CAMPAIGN: Sitcom spots help Inada chairs enjoy standout US debut

PR Team: Family Inada (Japan) and Slay PR (Richmond, VA and New York) Campaign: Inada Chair Holiday Media Relations Campaign Time Frame: October 2002 - December 2002 Budget: $100,000

PR Team: Family Inada (Japan) and Slay PR (Richmond, VA and New York) Campaign: Inada Chair Holiday Media Relations Campaign Time Frame: October 2002 - December 2002 Budget: $100,000

The Inada shiatsu massage chair is the top-selling chair of its kind in Japan, home of its producer, Family Inada. In 2001, Time selected it as one of the "Inventions of the Year" because its use of an infrared scanner allows the chair to identify pressure points and customize the massage to the body of its inhabitant. But when Family Inada decided to launch the chair in the US, the company had little budget to spend on advertising. Inada hired Slay PR to increase awareness and understanding of the chair and its capabilities in the American market. In November 2001, the Slay team, headed by senior counselor Michiko Morales, had organized an event for the New York media that was well received. So in October 2002, Family Inada tapped Slay again for media relations, this time with sales figures in mind. Their goal: to sell 100 chairs (at a pricey $3,500 each) in the month of December. Strategy Because most magazine editors start assembling holiday gift guides in the summer months, Morales and her team decided to focus on short-lead media - weeklies, TV, and newspapers. Their target audience was consumers between the ages of 25 and 55 with an annual income of more than $75,000. Tactics The Slay team put together a VNR campaign, and attacked the topic from several angles. "Our initial angle," says Morales, "was that chiropractors use the chair in their offices. We interviewed a chiropractor who had bought three, and pitched it as a medical item." The team also played off of the chair's novelty, doing a segment in a shopping mall, billing the item as "Just in from Japan." In addition, the team looked for product placements in the target audience's favorite sitcoms, including NBC's hit show Will & Grace. "We pitched it in a letter with a press kit, and said, 'Wouldn't it be funny if Jack sat in a massage chair?'" Instead, the chair was placed in the apartment of Grace's (Debra Messing's) boyfriend. "He's a doctor, so it made sense that he could have one in his apartment," Morales explains. Instead of pitching a prop master on the set of another NBC sitcom, Just Shoot Me, the Slay team pitched a writer, claiming that Jack Gallo (George Segal), a magazine publisher, should have one in his office. "They actually wrote it into the script," Morales says, "and David Spade sat in it." Results Family Inada surpassed its sales goal, and sold more than 200 chairs in December. Total revenues of $731,500 brought return on investment seven times the initial amount. And while the number of chairs sold because of product placement can't be measured, its presence on the set of Will & Grace resulted in the sale of eight chairs, purchased by actors, crew members, and producers. In addition, the campaign generated more than 48 million media impressions, with hits including a holiday gift guide on CNN and lengthy product reviews in BusinessWeek and Business 2.0 online. The Inada chair VNR was picked up 185 times by 80 television stations, including National Tech TV, Univision, and Atlanta's CBS affiliate. Future Slay and Inada, which are now on a year-long contract, will continue their partnership in promoting the Inada chair. According to Morales, the team intends to use the coverage's current momentum to get even more hits. For example, Morales says she can pitch the chair to InStyle now that Debra Messing has bought one. "Time really brought us to a new level," she says. "A lot of people have been calling." Slay will also assist Family Inada in its efforts to open stores and mall kiosks throughout the US.

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