PRODUCT LAUNCH - Lego targets men with hi-tech toy

PRODUCT LAUNCH - Lego targets men with hi-tech toy

PRODUCT LAUNCH - Lego targets men with hi-tech toy

Client: Lego Co. Robotics Division, US headquarters (Enfield, CT)

PR Team: Mintz & Hoke (Avon, CT); Switzer Communications (Marin County,


Campaign: Storm Alert: Lego Mindstorms

Time Frame: December 1997 to December 1998

Budget: dollars 1.2 million

The ’ultimate low-tech toy,’ Lego, needed to update its image. In

launching the new Mindstorms robotics line, the building-block

manufacturer was entering a hi-tech toy category and needed to appeal to

an older audience, according to John Dion, PR manager. Instead of

marketing to mothers and their children under the age of 10, the PR team

wanted to reach kids 12 to 17 and males in their 20s. The dollars 200

microcomputer enables users to program/build their own robots, and like

conventional Lego, dismantle the toy and construct a different one. The

company relied primarily on PR efforts for its launch.


When the team first sat down to plan the launch, it was decided that PR

would take the lead role. ’It’s the best vehicle for reaching adult

audiences,’ says Dion. ’We reserved the advertising dollars for reaching

the kids.’ The company had to reach a new media audience and a new

retailer audience to move the product off the shelf.


Among the tactics used to launch the product was a cross-country media

tour to the 30 top markets. John Dion and Eileen Brangan, senior account

executive at Mintz & Hoke, gave three- to five-minute demos of

Mindstorms on local news shows. Thousands of press kits entitled ’Storm

Alert,’ were distributed for a variety of media, including Parents

magazine, GQ, Rolling Stone and Family PC. A round of editorial visits

were made to both long-lead and short-lead media. Switzer Communications

produced a video based on a Robo Tour in which two college students

traveled across the country to visit sites where robotics were being

used in an exciting way - for example, at the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream

plant, robots help make the product.

These visits were posted on the Lego web site ( so

consumers could follow the tour.

Trade shows were another element of this campaign. Lego introduced the

product at the American International Toy Fair in New York in February

1998, but expanded the typical trade-show cycle by including more tech

shows such as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January and

the May E3 software shows in Atlanta and Los Angeles.


Research showed that 45% of consumers learned of the product through PR,

a higher percentage than from advertising, Dion reports. ’Sales of the

product were strong before the advertising even kicked in.’ In fact,

when people saw Mindstorms on TV (according to subsequent media

research), they logged on to the web site and started ordering the

product. The product was sold out before the Christmas holiday. There

were more than 5,000 media placements with 800 million media

impressions, valued at over dollars 6 million, according to Dion. And

Mintz & Hoke won Creativity in Public Relations Award (CIPRA) for its

launch of Lego Mindstorms.’This is a case where PR can have the power to

build a consumer brand image,’ says Diane Edwards, SVP and PR director

for Mintz & Hoke.


Since the launch, Lego is working with key editors to produce stories

based on the interesting projects adults have built with Lego

Mindstorms, such as a working copier, a robotic card dealer and an ATM

that gives candy. Two more products are being introduced in September, a

’droid-developer kit’ based on Star Wars and a ’robotics discovery kit’

for children about 8 years old. ’We will focus on holiday gift guides

and will be Mom-directed, to show that the product is a good learning

experience for kids,’ says Dion. - Jan Jaben-Eilon

MARKETING COMMUNICATION - Heartstream goes to work

Client: Hewlett-Packard Heartstream (Seattle, WA)

PR Team Schwartz Communications (Waltham, MA)

Campaign: Schwartz Communications (Waltham, MA)

Time Frame:: September 1998

Budget: Not available

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) claims 350,000 lives a year in the US.

According to the American Heart Association, 100,000 lives could be

saved by early defibrillation, which shocks the heart back into a normal


Defibrillator manufacturer Hewlett-Packard (HP) Heartstream had

successfully sold the devices to police and fire departments, airlines

and large public venues such as stadiums, but it was looking to conquer

a new market segment.

’The idea is to put defibrillators in places where people can reach them

most quickly and where people spend their waking time each day,’ says

Wendy Katzman, director of corporation communications for HP


’The workplace is the next logical step.’


HP conducted research and found that people were more likely to have

cardiac arrests at work than during the weekend. The company needed to

convince companies of the importance of having a defibrillator


’The first challenge was awareness,’ says Katzman. ’People are still not

aware of sudden cardiac arrest and the fact that early defibrillation is

key. The second challenge was to convince people that SCA is an equal

opportunity killer that can strike anytime, anywhere without


We needed to reach a broad audience, and we knew PR was the most

effective way of doing this.’ Schwartz planned a broad, aggressive and

proactive campaign targeted at the general print and broadcast media, as

well as business outlets and publications, key vertical publications and

occupational health and human resource outlets.


Because the story was not driven by a news event, Schwartz developed a

campaign positioning defibrillators in the workplace as an emerging

trend. The agency contacted companies that had already purchased

defibrillators to determine their willingness to speak to the press.

They discovered that Jim Young of Michelin North America suffered

cardiac arrest at the company gym and was saved by an HP ForeRunner


Although Michelin’s medical director didn’t initially consider

publicizing the defibrillator program, Schwartz worked with Michelin’s

PR director to persuade the company that being positioned as a caring

employer could only be to its advantage.

’Michelin enhanced the story, because we were able to put a face on the

concept,’ says Schwartz account executive Barry Mason.

Schwartz began aggressively pitching the ’sudden cardiac arrest in the

workplace’ trend story, along with Young’s story, to The Wall Street

Journal and USA Today with the goal of securing a story that would

facilitate mass media broadcast coverage.

The agency developed a VNR that included interviews with Young, doctors

and paramedics, an overview of cardiac arrest and information on how the

defibrillator worked. Schwartz also issued a media alert announcing the

distribution of the VNR and a news release naming several companies

employing automatic external defibrillator (AED) programs. The agency

then followed up with TV and radio producers at the top 400 broadcast

markets, as well as reporters at leading major metropolitan dailies.


Before the VNR was released, a story about Young and sudden cardiac

arrest in the workplace ran on page one of The Wall Street Journal’s

Marketplace section. The same day, an article appeared in US News &

World Report about Bob Adams, a lawyer whose life was saved when he

suffered sudden cardiac arrest at defibrillator-equipped Grand Central

Station in New York. Two days later, a story on page one of USA Today’s

Life section and a seven-minute story ran on the Fox News Channel.

The momentum generated by national print stories piqued the interest of

broadcast producers nationwide. The VNR generated 66 million impressions

and approximately 8 million print impressions. The agency won a

Communicator Award of Excellence and two Bell Ringer awards for the VNR

and product publicity.

’We were worried at first, because there was no actual news involved in

the campaign, and no event,’ says Mason. ’Having the Michelin employee

who was saved let it go over the top. Without that, we probably would

not have been successful.’


Schwartz is still identifying companies that have used the


It is currently considering a campaign for the local press surrounding a

shareholder of PPG Industries in Pittsburgh, who was helped by a

defibrillator after suffering a cardiac arrest at a shareholders’

meeting. - Rebecca Flass

EVENT MARKETING - Fruit a Freeze dunks stars Client: Fruit a Freeze

(Norwalk, Los Angeles)

PR Team: Buckley/Friedman Marketing Communications (Costa Mesa, CA)

Campaign: Fruit a Freeze Chocolate Dipped event

Time Frame: One-day event

Budget: Unavailable

Sometimes it’s important to have a complex media strategy in place.

Other times it helps to pre-test a campaign before springing it on your

target audience. But occasionally, all you need is a big tank of

chocolate and a couple of local celebrities.

This combination certainly proved a winner for Costa Mesa agency

Buckley/ Friedman (B/F), when what began as a little more than a

publicity stunt at the Old Pasadena Summerfest turned into an

unpredictable media frenzy.

In the words of Fruit a Freeze CFO Edward Rodriguez: ’The campaign that

was developed far surpassed our expectations.’


B/F wanted to gain maximum media attention for its new client, frozen

fruit bar maker Fruit a Freeze, in the run-up to summer. It also wanted

to publicize the company’s new Chocolate Dipped product.

The agency decided to rent a booth at the Old Pasadena Summerfest on

Memorial Day Sunday and stage an event that would attract media coverage

while also raising money for charity. At the same time, consumers would

be able to sample the products.


The agency obtained a 500 gallon dunk tank and filled it with


Two LA anchors, KABC’s Philip Palmer and KTLA’s Terisa Estacio, were

persuaded to join a band of six agency volunteers lining up for a

potential dunking.

The volunteers’ healthy looks were designed to promote the

figure-friendly Fruit a Freeze products. In turn, Fruit a Freeze

promised to donate dollars 500 to each of the anchor’s favorite

charities if they agreed to be dunked.

Visitors stood in line to sample Fruit a Freeze products and take their

shot at dunking an anchor or a member of the account team.

Those who were successful were entered into a raffle for a trip for two

to Hawaii.


Both anchors took a dunking, so a total of dollars 1,000 was split

between the LA Rescue Mission and The Humane Society. Not surprisingly,

the anchors’ own shows covered their dive into the chocolate goo. But

the event also attracted the attention of every other network in the

area, perhaps lured by the prospect of seeing their competitors behaving

in such an undignified manner.

’We achieved 13 news stories in 24 hours - a total of 3.1 million

impressions,’ says B/F AE Natasha Nelson. ’We had hoped to saturate the

L.A. market and in the end that was exactly what we did. And of course,

thousands of passers-by sampled the products.’

The Future

B/F continues to handle Fruit a Freeze and is now looking for even more

eye-grabbing events to promote its client’s products. - Mark Tungate.

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