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I spent my time this month interviewing the principals involved in the Rave wheat herbicide introduction during the early months of 1999 and continuing with similar themes in 2000. I couldn’t help but think about Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

For those of us who remember the late 1950s, Holly had a hit record (yes, I mean hit "record") called Rave On. One line went something like this: "Rave on, it’s a crazy feeling and I know it’s got me reeling. …"

Now, I know the competition for Rave herbicide, sold by Syngenta (formerly Novartis before the recent merger with Zeneca), wasn’t exactly reeling because of this promotion. After all, the main competitor, DuPont, has had Finesse and Glean herbicides in the wheat market for many years. It’s had a very loyal customer and retailer base for a long time.

But when you create such promotions as speeding across Kansas wheat country in a truck and trailer, developing a Web site program promoting the product (, using a two-way radio as a giveaway (see connection later) and connecting with Kansas State University Wildcats sports programs, you’ve created the opportunity to do a little "reeling."

The marketing communications plan executed for the product introduction translated into doubling projected product sales in the first year. And that was accomplished in just a few short months in the first year. The product was labeled in December 1998, and its use season ended just a couple months later.

Secondly, the manufacturer and its agency - Colle & McVoy Inc., Minneapolis - won a prestigious EFFIE Award from the New York American Marketing Association. The award honors creative achievement in meeting and exceeding marketing communications objectives.

Syngenta’s Kim Dawson conceived the marketing communications plan and assembled a great supporting cast at the company. She since has moved upward and onward in the new communications structure at Syngenta. One might then say David Pinon, communications manager, and others raised the product. Jill Wenzel, account manager at Colle & McVoy, was the lead agency person.

"Kim put the market research behind the product before I took over," Pinon says. "She had the introduction on the right track to begin with. I was able to help raise it up a notch or two by looking at some value-added opportunities, like the Web site testimonials and the crop protection tour with the radio station (the truck and trailer venture)."

The whole creative approach was based on two-way control with Rave - as a product with both knockdown (the dicamba in the product) and a residual (Amber herbicide). This should explain the two-way radio giveaway. This product positioning gave it a distinct difference over its biggest competitors, Finesse and Glean.

"We had to position this in the eyes of the user as a new product," Wenzel says. "Finesse and Glean are in the same category as Xerox® and Kleenex® for wheat growers in Kansas. It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase ‘I want my field gleaned.’"

Knowing the company needed an introduction to "wow" potential users and turn them away from tried-and-true products, promotional ideas chosen were clever and noticeable. "We learned dealers were so loyal to DuPont that we had to gain awareness by doing programs which drove customers to ask dealers about the product," Wenzel notes.

While working on the advertising media buy for Rave in Kansas, Judy Greene of Colle & McVoy learned about an idea from all-day farm talk radio station KFRM in Clay Center, Kan. Let’s have Farm Director Jerry McClain pick it up from here.

"You know how an offhand comment sometimes turns into something big," McClain says. "Well, one day I was talking to one of our sales staff, and I mentioned the idea of doing a tour with a semi-truck and trailer during wheat harvest. It was just a passing comment. She looked at me kinda funny and walked down the hall. The next day she comes back to me and says, ‘Well, I’ve got the truck and trailer, what’s next?’ I said, ‘Holy Cow,’ and away we went."

So, Syngenta hooked up with KFRM and for the past two years has sponsored the tour across Kansas promoting Rave and other company products during wheat harvest. The company directed the stops with dealers at elevators, in some cases setting up satisfied growers and dealers to be interviewed by McClain. Syngenta had signage on the trailer. "It was a moving billboard," McClain says. "We went 2,500 miles in four weeks last summer."

Pinon says the idea was new and wasn’t an easy sell with the company’s Kansas sales reps. "My first meeting with the Kansas sales reps was a tough sell," he says. "It was my first trip to meet with the reps, and KFRM was relatively new then (the station is only 4 years old). They gave me a strange look because they’d never done anything quite like that before."

Once he explained the plan, and the reps got involved setting up dealers and growers to meet the tour truck and trailer, success was ensured. "Jill did a great job staying on top of the promotion," Pinon says. "We listened to feedback from the reps."

The end result: A third tour already is booked for this summer. "This is one of the better things we do," McClain says. "From a profitability standpoint, we do OK. I know Novartis (now Syngenta) is happy, and our producers love it."

We all know agriculture and sports go hand in hand in rural communities throughout the country. In this case, another value-added opportunity was to connect with the Land-grant College - Kansas State University. The Wildcats have a Top 20 collegiate football program and a competitive basketball program. More importantly, the sports programs are recognized statewide, and a major sponsorship between an ag business and the university was somewhat unusual, even for a rural state like Kansas.

And it was no coincidence that the color scheme used for Rave was the same as the Wildcats’ color - purple. "We wanted to tie in closely with the team," Wenzel says.

Steve Mammola, Kansas State University director of marketing and corporate relations, says the company approached him about a sponsorship opportunity. "Most of our sponsorships are typical consumer companies like fast food, airlines and telecommunications. It’s a little unusual for us to go with an ag business. But there’s plenty of farming, especially in western Kansas. This was a lot of fun for us."

The sponsorship also involved use of the K-State mascot, Willie the Wildcat, which was used at a trade show in November in Kansas. "We make our mascot and/or cheerleading crew available, depending on the sponsorship," Mammola says. "We’re interested in sponsorships where it makes sense for us and the client. This was just that type of program."

Wenzel says using the mascot at the trade show was a big plus. "People were lined up and down the aisles getting Willie’s autograph on Rave caps. The K-State people were extremely cooperative."

Basketball and football program schedules were made available in many parts of the overall introduction of Rave. Included on the schedules were logos for Rave and Kansas State. "We try to utilize our logo. It helps us get the word out in rural areas where ag is a big part of life. Doing that with an ag company as well known as Syngenta was good for both of us."

Both Wenzel and Pinon say the job is not done with Rave in Kansas and elsewhere in the Wheat Belt. "We did some focus groups this past summer and found incredible unaided awareness," Wenzel says. That’s the good news. The bad news? "We still know there’s an incredible amount of loyalty to DuPont. Awareness is great, but we’ve got to continue doing the job to get more dealers to sell it."

Pinon adds that trying to get a product introduced when a well-established product is already out there requires aggressive and unconventional approaches. "We don’t want to give away any secrets, but we’re going to use humor and some bold measures to communicate to our audience this year. We think we can get away with it because we have to differentiate ourselves from the standard products."

Integration of the many elements of marketing communications made this introduction a success, Wenzel adds. "The whole process just screamed Rave," she says. "We made it very clear what the product was, our two-way positioning and the brand’s personality." You never know what’s going to happen, but the competition had better be alert and careful down the road. They may be "reeling" before you know it! AM

Den Gardner owns Gardner & Gardner Communications, New Prague, Minn.

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