On the move: Crazy, attention-grabbing mobiles are being used in ever more sophisticated campaigns. David Ward has tips on the practicality

Once dismissed as novelties, mobiles can serve as the focal point for an entire marketing effort these days, creating a galvanizing image that defines a brand or product.

Once dismissed as novelties, mobiles can serve as the focal point for an entire marketing effort these days, creating a galvanizing image that defines a brand or product.

Once dismissed as novelties, mobiles can serve as the focal point for an entire marketing effort these days, creating a galvanizing image that defines a brand or product.

It is also the area where marketing and PR tend to blur. Mobiles end up serving multiple functions. Not only are they, in essence, moving billboards, generating impressions with each passing mile, but they can also serve as movable events, driving trial and sampling at each stop.

Marketing Werks marketing director Jeff Corder compares mobile marketing to a political campaign. 'It's very grass roots,' he says. 'Like anyone, we're looking for media impressions. But what brands come to us for is the kind of high impact impression that leaves a memory or experience with the consumer.'

Chicago-based Marketing Werks has seen its size triple in the past four years, almost exclusively due to the huge growth in mobile marketing.

'It's definitely taken off as a legitimate marketing medium,' Corder says.

'Brands are trying to top each other with their mobiles.'

It ain't cheap

But mobile marketing is no cheap endeavor. While a mobile can be created for as little dollars 5,000 (by placing vinyl overlay on the side of a van or truck), a customized car, truck or tractor trailer has a much greater effect. And the more elaborate your vision, the more costly it becomes.

Dorian Duke, vice president of Prototype Source in Santa Barbara, CA, which builds customized mobiles, says a promotional vehicle can cost anywhere from dollars 200,000 to dollars 1.5 million and take five to six months to put together.

Duke, who has helped build everything from the Hershey Kissmobile to the Mr Peanut Hot Rod, says he tries to steer clients toward mobiles that can be driven on both highways and rural roads without special permits.

This limits their height and width. Prototype Source also prefers not to stray too far from the basic design of the automobile, so it can retain its warranties and be serviced at most repair shops.

But beyond that, anything goes. Many mobiles come with their own refrigeration units, stoves, stages and even showers. All of which costs money. And that's just the beginning. Add the expense of training drivers, re-supplying the vehicle and obtaining permits, along with traditional media advance work, and a mobile effort can quickly overwhelm a marketing and PR budget.

Although most mobile tours take place during the warmer months, running them is a year-round operation with almost as much time spent planning as on the road.

'There have been many occasions, where we've steered people away (from a mobile marketing effort),' says Gail Heimann, partner in the New York office of BSMG Worldwide. 'There's a lot of outlay for the vehicle itself, and if a client doesn't have the resources or the inclination to support a vehicle with enough public relations than it's a waste of money.'

The various offices of BSMG have been running several mobile marketing campaigns this year, including the Milk Mustache Mobile, the continuation of the Schick Shave Shack tour and the recently launched Hall's Cough Drops 'Hall's of Fame.'

'Historically, a lot of people looked at mobile marketing as a way to get consumers to sample products,' said Todd Woodward, managing director of BSMG Chicago. 'But we've started to use it to create a platform to get our key messages across.'

In the case of the Milk Mustache Mobile, that means moving beyond new products and packaging to long-term messages about the overall health benefits of milk. Thus, while a booth is set up at every stop to let consumers have a 'milk mustache' picture taken, there is also a separate booth where visitors can get a bone density test and learn how calcium helps prevent osteoporosis.

But the agency's role isn't only to deliver the message. For the milk campaign, BSMG works with the Dairy Manufacturers' Industry to determine where messages are delivered. 'We send out information on the tour to every processor and dairy in the country to get feedback on where we should go. We may get as many as 3,000 suggestions and we cull those down to 600,' explains Woodward. The Milk Mustache campaign then does three stops every day for six months.

For most regional and national mobile campaigns, agencies and clients recommend hiring an outside company to run the day-to-day operation of the tour, leaving the agency to concentrate on media mining.

Bring in the experts

The logistics of organizing multiple daily stops, as well as dealing with any issues or problems that could pop up during a tour, require an experienced touch. Synergy Sports president Peter Hurley says the paperwork alone is tremendous. 'You may need to secure up to 15 different types of permits for one event and you may only be there for an hour-and-a-half.' Among the permits that could be needed are: health, temporary occupancy, sound and special events.

'Your driver may have to go to a food preparation course to be certified,' Hurley says. 'That's a two-hour course to do a 90-minute event.'

PR agencies can bolster the outsourced personnel by bringing in their own staffers at key events and in key markets.

It also helps to tailor your tour stops to match your audience. Hershey Foods has had the Kissmobile on the road for six to eight months every year for the past four years and recently added a second vehicle to help meet demand. 'For Hershey's we do a fair amount of retail events in the late afternoon and early evenings aimed at the 25- to 35-year-old female demographic,' says Corder.

Hershey PR spokeswoman Judy Hogarth says the Kissmobile has 'provided a new way to add some excitement to a brand that's been around for 90 years. It's a great visual with kids interacting with the Kissmobile or the Hershey Kiss character.'

To move it beyond a pure promotional pitch, the Kissmobile is linked to the Children's Miracle Network charity. The vehicle makes stops at hospitals where the Kiss character interacts with, and gives gifts to, sick children. 'It becomes a feel good, story,' Hogarth adds.

The Eckrich brand does something similar with its Eckrich Fun House.

Parent company ConAgra has a child hunger program called Feed Children Better, and at many locations the Fun House will sell Eckrich sausage 'Grillers' or solicit donations, giving the money to local food banks.

The Fun House also makes appearances at after-school 'Kids Cafes.'

'It gives us some flexibility,' explains Julie DeYoung, communications director of ConAgra's consumer products company ASE. 'We can get media attention through traditional ways of going on morning TV shows using the novelty of the Fun House. But in a bigger market that may be more saturated with this type of marketing, we can focus on the charitable tie-in.'

Eckrich uses Marketing Werks to run the day-to-day operations of the Fun House, and holds weekly teleconferences with them to discuss Fun House activities and evaluate the messages to the media. 'There are a lot more nuances that need to be factored in,' says De Young. 'We typically deal with daily media instead of publications with longer lead times and we solicit 40 to 50 outlets at a time. That means we can get feedback quickly and if we're not getting any interest we can look for another angle we can come back with.'

Exciting media interest

As a regional brand, Eckrich uses its Fun House solely in the Midwest.

But national brands often also limit the scope of their mobile marketing tours to smaller geographic regions, which can help keep costs down and enable a company to road test its messages.

Disney Interactive worked with the LA-based PR firm Bender-Helper Impact on the Disney Big Rig, an 18-wheel truck turned state-of-the-art showroom for its Active Learning children's software line. The Big Rig tour is taking place over eight weekends this fall at select Wal-Mart stores beginning in San Diego and ending in northern California.

While Disney Interactive did have an advantage over most companies, in that it happened to have a big rig from Disney Consumer Products on hand, the tour still requires a lot of work simply because of the challenge of generating media interest for a product promotion. Bender-Helper Impact senior VP Shawna Lynch says the key, as for most successful event marketing, is getting to media outlets early.

'We start working six to eight weeks in advance making sure we get in all the newspapers' listings section for kids and families.' She also suggests pitching weekend producers at local TV stations, as they tend to be more receptive because Saturday and Sunday are typically slower news days.

Most retailers are appreciative of mobile tours because they can generate excitement not normally seen at their stores. But Disney Interactive PR director Lisa Oren stresses the importance of working hand in hand with store managers to ensure the tour's success. 'It's a two-way street,' she said. 'We do a lot of work in setting up the Big Rig, but Wal-Mart also does a lot of work in helping us with locations. Don't forget the Big Rig is on their premises and drawing their customer base outside their stores.'

Some products are naturals for mobile marketing. The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) usually has several promotional recreational vehicles (RVs) on the road during the summer. Jon Tancredi, group director at Philadelphia based Barnton, Gilanelli & Associates, said while these RVs are branded with signage, the key to the tour's success is putting the right drivers behind the wheel.

Tancredi often recruits professionals, including journalists, and sends them out on the road to promote the RV lifestyle. On any given summer day there may be two or three RVs in various parts of the country.

Although the US is a big country, Tancredi says sometimes you can't help revisiting the same location in successive years. Then the challenge becomes making sure your message has changed since the last visit. 'We never go back to the same place with the same tour,' he says, citing a recent nostalgia tour involving a 1916 RV as a good example of how to get media interested in RV from a new angle.

Remember brand values

Any company embarking on a mobile marketing tour has to be familiar and comfortable with its brand image. 'Some want to really push the envelope and others are fairly mainstream,' says Marketing Werks' Corder. 'UGO (United Gamers Online) has a mobile marketing tour that involved a SWAT truck. Hershey's on the other hand is fairly conservative and that's reflected in the choice of the Hershey Kissmobile.'

Simply because of the costs involved, most mobile marketing campaigns should be thought of as long-term projects. The Hershey Kissmobile has been on the road for four years, as has the Milk Mustache Mobile. The Oscar Meyer Wienermobile has been on the road in one form or another since 1936.

'The only way to go into these things is to think that the mobile has to be tweakable as your message changes,' notes BSMG's Heimann. BSMG worked with Schick this year to alter the award-winning Schick Shave Shack for the introduction of the company's new three-blade Extreme 3 razor. Heimann said the sing and shave in the shower vehicle was made more 'extreme' in its look and more rock songs were added to the singing choices to appeal to a younger demographic.

Despite all the tweaking and planning, there is also the issue of whether your product or company is suitable for a mobile marketing campaign. Corder says, 'We feel we can create a compelling tour for just about any brand.

We've done plenty of successful campaigns where the product hasn't had an 'oh wow' factor going in.' But Heimann counters, 'if your story is complex, it might not lend itself well to a mobile campaign.'

Regardless of the product, it's important to realize that a mobile marketing vehicle is not just something to look cool in the driveway of your corporate headquarters. It's a marketing tool like any other and has to be held to the same standards. Hershey PR official Mike Kinney says, 'The Kissmobile is scrutinized just as heavily as any other promotion and evaluated on media impressions and CPMs. Thus far we've been very pleased with the cost per contact.'

'There's a different parameter when doing mobile marketing because a lot of your costs are hard costs that go into creating a mobile or the events that surround it,' adds BSMG's Woodward. 'But if it's done right, the mobile can end up being the platform that brings your entire marketing effort together.'

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in