BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Prilosec OTC has been an official sponsor of everything from Nascar to the Bunco parlor game and represented by the likes of quarterback Brett Favre in NFL promotions. But its latest idea, fueled to this point entirely by digital marketing, is far more ambitious: to be the "Official Sponsor of Everything" and represented by hundreds of ordinary consumers.
The idea, simply put, centers around micro-sponsorships of the Procter & Gamble brand's consumers and their passions -– be they sheltering stray pets, entering motorcycle races or sending care packages to soldiers. The hope, at least initially, is to strike around 1,000 deals of around $1,000 each.
For a brand and company used to far bigger things and a campaign with all-encompassing ambitions, the program by WPP digital shop Bridge Worldwide, Cincinnati, is starting surprisingly small. It began with a blast to the Prilosec OTC e-mail database in December seeking sponsorship applications and people to vote on them at a burgeoning brand community forming at OfficialSponsor.com.
Next month, the brand will look to expand the reach of its advertising with ads on Facebook and Yahoo, and it may ultimately tap some of P&G's bigger databases. But the idea is to let word-of-mouth, fueled largely by social media, do most of the heavy lifting, both as P&G solicits sponsorship applications and after it begins striking the first of hundreds of deals.
Though the program is in its early days, and broader outreach efforts have yet to begin, it has already had some tangible, if small, impact on buzz. Mentions of Prilosec on Twitter numbered 92 in the past month, according to Google, vs. only 56 for the 11 months before then.
"We were talking about ideas and said, 'We sponsor Nascar, we sponsor all these other things, why don't we sponsor our consumers?'" said Robert Cleveland, brand manager of Prilosec OTC. "It was just a wild-hair idea is how it started, but over time it began to take on a lot of life and logic of its own -- to enter into a partnership with our consumers where we sponsor your passions and you act as a spokesperson for Prilosec OTC."
Much has been written about consumers, not marketers, now owning brands. Even so, marketers haven't actually been sending out any royalty checks to their consumers. The "Official Sponsorship" idea does, however, take the empowerment issue in a new direction by turning sponsorship dollars over to individual consumers rather than celebrities or organizations.
Prilosec is under considerable pressure to hold onto its consumers' loyalty. The brand lost patent exclusivity for the over-the-counter proton pump inhibitor in spring 2008, bringing on private-label competition just as the recession was revving up. Then it faced competition from the well-funded launch by Novartis of an OTC version of Prevacid late last year.
Prilosec's market share in food, drug and mass outlets has slid from more than 30% in early 2008 to 24.4% last quarter, according to Information Resources Inc. data from Deutsche Bank.
"Their whole world changed in 18 months or less," said Marc Connor, strategic planning director on the account at Bridge. "And as they started to look for ways to prepare for this, they asked about whether they should think about loyalty."
The brand considered a more conventional loyalty program, Mr. Connor said, but consumers didn't really like the idea of getting incentives to take more medicine. In the case of Prilosec, it's trickier still, because it's meant to be taken daily for two weeks, then not again for four months.
"What we needed was to have not just a rational connection but also an emotional connection to keep the people we have and bring new people in," Mr. Connor said. But the problem, he said, is that "Nobody really aspires to have an emotional connection with their heartburn remedy."
As a result, the brand's focus has always been on what it allows people to do when they're heartburn-free. And Mr. Connor is hoping the "Official Sponsorship" idea helps drive that point home in a different way. "We're not trying to thrust an emotional bond on [consumers]," Mr. Cleveland said. "We're trying to legitimately build one and we hope [they] see it that way."
So far, Prilosec OTC has gotten about 300 applications, which have received around 12,000 votes collectively at OfficialSponsor.com, as it heads toward its first application deadline on Feb. 22. But it's not just a popularity contest, as applications will also be judged on factors such as passion, creativity and plans to spread the word about the sponsorship via social media, community organizations and other venues.
There's no finite limit to how many rounds of applications Prilosec OTC will accept, how many sponsorship deals it will strike or even how many years the program will continue, Mr. Cleveland said. "We're very early into this," he said. "But the signs are very positive. Our intent is to keep this going for some time. ... This is not a six-month communication message. This is a mutually beneficial sponsorship of our loyal Prilosec OTC users."