BEST OF SHOW - SPECIALTY
STRAIGHT FROM THE WORM'S MOUTH
by John Rabuse
What if parasites could communicate with us? That is the premise behind the National Agri-Marketing Association's (NAMA) Best of Show - Specialty winner from Pfizer Animal Health, New York, N.Y., and Brown + Associates, Chanhassen, Minn.
How could Pfizer move people out of established, comfortable behaviors and into newer, more expensive treatments? The answer: create a piece of marketing that's interruptive, engaging and relevant.
In this case, it led to an approach that involved giving internal parasites the human ability to communicate with horse owners using handwritten notes, a telegram and a classified newspaper advertisement. The humor is intended to get the audience's attention and then make a statement about the product's efficacy. The campaign's wit also disarms what is a very emotionally charged topic. The emotional bond that most horse owners feel for their horse easily matches that of any dog or cat owner. Only after connecting with them in this way could the logic behind selecting Strongid C 2X come into play.
Selling an innovative pharmaceutical product to the horse industry is difficult because the industry is skittish about giving any new medication to horses. Throw in the facts that the product is to be fed daily and that consumers worry about its long-term safety, and there lies a challenge. Sue Brown, president and owner of Brown + Associates, was charged with finding the emotional touch points for the campaign that reassure about both safety and performance. Brown brought a lifetime of personal horse experience - including her own national championship titles in reining and western pleasure - and more than 15 years of equine marketing experience to the challenge.
Another intricacy was selecting the appropriate publications and deciding how to differentiate the ads in an extremely crowded marketplace. Many horse owners have become desensitized to advertisements because of the sheer volume and similarity. Yet this truth creates a lot of opportunity to generate advertising that surprises people. The "Notes From The Worms" campaign broke through all of the clutter with a fresh approach.
Who was the audience? In the horse industry there are trainers, high-level competitors, breeders, backyard horse owners and veterinarians. How do you tell these people, who all have different relationships with their horses, that they can and should be doing more to care for these animals without insulting them? You use an outlandish device that avoids trampling on any sensitivities. For example, a telegram written by a worm asking his parents for money because he lost his lodging inside a horse is nothing if not outlandish.
Great strategy and marvelous creative is nothing if it never gets off the shelf to see daylight. "I look at other campaigns as a guide of what not to do. That's not a criticism, but rather a requirement for differentiation. If an ad doesn't talk and connect with a consumer, then it is simply eye candy," says Dan Kramer, senior market manager, Equine Products Division for Pfizer Animal Health. "Sue and I are always striving to leverage creativity into valuable positioning opportunities.
"When I first saw the concept, I admit that I was not convinced," Kramer confesses. "It was different from anything we had done before, but it was relatively simple. Sue stuck to her guns and persuaded me to test this concept among our other finalists. The feedback was overwhelming, and the campaign has proven to be very successful. I am regularly stopped by consumers who say how much they love the message!"
From hand-drawn squiggles on a page to a work of art is quite a leap. It takes a team with real vision, and a little insanity, to make magic. Dawn Yemma and John Rabuse, freelance associates for Brown + Associates, took the worm concept and brought it to life. Crafting the images and putting the copy together can be quite a journey of exploration, but when it all comes together, as it did here, it is worth the effort.
"As an art director, my main challenge was, how do I create visual interest in a series of images of paper objects - whether it's a note, a telegram or a newspaper clipping? My solution was to place them in a relevant, interesting environment and create special effects that enhance the idea and create scale, like a giant pushpin holding up the tiny note from a worm. That's what gave the idea life and character," Yemma says.
Rabuse's job was a little different. "At first, I felt a little weird about putting words in a worm's mouth. But then I thought, I don't even know where that is," he quips.
One of the strategic strengths of an approach like this is that it tends to outsmart rather than outspend the competition. The series of four ads has generated a lot of free buzz because they're different than anything else out there. They jump out at readers and create a lasting impression. This is important because, unlike some of its competitors, Pfizer does not have the depth of media dollars to spend. This kind of "break the clutter" messaging is worth a lot to any product, but is especially valuable when the product campaign must operate on a tighter budget.
The campaign, launched in April 2004, can be seen running today in horse enthusiast publications such as Equus and Horse Illustrated, as well as breed and discipline publications like American Quarter Horse Journal and NRHA Reiner.
"Once you've had talking worms in your ads, where do you go next? Just wait and see," Kramer challenges. "I have no doubt that it will be memorable and effective!"
What's next for Strongid C 2X? It's too early to tell. Suffice it to say, no parasite is safe. AM
John Rabuse is a freelance associate for Brown + Associates, a virtual agency specializing in the strategic planning and execution of brand development, advertising, sales promotion and direct marketing programs.