If you're cruising down the freeway this summer and a quick glance into your rearview mirror reveals a giant Hershey Kiss bearing down on you, fear not.
You haven't slipped into the Twilight Zone, but are instead witnessing a trend that is "driving" advertising in the consumer packaged goods industry.
Mobile marketing, a phenomenon that has been around since the days of the 1936 version of Oscar Mayer's Wienermobile, has grown to become a premier method of advertising for many major manufacturers.
Whether utilized to reinforce the brand equity of such stalwart products as the Hershey's Kiss or the Oscar Mayer hot dog, or to introduce consumers to new products produced by a younger company, these "moving billboards" are the most intimate of promotional devices to date, and the most ensured method of reaching a given target audience.
"Mobile marketing excites the marketplace, both at the trade and consumer level," said Bob Lewis, president of Atlanta-based Mobile Media Enterprises, which is developing a multibrand campaign featuring organic brands. "It provides a consistent way to deliver a controlled message with sample distribution."
In the past, Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minn., has been a corporate sponsor for Cooking Light magazine's "On the Move," a nationwide tractor-trailer tour. Keebler, Smucker's, V8 100% Vegetable Juice and V8 Splash, Vitasoy/Nasoya, French's, Ziploc/Saran, Splenda, Smart Ones, Dole, The Catfish Institute, Nestle Toll House Morsels, Del Monte, Colavita, Balance Bars/Oasis are among the sponsors of this year's 10th anniversary tour, which kicked off last month in Tennessee.
The specially designed 18-wheeler features customized kiosks, video monitors, recipe cards, coupons, samples and brochures on healthy eating and living.
This year, however, Hormel decided to be more brand- and target-specific.
The result is what's being called the World Food Tour. From May 23 through July 19, Hormel will take a trailer festooned with its creative, specific brand message into New York and Boston. In both cities, it will offer samples, brochures, coupons and recipes for its six ethnic brands: Chi Chi's, Mexican salsas; House of Tsang, Asian sauces and marinades; Patak's, Indian cooking sauces and chutneys; Carapelli, Mediterranean olive oils; Peloponnese, Greek olives and peppers; and Marrakesh Express, Moroccan cous cous, pastas and sauces.
"Trial is by far the main goal of this program," said Drew Schwartzhoff, associate product manager, Hormel. "We've done in-store sampling before and it's been very successful. This is a way to expand on that."
Stops include the Boston Harbor Fest and New York's International Culture Festival. At select supermarkets, Hormel plans to give away gifts such as cookbooks and CDs to shoppers who purchase three or more of the participating products.
Supermarket retailers can expect to see greater sales across all categories, Schwartzhoff said, due to tie-ins during the samplings, like using frozen vegetables with the Asian cooking oils and tortilla chips with the Mexican salsas, for example.
In another ethnic campaign, 25 "Tangmobiles" are hitting the road in Los Angeles, New York, San Antonio, Houston and Chicago. The program is the result of Kraft Foods' decision to re-brand its Tang-powdered drink to the Hispanic market.
Kraft recruited Hispanic moms between the ages of 25 and 49 who travel more than 35 miles per day and reside in large Hispanic areas. It wrapped their cars with a new Tang advertising. The four-month promotional tour was slated to kick off April 1.
"The advertising is strategically placed right in front of the audience," said Drew Livingston, president and cofounder of FreeCar Media, Los Angeles, the marketing agency handling the Tang program. "It's a great way to launch a product, to rebrand a product, to create excitement."
Drivers hand out samples and coupons, and, in some cases, just drop off their cars at different locations. Each driver participates in at least two events per month and receives $100 per event. Most of the events will be family-oriented outings, like parades, as Kraft is aiming to target children ages 7 to 14.
Kraft officials couldn't be reached for comment.
In general, more marketers want to spend money on mobile marketing, said Kim Kiner, general manager of event marketing and operations for The Sunflower Group, the Overland Park, Kan.-based agency that is working with Hormel's World Tour.
For Acirca, maker of the Walnut Acres brand of organic products, mobile marketing is used to provoke nonorganic-buying consumers to try the company's products, while also acting as a means to provide consumers with information about the segment as a whole, according to Michael Neuwirth, director of corporate communications for the New Rochelle, N.Y.-based company.
Last October, Acirca kicked off a sampling program in New York that is currently being mimicked in the San Francisco market. While the company owns and operates two traveling "organic gardens" -- 20-foot trucks that feature actual organic plants -- climate, as well as street traffic and parking availability, sometimes pose challenges. Because of this, the West Coast program simply features company representatives on the street handing out samples.
"Mobile marketing is well beyond vans or, in this case, a converted truck. It is marketing that can go to where the consumer is, and the consumer is mobile," Neuwirth said.
Spreading an educational message is important to a company like Acirca because only 50% to 60% of Americans have tried organic foods in past 12 months, Neuwirth said. By October 2002 -- a dynamic time for the organic food industry because it's when new certified labeling regulations are scheduled to go into effect -- the company will have distributed 1 million samples, along with communications materials.
Other marketers of organic and natural food are exploring the medium as well. Mobile Media Enterprises is creating the "Organic Road Show," a 10- to 15-manufacturer tour that's slated to hit the road in the third quarter. Two vehicles will travel to schools, corporate campuses and retail events to spread the word about the benefits of organic and "naturally good-for-you" products.
While manufacturers in other industries are also using the medium, Lewis said about 66% of his business has been in the consumer packaged goods arena.
Meanwhile, the Hershey Corp. became involved in event marketing merely to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Hershey Kiss in 1997. Hershey currently has three Kissmobiles on the road -- and plans a fourth.
Jeff Corder, director of marketing for MarketingWerks, Chicago, the promotions company that works on the initiative, said the Kissmobile's main mission is to "spread goodwill." "We support that effort by raising money for local children's hospitals," said Corder, who noted that the Kissmobile is partnered with the Children's Miracle Network.
Hershey officials declined to comment.
With the slogan "Every Kid Deserves Hugs and Kisses," the vehicles -- armed with nearly a ton of chocolate -- make several retail stops per week in various markets, as well as visits to children's hospitals and attendance at special events, like festivals, parades and races.
Last year, the Kissmobiles visited about 100 markets, 150 events, 450 retail stores, 20 parades, 50 schools and 120 hospitals. In total, about 300 million samples were handed out. This year, the Kissmobile launched its annual, nearly yearlong campaign on Valentine's Day with coinciding stops at the set of NBC's The Other Half talk show in Los Angeles and in Times Square in New York.
An effort that's similar to the Hershey Kissmobile, but has significantly more mileage, is Kraft's Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, which has been a fixture at events since its creation in 1936.
Today, the company's fleet of eight vehicles -- each 27 feet long and weighing in at 10,000 pounds (equal to 100,000 hot dogs) -- participate in several annual, corporate-sponsored events, like golf and tennis tournaments and marathons. In June, it will attend the NCAA College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
In addition, the Wienermobile is often inundated with requests to make appearances at local grassroots activities, like a small town's raspberry festival, said Russ Whitacre, mobile marketing manager for Madison, Wis.-based Oscar Mayer, a division of Kraft Foods North America. Although sampling doesn't take place at such events, consumers can pose for pictures and receive "Wienerwhistles."
Also in June, the Wienermobile is headed to Washington for a Barbecue Battle on Pennsylvania Avenue, an event sponsored by the Safeway supermarket.
"When people see it, they have a high propensity to recall it. It becomes part of the whole fun family experience. It's a picnic all year long," said Whitacre.
While getting these vehicles up and running can be costly, particularly those with very customized components, MarketingWerks' Corder said the media exposure garnered through these events more than pays for the programs. And, he added, it also helps to fulfill the often unrevealed dream of many in the industry.