Car Freshener Company in Play

The maker of Little Trees air fresheners has begun contacting agencies as it begins a review of its advertising account.

The Watertown, N.Y.-based client has in recent weeks sent requests for proposals to agencies and plans to contact more before selecting a list of shops for evaluation in October, said a company representative, who de-clined to discuss the process in detail.

There is no incumbent agency, and no consultants are guiding the review. Paperwork is being sent out about a month before the review begins in earnest to give the client an idea of the types of shops that might be interested in participating, sources said.

The questionnaires do not give budget figures, but sources estimated initial spending around $2-3 million for a print and radio campaign.

The client has approached small and midsize shops in New England and New York with strong creative track records and penchants for humorous campaigns that relate consumer goods to the pop culture, sources said. The company—which intentionally misspells its name Car-Freshner—is looking for an agency to help build its image beyond its flagship tree-shaped product, sources said. Promoting the client’s range of novelty air freshener products—from its line of scented stones and mini baskets to its incense sticks—will be a goal of upcoming ads, sources said.

In recent years, the client has focused on point-of-purchase marketing. It last launched a major advertising effort in the mid-1990s through Interpublic Group’s Mullen in Wenham, Mass., which crafted a print and TV campaign. Those ads positioned the client’s products as light-hearted mood enhancers with the tagline, “The big scent of a Little Tree.” An ad from 1995 compared the smell of Paris to romance, noting it would be a lot easier to hang a ‘Little Tree’ on a strobe light in one’s bedroom than fly to France.

The client expects to hire an agency later in the fall, sources said.

The company is also trying to boost sales in a declining market. The nearly $2 billion domestic “environmental fragrances” segment has been down in the last three years. Annual sales growth was 15 percent from 1995-99, but business is projected to grow 10 percent through 2004, according to Kalorama Information in New York.

Car-Freshner’s sales were ap-proximately $37 million in 2001, the most recent year for which figures were available. Competitors include Medo Industries, Old Grand Dad Industries and Sara Lee’s House & Body Care.