Posted by Phil Hall
Thou Shalt Steal a Drink From Coca-Cola’s Experiential PR Fountain
Is there a better way to introduce a product to its intended audience than through experiential promotions? By literally putting the product before those who need to know about it, the PR professional is able to allow the target audience to build their own impressions of the newly introduced item.
Consider the following case study on how the Coca-Cola Company launched its Full Throttle energy drink product line in 2005. Full Throttle was described by the company as “16 ounces of citrus flavored fury in a can,” and its target market was primarily blue collar men between 20 and 30. Coca-Cola determined the product needed to be branded with a macho yet good-humored image – a man’s drink, but without masculine pretensions.
Coca-Cola tapped the agency Fast Horse Inc. of Minneapolis to handle the product launch. The agency’s initial research for the potential target audiences was handled in one-on-one intercepts at vocational schools, construction sites and sporting venues (as opposed to other venues that may have been interested in the product).
“With limited time and budget for the research phase of the planning process, we needed to identify the most efficient way to gather insights from target consumers – young adult, blue-collar males,” recalls Scott Broberg, vice president at Fast Horse Inc. “As an alternative to formal focus groups, conducting one-on-one intercepts at locations with a large cross section of blue-collar males – such as vocational schools, construction sites and sporting venues – became an effective way to secure qualitative research and validate our creative concepts.”
The agency decided to use the 2005 NASCAR season to launch Full Throttle. In a way, that was somewhat daring since NASCAR has a lot of promotional activities and advertising connected to it. Yet Broberg felt this was the right venue to pursue – and to stand out from the other vehicles at the racetrack, Fast Horse created custom-built motorized armchairs that would be raced by some of NASCAR’s popular drivers.
“Even in the marketing-heavy world of NASCAR, the image of two celebrities racing each other in motorized armchairs created a visual compelling enough to break through the clutter,” says Broberg. “In addition, we specifically held the event on the Friday before the Daytona 500, since there was little on-track activity that day after qualifying races took place for much of the week. With the lack of on-track activity to fill the NASCAR news hole heading into the weekend, our lighthearted story appealed to sports media around the country that were previewing NASCAR’s first – and biggest – race of the year.”
Getting NASCAR drivers to step out of their automobiles and into the motorized armchairs was not difficult. “Michael Waltrip and Greg Biffle were excited to drive the world’s fastest armchairs,” recalls Broberg. “Most NASCAR drivers will race anything at anytime, and in the case of the Full Throttle Armchair Challenge, Waltrip and Biffle had plenty of assurance the ‘vehicles’ were safe. The motorized armchairs were inspected and approved by a qualified risk management expert upon completion of the fabrication process. In addition, the builder was on-site to give the drivers a tutorial, and they were able to get familiar with the vehicles by taking a test drive prior to the event.”
The motorized armchair race and post-race interviews with Waltrip and Biffle received coverage on ESPN, Comcast Sports South and the Speed Channel. Broberg also created a b-roll package featuring the event highlights for satellite distribution to TV stations across the nation. Needless to say, the b-roll made mention of the Full Throttle brand as part of the video coverage being provided.
“With a satellite truck on-site at the event, we were able to quickly edit a b-roll package and transmit the best footage and sound bites via satellite to TV stations around the country that afternoon,” continues Broberg. “The majority of the campaign’s broadcast coverage – more than 400 stories – was generated by the b-roll package, including segments on national outlets, such as The Weather Channel, FOX News and WGN SuperStation, as well as local affiliates in 20 of the top 25 markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta.”
So how did it help Full Throttle? According to Broberg, the product achieved a 7.8% share of the energy drink market within four months of the NASCAR event. During that period, it also became available in more than three-quarter of all American convenience store locations. The latter statistic helped Full Throttle win the Retailer Choice Best New Product of 2005 from the convenience store trade publication CSP Magazine.
And what became of the motorized armchairs? “They are currently in storage,” says Broberg. “We’re hoping they will see the road again someday as part of a special event or grassroots campaign for the Full Throttle brand.”
So what did we learn from this PR endeavor? Simple summary:
(Phil Hall is the former president of Open City Communications, a New York PR agency, and former editor of PR News. His latest book "The New PR" will be released later this year from Larstan Publishing.)
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