In every respect it was a risky endeavor.

The product was Degree for Men, and the mission was to create an integrated campaign for around $20 million that would increase the brand’s sales faster than the whole deodorant/antiperspirant category. To do it, the planning team at MindShare, a global media agency with WPP’s GroupM, had to find an exciting environment in which to place the brand’s message; an environment that would appeal to its audience, but in a different way than other male-targeted products. But the big question was, what inspired men? What made their lives worth living? The answer was risk. MindShare’s research found that taking a risk or accepting a challenge was a point of pride for most men and that a life without risk was not worth living.

The media message was born, but MindShare’s planning team still had to convince its male target that Degree was the deodorant for dudes who rise to a challenge. Degree had been a sponsor of the Ironman competition, but the product’s brand managers wanted to do something that would differentiate it from the competition, namely Old Spice.

In the end, the planning team of Dave Buklarewicz, MindShare’s group planning director, along with strategic planning director Jill Langan, associate director Tracy McMullen and supervisor Mark Gurwitz took a risk themselves, shifting Degree from a game of brawn to a game of brains, where the odds of perspiring are still pretty good. Degree for Men became a sponsor of ESPN’s World Series of Poker and U.S Poker Championship. “It was a unique and ownable insight into the risk factor,” Buklarewicz says. “It was the right property at the right time,” adds Kevin George, vp/general manager of deodorant for Unilever. “Poker was breaking into mainstream, and we were able to own a moment that was intrinsic to the game. And the connection to our product was clear.”

The plan included on-air, online and on-site components. For TV, Degree for Men became the sponsor of the “All In” moment. When time came for a player to put all his chips on the line, the Degree logo popped up and the announcer called it the Degree “All In” moment. The brand’s tagline followed: For men who take risks, it won’t let you down.

Online, MindShare worked with to create a poker-based “advergame.” The consumers played poker online not only for fun, but for a chance to win a seat at the World Series of Poker. “Our core audience was the guys watching ESPN,” says Jeff Cole, assistant media director, who spearheaded the online component with planning supervisor Jim Kiszka. “To get the 360-degree approach we had to reach them online.”

The message also reached guys in stores and at the casinos where tournaments were taking place. Degree set up signage at the World Series of Poker Circuit events and offered in-room sampling. The deodorant also had a presence at ESPN Zone, ESPN’s restaurant chain, and set up poker tables at Wal-Mart stores. “Usually, the difficulty I have found with the 360-degree approach is matching the in-store component with the other mediums,” says Cole. “But I think the in-store presence was very successful in terms of creating a poker experience.”

Together, the three components were successful in achieving MindShare’s goals. Degree posted share growth of almost 1 percent vs. year-ago-growth, and according to the most recent data provided by MindShare, the brand’s sales are outpacing the category. Degree is up 33 percent and the deodorant/antiperspirant category is up 16 percent.

The online component was particularly effective in increasing brand awareness. It increased both online ad awareness and Degree’s association with poker, while adding to purchase intent.

“Our strategy is more than working. It’s winning,” says Unilever’s George. Megan Larson is a former Mediaweek senior editor.