The very phrase “advertising with Google Glass” may seem like a contradiction, but Kenneth Cole recently became the first brand to do just that with the help of Men’s Health magazine and New York-based digital agency Ready Set Rocket, which collaborated with Cole’s in-house creative team on a Glass-powered project to help launch its new fragrance “Mankind.”
We spoke to Ready Set Rocket co-founder and Chief Strategist Alex Lirstman and Robert Genovese, VP of integrated marketing at Kenneth Cole, to learn more about the campaign. (Genovese has also worked in the agency world as a media planner at Wieden+Kennedy and associate media director at MPG.)
The campaign ran under the name “Man Up for Mankind” and received a large share of media attention over the spring and summer.
Genovese says that the brand’s in-house creative team “did have a creative concept for a few months prior to reaching out by way of RFP to several agencies.” Its goal was to make the new product stand out in “a very cluttered fragrance space” while staying “brand appropriate” and ensuring that the “core competencies of fashion and social cause” came through.
The underlying idea was clear: “to give a consumer the tools to be a better man.” The brand did so via a contest in which Google Glass users completed 21 tasks in 21 days in the interest of self-improvement.
Here’s a sample screenshot:
And here’s a hashtag thread:
Genovese says that Ready Set Rocket’s creative team “got it” from the first meeting, though the company itself only had a basic sense of what the collateral advertising might look like.
The team didn’t initially plan to build the campaign around a contest, but Kenneth Cole had “reached out fairly early to the folks at Men’s Health” to share the basic idea, and Genovese says that concepting work from the agency “ultimately took [the campaign] to its natural conclusion.” Here’s the first mention:
Regarding the campaign’s tech elements, Ready Set Rocket Co-Founder/Chief Strategist Alex Lirtsman says that Google Glass effectively entered the conversation by chance. As members of Google’s “Explorer Team,” the agency received a Glass unit two days before its strategic meeting with [Kenneth Cole fragrance distributor] Parlux. Lirtsman says, “We ran the idea of ‘taking social action by using Google Glass’ by them and fleshed out a prototype within two weeks.”
The whole thing would only work iftied to “a strong call to action for the social cause.” Lirtsman initially thought Kenneth Cole would reject the Glass idea, but he says that “[Genovese’s] team was incredibly open minded” in accepting the connection between the functionality of the platform and the campaign’s driving CTA.
Ready Set Rocket’s work primarily concerned the design of the website and its corresponding app along with basic emails and banner assets. But Lirtsman notes that Kenneth Cole gave the agency “a lot of freedom to go beyond just digital”; for campaign elements inside this Times Square shuttle train, for example, the agency straddled the “creative line between what is digital and what is not.”
In elaborating on the relationship between Kenneth Cole’s in-house creative team and that of the agency, Lirtsman says that, “when you are working with a client’s internal team and you have a good relationship, you don’t worry as much about stepping on toes” because the client sees the agency as a partner “instead of wondering whether you’re taking work away from someone else.”
Genovese says that the project “wasn’t about assigning certain steps to certain teams” because “the silos were not as thick or prohibitive” as they have been for past campaigns.
At first, Lirtsman says that both sides of the team were primarily concerned with “ensuring that the 21 deeds aren’t too hokey, that they’re interesting, and that people want to take part.”
Here’s another user screenshot:
Measuring the campaign was a challenge as well; the first sign of success lay in finding that ten percent of Glass’s 10,000-strong user base had participated and the response of other vendors in Kenneth Cole’s space, who reached out to Genovese for more information.
Lirtsman says that a traditional media buy helped launch the campaign before the conversation shifted from the larger concept to the Glass angle, with app downloads driven by thousands of the device’s “early adopters.” The project then attracted a second wave of attention driven by “the natural amplification of social media.”
“Event activations” surrounding the campaign, along with the Men’s Health partnership, further increased awareness as the contest progressed. Lirtsman says that “driving traffic to the site was not a primary KPI” but that the ultimate goal was “to have multiple touch points” in order to “make sure that this doesn’t just fade out and die.” Those touch points included everything from Spotify ads and sponsored tweets to editorial coverage in GQ as well as quizzes, contest updates and, of course, links letting consumers know where they could buy the fragrance itself.
Kenneth Cole also granted the agency’s team the flexibility needed “to make sure that we were hitting our KPIs… without getting additional approval” as the campaign progressed.
While the initial plan was to feature a single winner on a future cover of Men’s Health, Genovese now says that the response to the campaign has been such that “we may actually do a mixed cover” with more than one subject. Lirtsman believes that the issue’s release will precede “a fourth wave” of media attention.
Here’s one of the contest applicants, as featured on the brand’s Instagram account:
For now, the key question faced by Genovese is “How do we evolve this for next season?”
When asked how Kenneth Cole will translate the success of the Mankind launch, Genovese says that “we go into any campaign agnostically” and that projects like this one are all about “learning a new device first hand and determining how you can leverage it.”
“If a smartwatch fits into a future strategy, great. If it doesn’t, we will run a completely analog campaign that will (hopefully) deliver similar results. There are so many marketing clichés centered on the ‘think outside the box’ concept, but we really do it. At Wieden+Kennedy, it was part of our philosophy.
The campaign we created with Ready Set Rocket is a great example of not just doing what you did last season.”
In speaking to the digital divide in the advertising world, Genovese compares the campaign to Warby Parker’s unique annual reports. He says, “I don’t know if anybody else would have thought of creating an annual report in that particular format.” In the digital world, “Sometimes it works really well, and sometimes you swing and you miss. There’s nothing more frustrating than a great idea and a really sloppy delivery.”
Lirtsman says that Ready Set Rocket focused on strategy rather than the novelty of the platform itself; they did not want to “innovate for the sake of innovating.”
“I understand the agency profitability models, but if you want to put the client first, you will put strategy first. We don’t try to build anything from scratch. We try to use what’s on the market in a way that resonates with the brand in question and its campaign goals.”