CAMPAIGNS: Alarm maker gets emotional against carbon monoxide

PR Team: Kidde (Mebane, NC) and Wheatley & Timmons (Chicago) Campaign: "Our Children at Risk" Time Frame: May through December 2002 Budget: Under $300,000

PR Team: Kidde (Mebane, NC) and Wheatley & Timmons (Chicago) Campaign: "Our Children at Risk" Time Frame: May through December 2002 Budget: Under $300,000

Introduced to the market in 1993, carbon monoxide alarms experienced an initial period of rapid sales growth, which then tapered off significantly. The category continued to stay flat or decline, so that by the start of the 21st century, US households equipped with the devices had leveled off at 27%. Kidde, a fire-safety company and leading manufacturer of CO alarms in the US, hired Wheatley & Timmons in May 2002 to revitalize interest and educate the public about CO - the number-one cause of accidental-poisoning fatalities in the US. Strategy Through a study on how people view CO as a household hazard, Wheatley & Timmons learned that consumers were aware of what CO was and where it came from (any device that runs on fossil fuel), but they felt it would never happen to them. "The point of this effort was to drive a product behind consumer education materials," explains agency president Bob Wheatley. "We knew that teaching the public about the problem would inevitably result in sales, but that was not our primary mission." The agency conducted focus groups to determine which communications strategies would be most effective. After showing audiences factual presentations about CO safety and testimonials from people who had survived incidents or lost loved ones to CO poisoning, the emotional tapes elicited a much more powerful response. "In conjunction with our findings, our strategy was to mold a campaign around a theme that demonstrated children at risk," reports Wheatley. Tactics Our Children at Risk was executed between November 1 and the end of the year (fewer CO-producing appliances are in use during summer months). The campaign was built around testimony given by a family from Rochester, MN - the Burts - who lost two of their three children in a furnace accident that filled their home with CO. VNRs and SMTs, in which the family's mother emotionally spoke about her two children, were distributed nationally, primarily to channels that would reach middle America. Third-party experts from the medical, indoor air quality, and appliance engineering communities were included as well to verify the dimensions of the problem and dramatize the need for prevention (i.e., installing CO alarms). "We placed more emphasis on our broadcast efforts because actually seeing Cheryl Burt was necessary to convey the emotional impact of the CO disaster," says Wheatley. Wheatley & Timmons also created a rapid response program to track CO incidents. When a CO-related death or injury occurred, teams from the agency worked with local press, fire departments, and public health officials to raise awareness with prevention education. Results National outreach utilizing the Burts and various third-party experts delivered more than 100 million media impressions via coverage in all 50 of the top US markets. Kidde received placement in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Business Week, in addition to several other major daily newspapers. Targeted broadcast placements, such as the John Walsh Show, were reached as well. Media outreach, combined with the rapid response program, helped generate a 450% sales increase. Future Wheatley & Timmons will work with Kidde throughout 2003. Activity will lighten heading into the spring and summer months, but will increase again beginning in the fall. "While our primary mission is to focus on saving lives," says Joe Cattano, director of marketing for Kidde, "we will be looking to brand the whole effort as we move through this year."

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