What do you get when you cross a nifty home appliance with one of the hottest shows on daytime TV? An award-winning multimedia plan that produced plenty of buzz and delivered stunning results, all on a limited marketing budget.
When Bissell Homecare turned to Chicago's PHD to get the word out about its compact carpet-cleaner SpotBot, the agency looked to funny lady Ellen DeGeneres, host of syndicated hit Ellen. But it didn't stop there, also utilizing top-rated prime-time network series (ABC's Desperate Housewives, CBS' CSI and others), cable channels (HGTV, Animal Planet, Court TV), leading consumer magazines (Hearst/Harpo's O, The Oprah Magazine, Meredith Corp.'s Country Home), out-of-home venues, online, product placement, and event sponsorship, laying out a surprisingly modest $7.8 million on the whole schmear. It also earned PHD the nod as winner of this year's Media Plan of the Year for Spending Under $10 million.
The standout piece was the Ellen placement, on Dec. 9. Not only did the show's producers agree to include the SpotBot as part of its "12 Days of Christmas" giveaway, with more than 300 machines going to audience members, but a planned two-minute on-air SpotBot demo grew into an eight-minute exposure that spotlighted not just the SpotBot but additional Bissell products Lift-Off and Flip-It. As if that weren't enough, PHD developed a separate Ellen segment featuring "Bissell Boy" Lane Sullivan, a 4-year-old Oklahoma boy whose favorite "toys" are—you guessed it—vacuum cleaners. At the end of the segment, DeGeneres presented Sullivan with his very own Flip-It.
"The 'Bissell Boy' is hysterical," says Dave Kornett, senior vp, associate broadcast director at PHD. "It played well and we didn't try to force something, like having a professional talk about the technology." Adds Katie Braun, PHD media supervisor, "It was so much more than your standard product giveaway."
But Ellen was just one part of PHD's broad-reaching plan. Bissell leveraged its longtime partnership with HGTV (it is a longtime sponsor of the cable net's Dream Home) to promote SpotBot, which was featured not only in this year's Dream Home but in an online virtual tour and all on-air promotions. Bissell used sponsorship elements including billboards and online banners to promote a win-a-trip contest to California's wine country, driving contest registrants to its Web site, which received more than 580,000 entries.
Another opportunity came from Animal Planet's annual Puppy Bowl, a doggie ball-game that airs every year against the mother of all advertising vehicles, the Super Bowl. Bissell sponsored the first-ever "Kitty Half-Time Show" during this year's matchup. For more exposure, Bissell ads appeared on billboards and other signage inside the puppy stadium. And in a genius bit of product placement, when one of the shaggy players soiled the field, it was SpotBot to the rescue. The Puppy Bowl sponsorship spawned buzz that money couldn't buy, including mentions in newspapers and on CNN.
Marlene Tornabene, executive vp, general manager of PHD's Chicago office, says plans like SpotBot certainly rely on the creativity and hard work of media planners, but they also require forward-thinking—and a certain nerve—on the part of the client. Bissell, which has been PHD's client since 1992, "is very accepting of taking risks and chances, and that's what makes a media plan sing," she says. In the face of heady competition against brands including Hoover and Dyson, Bissell "has the will to want to try new things."
Tornabene says the success of the SpotBot plan is especially remarkable considering the relatively modest budget. "I think clients can be a little more complacent when they have a lot of money [for a launch]. They play it safe," she says.
"The plan was special because of all the unique media opportunities we were able to take advantage of," says Bissell communications director Ann Lamb. "PHD brought some really great ideas to the table, which allowed us not only to showcase the functionality of the product, but to convey a sense of character about the product and the Bissell brand."
The PHD plan, which ran from October 2005 to March of this year, helped Bissell portable-unit sales grow by 29 percent, according to the company.
Guess you could say PHD helped Bissell really clean up. Tony Case is a contributing writer to Mediaweek.