NEW YORK For the past couple of years, OfficeMax has sought to add some fun and levity to the stodgy office supply category as it subtracts dollars from most forms of measured media.
The chain has pulled Punk'd-style pranks on middle schoolers, created singing and dancing Web pixies and made the world's largest rubber band ball as part of a strategy of "unexpected events" championed by svp of marketing and advertising Bob Thacker. Since coming on board in late 2005, Thacker has de-emphasized traditional advertising in favor of branded entertainment efforts. Indeed, OfficeMax's measured media spend fell from $23 million in 2005 to $14 million in 2006, and $13 million for the first eight months of this year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.
"All marketing has to be a conversation, and we're reshaping the way we talk to customers," said Thacker, who is a veteran of Target, Sears and BBDO.
Last month, the chain signed on to sponsor the tour of tween phenom Miley Cyrus, who's touring as both herself (a top-selling pop-country artist) and her alter ego (top-rated TV star Hannah Montana from the Disney Channel).
The timing couldn't be better. Cyrus, who already has sold 4.4 million CDs, has also begun selling out stadiums in minutes, surprising even veteran concert promoter AEG Live.
Tickets are selling at 20 times their face value (and up) via brokers and Internet auctions, with prices surpassing even the Police, Bruce Springsteen and Van Halen shows. "This tour is in the big leagues," said Ray Waddell, senior editor, touring, at Billboard, an Adweek sibling. "The value of associating with it is huge."
The partnership with OfficeMax also links the star with the marketer's cause-related program that gives school supplies to teachers. Aside from the usual venue banners, the marketer has created stations where fans can customize signs to hold up during the show and a two-minute vignette airing on stadium screens.
In the video, set to Cyrus' song, "I Learned From You," the young singer talks up the charity, Adopt a Classroom, asking fans to "help me support the real stars—your teachers." (The vignette appears on the marketer's Web site and in-store.) OfficeMax has also created parent lounges at concerts in top markets where adults can get away from the screeching crowds to find earplugs, snacks, computers and other amenities.
"We're creating opportunities to engage people, and that's going to be driven by things that are happening in the popular culture," Thacker said.
The current deal came together before the launch of Cyrus' three-month tour, bartered by Mulholland Drive Entertainment, the Los Angeles marketing firm representing OfficeMax. The deal likely will pay off far beyond the low seven-figure investment.
Disney has announced that it will create a 3-D movie from concert footage, to be shown in theaters in February, with Disney Channel airings, DVDs and other media nearly assured. OfficeMax will be along for ride.
However, Thacker acknowledges that tie-ins don't always contribute directly to the bottom line, and branded entertainment is notoriously difficult to measure. For instance, the chain saw a sales bump and a 20 percent jump in its Web traffic last holiday season, though it's tough to say whether that was caused by a viral promotion that let consumers spread their "Elfed" images online.
"It's a cumulative build, which doesn't always have an immediate payback," Thacker said. "It's like planting seeds."