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Apply Liberally: Consumers Use Products as They See Fit

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"Brands and companies aren't in control anymore," says Shannon Stairhime, content manager for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. "Consumers are talking about you whether you control it or not, and companies may be missing an opportunity to promote a use consumers already have for the brand."

Bounce this way and that

For several years, a list that details quirky uses for Bounce dryer sheets -- including tying them to belt loops as a bug repellent -- has been the subject of viral e-mails and blog posts. Procter & Gamble, which makes the dryer sheets, was well aware of the phenomenon, but did not acknowledge it.

"There are hundreds of P&G products and you'd be hard-pressed to find many that tout alternative uses," says Kash Shaikh, a P&G representative. "There was resistance that it might be a distraction from the traditional benefits of the product, which we were single-mindedly focused on."

But the more online chatter the company observed about alternative uses, the more the resistance dissipated, says Shaikh. Brand managers decided it was time to "lean forward and take a risk on our part" and to try "to capture the consumers' passion for the product and use it as leverage."

It was time, in other words, to promote the off-label uses of Bounce.

A print, radio and TV campaign (TV spots ran only in Canada) by the Toronto office of Leo Burnett, "Bounce beyond the dryer" featured actual customer suggestions for the sheets. (In one spot, a mother sticks a dryer sheet under her child's car seat to counter the smell of spilled milk and dirty diapers.) It launched in January and ran through June.

Heather Chambers, a cd at Burnett, says her team started out by talking among themselves about the ways they used the sheets. "Everybody had a story of some crazy place or way that they used them," she says. They then decided to draw consumers into the conversation.

Integral to the campaign was a contest held at the Digitas-designed Bounceeverywhere. com, where visitors submitted more than 26,000 alternate uses for Bounce sheets. The winning use -- artificial flowers made from the sheets -- was featured in a print ad. A PR push by DeVries Public Relations landed Bounce on the Today show twice for segments about alternate uses.

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