For the past 25 years, 3M Post-it notes have served as a reminder for everything from office tasks to household chores.
But last year, the company wanted women to use the product for something else: to re-mind themselves to get checked for breast cancer.
The company had recently formed a partnership with City of Hope, a cancer research and treatment center in the LA area. It created special Post-its imprinted with a pink ribbon to commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness Month and planned to make a sizeable donation to City of Hope from the proceeds.
But to boost sales, 3M needed to first raise awareness of the product and the cause-related campaign.
In addition to fundraising, 3M and longtime agency Hunter PR wanted to showcase Post-it's new super-sticky technology. The team also wanted to do something that would be highly visible and raise awareness of the brand ahead of its 25th anniversary this year.
The idea was conceived to build what would be the world's largest breast cancer ribbon, constructed from 75,000 pink Post-its. The 70-foot-tall ribbon in the middle of New York's bustling Times Square would demonstrate the adhesiveness of the notes and serve as a visual reminder for breast cancer awareness.
"We formed a strong team with our partners, City of Hope. We both wanted a win-win," says Helen Wagner, 3M manager of PR. "We had the ribbon, but everything we did was for City of Hope."
Before building the ribbon, the PR team conducted a survey to highlight the need for breast exam reminders.
An independent research firm hired by Hunter PR found that 37% of women over 40 forget to schedule annual mammograms, and 50% of women of all ages forget to perform monthly self-exams. But more than 50% of respondents said they would benefit from a reminder system.
3M then launched www.post-it.com/research, a website where women were able to download a "sticky note" for their desktops to remind them of breast health.
Jason Winocour, Hunter PR SVP, notes that a viral e-mail component also supported the campaign. Consumers could "stick up" for breast cancer research by calling a toll-free number or logging onto a specially created website.
The PR team also reached out to publicists to get celebrities to "stick up" for breast cancer and arranged for TV personality Daisy Fuentes to post the final pink note via cherry picker in Times Square.
Fuentes was a natural choice to be a spokeswoman because of her connection to the disease - her mother had breast cancer - and because she resonated with the Hispanic media, Wagner notes.
But the ribbon was still the centerpiece. "We had to cut through all the Breast Cancer Awareness Month clutter," recalls Wagner. "We knew that we had to do something that was high-impact. It was also important [that we had] a product that's visual and ties into breast self-exams."
The super-sticky notes weathered the October winds and rain for the entire month, drawing more than 3 million people to the Post-it website and creating brand visibility that the company will leverage to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
3M also reported that by mid-October, it had already exceeded sales expectations by 80%, allowing the company to increase its City of Hope donation to $300,000.
"It was such a dramatic representation of the cause of breast cancer," Winocour says of the ribbon. "It put Post-it notes top of mind. We're finding that the media have a renewed and stronger interest in Post-its."
Hunter PR, 3M, and City of Hope have already started to discuss what they plan to do this October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
PR team: Hunter PR (New York) and 3M (St. Paul, MN)
Campaign: Sticking Up for Breast Cancer Research
Time frame: October 2004