A fancy portable potty may not sound like a manufacturer's sampling tool of choice, but it exemplifies one of the new approaches marketers are taking to get their brands noticed -- and remembered.
Such efforts come at a time when the majority of manufacturers (71%) use sampling as part of their consumer promotion activities, according to a survey by SN and Experian, Costa Mesa, Calif., a global information solution company.
Consumers are responding. Seventy-two percent of consumers polled indicated that they purchased at least some of the brands for which they received samples, and 69% said that samples and demonstrations influence their product purchase decisions more than an advertisement for the product on TV or radio, according to research from SN; Promotional Marketing Association, New York; and NFO WorldGroup, Greenwich, Conn.
However, the sampling environment has become cluttered, forcing marketers to develop more offbeat methods to get consumers to experience their brands.
The Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati, for instance, has taken mobile marketing to a new level with the "Charmin Ultra Potty Palooza," a tour consisting of two vehicles: a 53-foot truck that converts into 27 bathrooms, and a 32-foot truck that features 12. The trucks travel to more than 60 outdoor festivals and fairs.
"These trucks crisscross the nation to delight consumers with a comfortably clean bathroom experience," said Celeste Kuta, manager of external relations for P&G's Family Care Business.
What makes the potties unique is that each has its own mirror, toilet, sink and hardwood flooring. The bathrooms are designed so that consumers can literally experience various P&G brands. Each is stocked with plenty of Charmin Ultra bath tissue, along with Bounty towels and Safeguard liquid soap. Some also feature Wildflower Fresh Charmin Scents and Charmin Plus.
"The Charmin Ultra Potty Palooza is a way to sample Charmin to consumers in an unexpected, delightful way," said Kuta.
While the 27-seat Potty has been on the road since last year, P&G launched the smaller truck this year so the Potty could attend outdoor festivals that could not accommodate the larger truck. The Potty Palooza was so popular at the Mansfield Covered Bridge Festival in Indiana last year that a petition was created to bring the Potty back this year. Over 30,000 signatures were obtained.
"The Potty Palooza has been successful as a sampling vehicle because the consumer is given the opportunity to try Ultra Charmin in a clean, pleasant bathroom," said Kuta.
P&G's innovative sampling approach comes at a time when budget cutbacks and restraints have forced marketers to pay closer attention to their sampling programs. "Today, instead of just doing sampling for the sake of sampling, it's doing the right sampling with the right people," said Mike Jones, group director, consumer and channel programming, Coca-Cola North America, Atlanta.
Taking It to the Streets
To achieve the greatest return on investment, Coca-Cola makes sure it gets its products into the hands of its target audience. Since many brands are targeted at teens and young adults, this means having a presence at music events, malls, college campuses and other venues.
"To reach our target consumers, we've got to go where they are," Jones stressed.
Jones pointed to last year's launch of Vanilla Coke. As part of an integrated marketing approach, Coca-Cola used street teams and other methods to get samples into the hands of teens who could serve as brand ambassadors by influencing friends and family to experience the brand. Many of these consumers are active in student government and athletics.
"The goal was to get them to tell their friends about [Vanilla Coke]," Jones said.
Sampling is one of the biggest initiatives this year at Whitestone, N.Y.-based Energy Brands, which manufactures Glaceau Vitaminwater, a line of enhanced waters, according to Jessica Wolff, marketing communications manager.
Why? Wolff pointed to research showing that 50% of consumers who try Glaceau Vitaminwater drink it again. To strengthen its sampling efforts, Energy Brands has put significant resources behind its "hydrology" program, which includes more than 200 company-trained and -employed "hydrologists," or samplers who are extremely knowledgeable about the product line.
"The hydrologists enable consumers from coast to coast to discover Glaceau Vitaminwater at influential retail outlets, as well as events," Wolff said.
The goal of the hydrology program is to make Glaceau part of consumers' lifestyles. To do so, it turns ordinary in-store sampling events into exciting hydrology "missions." For instance, a recent hydrology mission at a Whole Foods store in Chicago featured a Glaceau "water bar."
Energy Brands is also active outside the store at film, fashion, music and sporting events. Recent programs included the Playstation 2 Celebrity House in The Hamptons (hosted by music artist P-Diddy) and appearances at street basketball games in Harlem, N.Y.
Utz Quality Foods, Hanover, Pa., added more bite to its sampling efforts last month by participating in a "tailgate" celebrating the launch of limited-edition, potato-chip packaging in honor of the Philadelphia Eagles football team. Utz is the "official salty snack" of the Eagles and Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles' home field.
Eagles offensive tackle Jon Runyan, along with the Eagles' cheerleaders and team mascot, joined Utz representatives at Lincoln Financial Field. All who attended received free 1/2-ounce teaser bags promoting the new 16-ounce collector's bag, which rolled out to stores late last month.
While the chips are not new, Utz used sampling to highlight the new packaging, which will be available in the Philadelphia market throughout the NFL season. "Sampling is always important for new product innovations," said Tom Dempsey, vice president, sales and marketing, Utz.
While Utz also samples inside supermarkets, the nature of the salty snack business makes its products more conducive to event sampling, Dempsey said. Along with being able to reach more people, event sampling gets better results, he said.
"It seems like people are more gratified to get a product at an event," noted Dempsey.
Along with football games, Utz samples at marathons and basketball games. This is the first time, however, that the company has tied its products to professional football.
"Teaming with the Eagles gives us an opportunity to increase our market exposure," Dempsey said.
The collector's bag is part of a heightened partnership between Utz and the Eagles. The "Utz girl" and logo will become increasingly visible at Lincoln Financial Field. Signage and promotions throughout the venue will reflect the association between the organizations, and concession stands will stock Utz snack products.
Sampling is also top-of-mind at DelMonte Foods Co., San Francisco. New efforts include creating stronger relationships with targeted companies and organizations. This fall, for instance, the company will deliver samples of Nawsomes dog snacks to members of the American Kennel Club, according to Deborah Ioli, manager of consumer promotions, DelMonte.
"This is a different way to interact with consumers," Ioli noted.
DelMonte will send direct-mail samples to the club's subscriber list. In return, DelMonte has advertised in the club's magazine. DelMonte is exploring similar relationships with other partner organizations, including the American Humane Society.
"Partnering with groups that allow us to be more efficient in targeting consumers is an ongoing strategy," Ioli noted.
Gerber Product Co., Parsippany, N.J., is active in co-marketing as well.
The company has incorporated sampling into a new collaborative effort with the American Dietetic Association aimed at fighting the childhood obesity epidemic. It's working with medical professionals to help parents instill healthy eating habits in their children. The sampling includes a copy of Gerber's Start Healthy nutrition brochure and a sample of Gerber baby food, according to Cathie Squatrito, director of medical marketing at Gerber, which is part of the Infant & Baby business unit within the Consumer Health Division of Novartis AG, Basel, Switzerland.