Staged germ warfare
Novel theatrical approach to brand marketing pays handsome dividends
WE’RE used to some wacky ideas at arts and music festivals – but a show starring germs? And a show which, as well as entertaining an audience, is also strong marketing?
That’s the trick that consumer product giant Unilever SA and its advertising and promotional agencies managed to pull off in two recent gigs at the Innibos Festival in Nelspruit and at the Gateway Theatre of Shopping in Durban.
Audiences were exposed to the Domestos 24hr Bleach brand as singers, trapeze artists and dancers took to the stage in The Flying Germ Show, a major theatrical production extolling the benefits of using the household cleaning product.
Susan Stringer, Unilever’s marketing director for household care, says the concept came out of the brand communication idea of a “Showdown in the Germ World”, which has been applied to Domestos communication in recent times.
“The concept for the TV adverts was modelled on movies like Austin Powers, James Bond and largerthan-life superhero animated films in which the villains are beaten at their own game.”
There’s a villain who’s convinced he’s got the measure of the hero – this time – with some new dastardly plan, there’s a beautiful woman, there’s a secret weapon, there’s a showdown … but in the end, good triumphs over evil, says Stringer.
“People don’t like to hear about germs and the awful things that lurk in our toilet bowls – but they need to be told from a hygiene point of view. By aligning with movie stereotypes, we have been able to convey the message in a more engaging, and less daunting way.”
She adds: “We needed to explain to consumers that germs multiply at an alarming rate in the toilet, and can fly more than 1.5m when it is flushed if they are not eliminated every 24 hours. So, to the superhero concept we added the idea of flying, à la Cirque du Soleil and Madame Zingara, and acrobatics, which led us to theatre and The Flying Germ Show.”
The half-hour show was directed by Gina Shmukler and featured singer and Isidingo star Emmanuel Castis as Dom, and Idols finalist Bianca Le Grange as Princess Sodium, with virtual performances by actor Craig Urbani as Duke Hypochlorite and comedian Alan Committie as Germaniac.
Unilever’s brand activation partner, Ogilvy Action, brought in Collyer-Lessick and associates to produce the spectacular. Ogilvy Action’s creative group head, Cameron Krieger, worked with the award-winning script-writer Jaci de Villiers to develop the script. Unilever’s consumer technical insight and global brand teams, based in Milan, provided information which had been “translated” from scientific documents into consumer-friendly lingo for incorporation into the story.
Alan Bell, MD of Ogilvy Action Durban, says: “There is a huge move towards brand activation engaging people in an experiential way.
“This is not a TV ad simply washing over you. Neither is it a store experience where people are not in the head space to stop and listen to you talk about your product while they shop.
“We have a better chance of landing the message if we engage with our market, and this theatrical experience does just that. This campaign really complements the above the line campaign.”
Stringer says audience response has been “amazing”. And there has been a brand and bottom-line benefit, too, she believes. Brand awareness, as charted monthly by Nielsen, has been at record highs since the campaign’s launch.
“The brand has increased its value share from 28 percent in 2008, to 31 percent for the year to July 09. Of course, it is not possible to identify the specific impact of the individual activities in the total campaign, but each had a particular role to play.”
Although brand placement, sponsorships and branded entertainment are not new ways to communicate with consumers, The Flying Germ Show was created specifically to deliver the brand message.
“Because people who hear of or see the show have such an enjoyable and memorable experience, and are fully engaged in the brand message, there is a much better chance that they will remember it, and be persuaded to make the brand their solution,” says Stringer.
Presenting a theatrical experience based on a specific brand message at a cultural festival is probably a first in South Africa.
“We considered carefully where would be the best places to stage the show, and Innibos Kunstefees in Nelspruit was an ideal option, as it provides concentrated access to our core target market (100 000 people in five days). The ‘talkability’ and newsworthiness generated by the unexpected context also helped amplify our message even further.”
To make the most of the show, says Stringer, a commitment was made to “invest in amplification of the activation”.
“You must reach your target market, as you would aim to do with conventional media channels. Call-toaction messages should be strongly branded and also deliver the brand message, and the activation in itself should be branded at the core.”
ANTI-GERM SUPERHEROES: Bianca Le Grange as Princess Sodium and Emmanuel Castis as Dom in