CAMPAIGNS: Early efforts turn Canadians on to new Off! product

PR Team: Harbinger Communications (Toronto) and SC John- son Canada (Brantford, ON)Campaign: Off! insect repellentsTime Frame: March-August 2003Budget: $250,000-$300,000 Canadian

PR Team: Harbinger Communications (Toronto) and SC John- son Canada (Brantford, ON) Campaign: Off! insect repellents Time Frame: March-August 2003 Budget: $250,000-$300,000 Canadian

The 2002 arrival of West Nile Virus in Canada touched off a torrent of media interest and tipped off insect-repellent manufacturers that 2003 would be a strong sales season. Off!, an SC Johnson brand, and its agency Harbinger Communications, got out ahead of the pack with publicity efforts for the existing line and a new product. But they weren't alone in anticipating consumer interest. Many competitors released new products designed to ward off mosquitoes, the pests that carry the virus. So Off!'s challenge was clear, according to Jordan Berman, VP at Harbinger Communications: "How do we position the 40-year-old brand against the unprecedented number of new options that came out in 2003?" Strategy Headed into the campaign, SC Johnson was already the market leader and, because of the media attention to the issue, customers were primed to spend money on the category. So instead of market-building, the focus was on walking the fine line between educating and scaring the public. In launching Off! Botanicals, the non-DEET product, the PR team focused on Health Canada's approval of the item, a major distinguishing point from competitors. "That lends a lot of credibility, increases trust in consumers' minds, and helps the brand stand out from the influx of new products," Berman says. The credibility angle was amplified by associating Off! with the expert authority of entomologists and family physicians, who could address health issues. A key goal for the campaign was getting out early. "We took a leadership role and went out in early spring, positioning SC Johnson and these spokespeople as go-to experts on West Nile Virus and personal protection," Berman says. Tactics There were four major media- relations phases, in addition to launching an online tool where consumers could research mosquito populations in their areas. Moreover, there was an overarching rapid-response plan designed to let the PR team clarify inaccuracies or insert the brand in a developing news cycle. The plan's execution began with the introduction of entomologists as spokesmen in three regions - British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta - followed by Off! Botanicals' introduction. The third phase was a national survey designed to gauge Canadians' feelings about West Nile Virus. The results were regionalized and distributed to the press. The final piece was a distribution of camera-ready stories to community papers, an effort to reach consumers outside the major media markets. "With every communication, we tried to secure branded mentions," Berman says. Results The campaign experienced an audience reach of 24.9 million. As far as branded coverage goes, it secured 92 radio interviews, TV interviews, and newspaper and magazine coverage. More importantly, adds Neil Chin, VP of marketing for SC Johnson Canada, "We grew [market] share this season, and we grew a significant amount." Future Chin points to a few places where the campaign could have been shored up, perhaps suggesting future alterations. "As an organization, you never know the type of awareness that's going to come from the government and retailers," he says. "We started early enough, but we could have done a better job making sure our retail partners were aware." Harbinger continues to work with SC Johnson on home-storage products and insect control.

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