WHAT DO ADVERTISING and germs have in common? They're everywhere, of course.
Promoting an out-of-the-box product calls for an out-of-the-box media strategy. This year's Plan of the Year for Nontraditional Media goes to agency Ten United of Pittsburgh for its wide-ranging multimedia campaign for Airborne, the effervescent cold remedy invented by a schoolteacher and known for heading off germs before they attack.
The objective: Build immediate awareness and encourage trials of Airborne to combat germs in tight spaces like airplanes, buses, subways, commuter trains and offices. The campaign, targeting women aged 25-54, commuters and airline passengers and sporting the attention-grabbing, slightly scary tagline "Germs Are Everywhere," hit in October 2005, and culminated in January and February of this year—the height of cold and flu season. Markets known for their harsh winters including New York, Chicago and Boston were singled out.
Ten United selected high-traffic venues for eye-catching, out-of-home appeals, sample and coupon distribution, and TV spots. The campaign spread—not unlike germs themselves—throughout subways, street corners, even a prestigious film festival. "The idea is that germs are everywhere, so the product message needed to be everywhere," explains Faye Bleiberg, vp, media director. "We focused on creative ways to reach potential customers and tried to use media in unexpected ways wherever we could."
Adds Judy Granato, chief media officer, "It was a fun project. We took it as a real challenge—not just to concentrate on the message of 'Germs Are Everywhere,' but to focus on where we could find the target audience and how to reach them in a way that got a lot of buzz. One of the challenges was making sure all the elements came together, creating a perfect storm where we were going to have media and PR and buzz all happen in a very short period of time."
As Renee Davis, account service supervisor, recalls, the agency got the assignment in July, and had just three short months to create a multifaceted, eye-grabbing plan leading up to the October execution. Others involved in the campaign include James Tarone, assistant media planner, and Greg Smith, account executive.
The airline element of the Airborne campaign targeted American Airlines passengers, and included distribution of 350,000 samples of Airborne in 21 high-volume Admiral's Clubs, the airline's private, in-airport lounges; distribution of half a million Airborne coupons on the meal trays of first-class and business-class passengers; and a 90-second, in-flight video featuring Victoria Knight-McDowell, developer of Airborne, that was shown 27,000 times to an estimated 3.7 million travelers.
Determined to get the attention of air travelers not only in flight but before they took off, the Ten United team also bought Airborne spots on the CNN Airport Network in 42 airports. The ad aired 188 times in each venue, reaching an estimated 118 million passengers.
Then, the agency went deep underground, hitting the New York City subway system in January with a "station-domination" element that papered the heavily traveled Union Square station with 106 boards, to generate a staggering 15 million impressions throughout the month. Furthermore, subway trains throughout the system were plastered with 1,000 cards during the months of January and February, reaching an estimated 4.6 million daily riders.
Hitting the packed streets of New York, Chicago and Boston, several Airborne teams—some of their members dressed up as icky germs—handed out another 150,000 Airborne samples. Among the events targeted: the New York City Marathon.
Finally, Airborne-sponsored buses shuttled 36,000 attendees around the influential Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Jan. 19-29 of this year. Airborne also took over the town's popular Monkey Bar, re-christening it the Airborne Lounge during the festival. A special Airborne cocktail was even created for the venue, and some 50,000 Airborne samples were distributed at the bar.
Ten United reports that—as a result of Airborne's overall marketing strategy, which encompassed the agency's own nontraditional work—awareness of Airborne increased 75 percent, trial shot up 83 percent and sales soared 130 percent.
Praising Ten United's work, Airborne CEO Elisa Donahue says, "Reaching consumers in a nontraditional way was an important part of our strategy. The personality of the brand is fun and quirky, so using street teams with the Germ Guy character to hand out samples, and funny Germ Guy signage in subway stations, was a clever way to enhance the brand's image while getting across the 'Germs Are Everywhere' message."
Ten United's Bleiberg says the client was so happy with its work, the agency is now exploring expanding the Airborne campaign to other markets. Unlike germs, Ten United isn't so easy to head off at the pass.