Behind closed doors

Philips Electronics upped its use of experiential marketing to generate awareness of products that tackle private, hard-to-discuss issues.

Philips Electronics has upped its use of experiential marketing to generate awareness of its products that tackle private, hard-to-discuss issues.

Some things are best left unsaid. Others are just too embarrassing, even for trained PR pros. So, Philips Electronics, whose consumer lines often cater to topics usually left behind the bathroom door, uses experiential marketing events to provide another way to connect with consumers, without that awkward lull in conversation.

Take for instance the careful messaging needed for the Philips Norelco Bodygroom, a shaver launched in 2006 for men to embrace their – ahem – “second puberty” and shave sensitive areas below the waist.

“It was an uncomfortable topic for our team [to talk about],” recalls Shannon Jenest, senior PR manager for Philips consumer lifestyle. “By the end, there was nothing [about it] that could faze us.”

Consumer comfort

If conversation started slowly for Philips and its AOR MS&L, the team was particularly careful about reaching out to consumers, who research had shown were already shaving the area with blades from scissors or other makeshift devices.

The consumer demographic for this product was 25- to 34-year-old men, who skewed toward urban professionals.

So, Philips, with the support of digital agency Tribal DDB, developed “Innuendo Man,” an overly blunt and outspoken “everyman” sporting a bathrobe, on its brand site, shaveeverywhere.com.

“We viewed the Web site as experiential... a one-way dialogue,” says Jenest, adding that at the start of the launch users were spending upwards of seven minutes on the site. Another set of updates are set to be added to the site in October.

Innuendo Man's dialogue had bleeped out references to key body parts, with site designers getting the point across with pictures of vegetables at pivotal moments, like kiwis and carrots.

“Characters were necessary,” says Jenest. “We needed to break through that barrier and provide a comfort level,” adds Jenest.

Aligned with Innuendo Man's “manscaping” tips, Philips hosted events at the Sundance Film Festival in January with shave-off contests using fruit representative of different body parts.

Similarly, in the summer of 2007, the Philips team created the character of Frank Sack, the Old Coney Island Guy, and had street teams hand out miniature beach balls to drive the point home.

“Bodygroom changed the perspective of Philips Norelco in terms of experiential marketing, and brought the average age of our consumer down from [middle-aged consumers to young professionals]... It really helped us gain traction with younger consumers,” says Jenest. “[It changed] the idea of lifestyle and how products can enhance experience within the home.”

Recalling the forgotten

Whereas the Bodygroom created messaging on the taboo topic of unmentionables, another challenge was creating dialogue with consumers concerning products forgotten immediately after use, like toothbrushes and traditional razors.

“These activities happen in the bathroom and we do it every day, but we don't talk about it,” says Jenest. She adds that due to Philips' high price point, traditional sampling is ineffective for the company, making in-person events key.

For example, for Sonicare's Flexcare toothbrush, Philips teamed up with TrashTalkFCM, a nontraditional media agency, and created pop-up bathrooms, a.k.a. brushing stations, in high-traffic areas.

The team set up sinks and mirrors on street corners, with brand spokespeople brushing their teeth and speaking with interested, potential consumers about the brand behind the disruptive behavior.

To further spur dialogue, Philips also enlisted BzzAgent, a word-of-mouth media network, to tap key influencers with proven social networks. The team targeted doctors and other tastemakers who could share the experience with friends, by passing on a coupon to try the product, ultimately reaching an estimated 1.5 million people.

This project linked up with Philips' strategy, which does not attempt to sell products to people “on the spot,” but rather develop real-time connections with the use of the brand, adds Jenest.

The Healthy White toothbrush, which is currently being promoted, has carved out a beauty niche through a partnership with fashion and lifestyle outlet Daily Candy.

For the product, MS&L and Philips have hosted “White Parties” in Miami and New York, where media and other key influencers can discuss how to increase their feeling of beauty, from both the inside out and the outside in, with advice from both a psychiatrist and dentist.

Engaging the public

Brett Carrey, SVP of consumer marketing at MS&L, says that in presenting The Healthy White toothbrush, creating a unique experience around the item was vital.

“You can't just say, ‘Here's a flashy toothbrush,'” says Carrey, “It's making sure that [consumers] will be engaged and want to learn more about the product.”

“You had to be there” PR has definitely become a part of Philips' marketing mix and has created a fresh perspective for the company.

“Purchase [points] increased dramatically when [consumers] tried the product, [rather than] talking about the soft goods to them,” says Jenest. “In the past four years, we've really found our footing.”

Other characters that connect:

Morgan D'Organ

Nonprofit group Donate Life, an Illinois coalition focusing on organ and tissue donation, created a life-sized heart to put a friendly face to a sensitive issue. Through events and social networking pages, Morgan is seeking to tap at least 5 million state residents to sign on to the organ and tissue donor registry by April 2009.

Morris, the wise upperclassman

Bank of America recently launched a financial-awareness campaign aimed at college students, a demographic not renowned for its financial savvy. Enter Morris, a pragmatic guy who doles out information on money and college life through the Bank of America Web site, webisodes, and offline tactics.

Captain Morgan

The presidential election is always fraught with controversy. Tapping into the implicit drama, Diageo created a presidential campaign for its favorite scalawag with opportunities for the Captain to present his “party” platforms at both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

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