Walker Smith at 404.808.5057 or email@example.com.
Marketing and promotions. At Upshot, contact Jerry Craven at 312.895.6138 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Text-message marketing. At Vibes Media, contact Alex Campbell at 312.753.6330 or visit www.vibes.com.