Dr Pepper Rocks Out With Big Idea From MEC

NEW YORK A year in the making and carrying an estimated price tag of close to $20 million, Band in a Bubble, a new Dr Pepper reality show and special event created by WPP’s Mediaedge:cia, shows just how far some media agencies and clients will go to cut through the clutter.

The program, described by its creators as Big Brother meets American Idol, is called Dr Pepper Band in a Bubble. A live event that begins May 24 in New York City, the effort centers on the rock band Cartel, which will be sealed in a giant steel-and-glass bubble for three weeks to create and produce their next album. (The bubble will have rest room facilities, a kitchen and a sleeping space.)

The event culminates on June 12 when the bubble will “burst”—at the very least some glass will shatter on cue—and the band will emerge to perform a concert televised live by MTV.

Executives at the agency and at the Cadbury Schweppes-owned soft drink unit say it’s the kind of project that marketers will increasingly put their money behind to differentiate themselves in the advertising arena. “We will see these kinds of activation ideas happening across the majority of our clients,” predicted Lee Doyle, North American CEO at MEC. “Clients are going to get more involved in content to have more control over their brand’s destiny.”

Andrew Springate, vp, marketing, Dr Pepper, said, “The more we can be integrated and make a message that is relevant via an activity or event, the better, because it is getting harder to engage people with 15- and 30-second spots. We’re betting that this program will draw a stronger level of engagement and deeper interaction.”

It’s a pretty big bet. Dr Pepper is funding the entire project, which accounts for 22 percent of the $90 million the company spent on ads last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence. The company wouldn’t comment on specific figures or say from which budget the money was taken.

MTV is set to televise four half-hour Band in a Bubble specials, and dozens of other media channels will either help promote the project or let consumers interact with the band during the three-week event.

There are multiple online channels including Webcams in the bubble that will broadcast the band’s activities throughout their three-week stay to a special Dr Pepper Web site. Fans will have opportunities to chat with the band members on that site as well. There’s a dedicated page on MySpace and planned tie-ins to YouTube and other video sites. A giant billboard in Times Square will promote the event, as will traditional TV and radio ads. MEC has also seeded a multi-pronged viral campaign recruiting Cartel fans to spread the word about the event at college campuses and other locations.

In addition, the agency has forged major retail tie-ins with Wal-Mart and KFC, whose chains will sell exclusive Bubble-related merchandise.

The 2,000-square-foot bubble, currently being constructed on a pier on New York’s West Side—and which will feature a state-of-the-art recording studio—will contain 22 cameras, which will feed streams of live video to the Dr Pepper Web site around the clock for the duration of the event.

Consumer interaction—designed to drive sales—is the base upon which the project has been developed, said Doyle. “This starts with interaction, versus ‘let’s come up with an entertainment concept and then add on interaction,'” he said. “And it is all built with a sales objective.”

The level of that interaction depends on how much Dr Pepper consumers are willing to purchase. Access codes are printed on the inside of bottle caps. The more codes acquired, the more a fan can interact with the band. For example, a certain number of codes will allow fans to vote for lyrics or for the name of the new album the project will ultimately produce. Access codes from bottle caps also give fans extended hours of viewing the band at work.

Carl Hartman, managing director at MEC on the Cadbury Schweppes account, said pulling off such a complex project requires a highly involved client. “Not only did [Cadbury Schweppes] fund it, they were involved all through the process, in choosing the band, the location, the architectural firm and the design of the bubble itself. This goes way beyond traditional sponsorship,” Hartman said.

Tim Rosta, svp, integrated marketing, MTV, said the Bubble project appealed to the network because it’s a unique exploration of the creative process in the pop-music business. The project is “part of the first wave” of experimental efforts brought to it by clients looking for better ways to engage consumers. “I don’t think anyone has hit on the exact formula for the future,” he said.

The project is another indication that creative shops don’t have a lock on big creative ideas. MEC bought the format rights from Dutch production company Endemol, which produced a similar show (on a smaller scale with a different band) two years ago in Australia. Dr Pepper’s creative agency, WPP’s Young & Rubicam, did produce TV and outdoor spots to promote the program, but that was about the extent of its involvement.

“I think it’s so much harder to break through and do things that are unique, and to my mind it makes all the sense in the world that a media agency understands how best to do that,” said Springate. “I don’t think we debated [this idea] much more than 10 minutes. … We know it was an engaging way to bring Dr Pepper to life” and in sync with the soft drink’s “more to it” branding slogan.

“It certainly changes our role from distributors of 30-second commercials to generators of ideas to move a client’s business forward,” said Doyle.