Product Launches: Catch the Public's Eye

Good product launches always capture people's imaginations. Alastair Ray looks at some memorable examples. Do you listen to your music digitally? Do you associate directory enquiries with moustachioed athletes? If you do, then the product launches of Apple's iPod and 118 118 directory enquiries share one thing in common - they mentally engaged the public when they were launched.

This type of marketing activity can be particularly successful when the behaviour of the launch matches the behaviour you expect of the brand.

Cohn & Wolfe deputy managing director Ash Coleman-Smith cites the launch of Direct Line in the early 1990s as a prime example.

'This launch worked well because the company knew exactly what it offered - a lower price - and there was a reason why it could get the price to where it could,' he adds.

The heart of the brand

'What seems to stand out in terms of launches that have been hits are ideas that have come from the heart of the brand or ones that flatter the audience,' he says.

A traditional element of generating publicity for product launches has been celebrity endorsement, but buying up big names won't always generate the right sort of coverage.

'When journalists go to a launch, do they turn up because they want to get the celebrity or do they understand the deal behind the product?' asks Coleman-Smith. In the former situation, he warns, the odds are that the celebrity will appear in the paper without a mention of the brand being plugged.

Quirky or less well-known guests can often be as interesting to journalists as the regulars in Heat. Shine Communications worked on last year's launch of Magnum's 7 Deadly Sins ice cream flavours. It didn't use celebrities but instead opted for some David Beckham lookalikes to promote the confectionery range.

Elsewhere, tourist group Visit Britain launched a brochure with the help of astrologer Paul Watson, and Gillette let the world know about its Mach 3 razor with a launch event that featured an attempt to break the world motorbike speed record.

For business stories, access to key executives can be key to tempting hacks out of their offices. 'It's about making sure they are going to get a story they would not be able to get otherwise,' says Richard Leonard, founding director of Brazil PR, which worked on the 118 118 campaign.

IPC ignite took a similar course when it launched men's weekly Nuts earlier this year. The first place to get hold of a copy of the new title was at the media and trade launch event - if you didn't go, you didn't get a magazine.

Luring journalists to an event isn't always the only solution. Weber Shandwick associate director Fenella Grey is currently working on Unilever's new low-fat ice creams, and is holding events in publishers' offices, therefore taking the product to the journalists.

Another strong copy-generator is the survey. For the launch of Nuts, IPC prepared research on men. 'It really enabled us to become experts on males and to really own that agenda,' says IPC ignite PR manager Nicola Woods.

Long or short campaign?

A further issue for the launch strategy is the timescale and how long the campaign should run for. Shine's 7 Deadly Sins launch was extended by launching the seven different flavours at various intervals, enabling the activity to be spread across a number of months. Likewise, the launch of 118 118 was all about slowly building up to late August last year, when the old 192 number was phased out.

With car brands, on the other hand, which operate in a market where the average buying cycle is once every two years, the temptation is to go for one big splash.

There are two important lessons to be learned in handling new product launches. The first is to really think about what you're actually launching and whether it requires a large-scale event. It's worth bearing in mind that although PROs may think the launch is the most important issue of the day, they must remember the work pressures journalists are under.

The second is to ask whether giving a product away for free devalues it. 'With almost any product that has been handed to me by someone wearing a cape or any sort of Superman-type outfit, I know it's not a brand that (a company) has really thought very hard about,' says Coleman-Smith.

The key message? Understanding your audience is integral to making your product launch stand out from the others and to ensuring that it becomes ingrained into the minds of the general public.

CONSUMER PRODUCT LAUNCH: CADBURY

In 2003, Cadbury decided to relaunch its chocolate products under the Dairy Milk banner to create a 'purple patch' in retailers' confectionery aisles. Caramel was to become Dairy Milk with Caramel, and four other variants would also get the distinctive purple packaging. The firm worked closely with Nexus PR to target the retail community and Focus PR to generate consumer awareness.

The trade campaign involved inviting key journalists from titles such as The Grocer for briefings on the strategy behind the revamp. Focus was appointed in July to drive the consumer activity. Research on what triggers chocolate consumption was released to the press.

Advertorials in Glamour and OK! involved working with Color Me Beautiful consultants to spread the message about the new image for Caramel.

The campaign achieved 178 items of print and broadcast coverage.

Cadbury Schweppes media relationships manager Tony Bilsborough says that, with 70 per cent of confectionery bought on impulse, it was important the message got through.

He says: 'This was about offering more choice under the umbrella of one of the world's major chocolate brands.'

SERVICE LAUNCH: 118 118

Directory inquiries was a low-interest sector before it was opened to competition in 2002. Most people knew that 192 was the number to call so the challengers to BT's established service faced an uphill struggle to get noticed.

Brazil PR founding director Richard Leonard says the campaign for 118 118 started as soon as the business was unveiled in December 2002, with the brand's two runners first appearing in March 2003.

The bottom line of the launch activity was to get the basics right, ensuring that everyone had the information they needed, the visuals or video clips they required, and responding to calls quickly and efficiently.

'People often overlook getting the basics right - that's really the key,' Leonard says.

The runners provided a powerful image and were often used to illustrate articles about the change. Ironically, their first PR appearance was in a photoshoot for The Sun with David Bedford, the 1970s runner who later protested over image rights. Brazil also got them onto TV shows The Salon, They Think It's All Over and A Question of Sport.

'We were featured in 80 per cent of the coverage of directory inquiries.

Our guys became the symbol of deregulation. We put them everywhere; they were always willing to say something,' says Leonard.

CAR LAUNCH: SAAB 9-3

The launch of a new product range is a big event for a car manufacturer, and that was certainly the case for Saab's 9-3 line. The first car in the range, the Sport Sedan, was launched in 2002, with more than 1,000 journalists and 5,000 dealer staff invited to Stockholm over a period of five weeks in June and July.

The campaign, which was managed by in-house PR and marketing departments, featured a launch icon called 'The Sketch Man'. Pci:Live helped organise the event.

'The PR and marketing departments worked together as a launch team on this project. As a small company, we normally do that to get all the synergies right,' says media programmes and market PR support manager Goran Fredriksson.

'We used the same exhibition venue set-up for journalists and dealers, with presentations and messages customised for each category.'

The launch of the 9-3 convertible at the end of May 2003 attracted 500 motoring, business and lifestyle journalists from more than 50 markets to Copenhagen. Test drives of the new model also took place on test roads and sand beaches in southern Sweden.

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