|Trevor, the Mentos intern.|
Mentos, owned by Italian-Dutch Perfetti van Melle, late last month hired Trevor Day, a sophomore University of Cincinnati drama student, as a virtual intern to do the world's bidding from his cubicle in the company's U.S. headquarters in Erlanger, Ky. People can call, e-mail or chat with him and enter jobs for him on his calendar at Mentosintern.com.
Subservientchicken.com was a fake webcam of somebody in a giant chicken suit and a garter belt created by Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, for Burger King. Viewers could boss around the Subservient chicken, a parody of all those naughty-college-girl webcams.
An everyman of abused interns
So far, Trevor has composed several songs, done a freestyle hip-hop number and phoned someone's grandmother to say her grandson had just gotten a tattoo (she wasn't pleased). He has become sort of the everyman of abused interns, taking it all with aplomb, as his every move from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. -– outside of lunch and meetings -– is visible to the world via webcam.
He has been working hard for Mentos, having peaked at around 100,000 visitors daily, based on Alexa.com data. He has also appeared in publications such as Star and Us Weekly and on dozens of blogs. Cakke, a blog that covers the value of domain names, termed MentosIntern.com "the fastest-growing domain name we've ever seen" based on generating more than 30,000 Google hits on the phrase "Trevor the Mentos intern" in less than three weeks.
Among items on Trevor's calendar yesterday were live interviews with a TV and radio station, doing a Mexican hat dance and writing a best-man's speech.
A week into his summer tour of duty, Mentos had to triple the bandwidth allotted to the project, said Paul Bichler, creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, which created the concept for Mentos.
The brand, even before the Eepybird team made Mentos newly hip and viral by dropping the mints into Diet Coke bottles last year to produce sensational fountains and copious online videos, long has had a quirky streak, Mr. Bichler said. Much of that owes to a heritage of unintentionally campy European-import ads for the so-called Freshmaker.
"As with a lot of viral stuff, budgets aren't huge, so we were trying to come up with something we could do that was relatively economical, but we could make a lot of noise and have a lot of fun with it," Mr. Bichler said.
|Trevor in his office. He has become sort of the everyman of abused interns, doing everything from showing one visitor how to line dance to writing a best-man's speech.|
Trevor actually began his schlepping duties during Mentos' successful May 25 effort to enter the Guinness Book of World Records by setting off more than 500 Mentos-soda fountains on Cincinnati's Fountain Square. He went live online a month later.
Embracing the medium
It's been a little over a year since Mentos was pushed into viral marketing by Eepybird, but the brand has readily taken to the medium. Trevor and a college sampling tour are Mentos' two main marketing initiatives of the year, said Elizabeth Cannon, Mentos brand manager.
She finds herself watching Trevor on webcam fairly often, though he's just down the hall. "He's just so engaging," Ms. Cannon said. "You watch his chat room and all the people sending him e-mail and tasks. It's definitely done what we wanted it to do."
Mentos already had begun the shift to more online, event and public-relations marketing last year when the brand was swept up in the Eepybird craze, Pete Healy, VP marketing for Perfetti van Melle said in a presentation to the Cincinnati chapter of the American Marketing Association late last year.
"Actually, this [Mentos-soda geyser] phenomenon has bubbled up every five or six years," he said. "The interesting thing is that this time around, we had all this infrastructure in place [e.g. YouTube] that magnified the whole thing."
Mentos quickly embraced Eepybird, having tracked down the partners in the Maine troupe to talk about collaborating even before the press noticed. It took Coca-Cola Co.'s Diet Coke marketers a few more months before accepting the fountain craze, and Mr. Healy said Jones Soda turned Mentos down flatly when approached about a collaboration last summer.
Well-suited to viral stunts
Realistically, Mentos' brand personality is better suited to quirky viral stunts such as fountains and virtual interns than either of the soda brands, particularly Diet Coke, said Rex Briggs, CEO of the consulting firm Marketing Evolution.
Based on the relatively low cost of Mentosintern.com, it's almost sure to have a positive return on investment, he said. The key to it having a substantial impact, however, will be how much play it gets in blogs and mainstream media, not how many visitors the site gets, which he believes would be unlikely to have a significant impact on brand sales or image even in the best case.
Ms. Cannon agrees that the publicity is the key to making Trevor truly earn his pay, and by that measure, she's also pleased with the results.
It's not clear, however, how much all the viral publicity has helped sell candy.
Overall, Mentos sales were up a healthy 11.6% to $41.2 million for the 52 weeks ended June 17, according to Information Resources Inc. Sales of Mentos mints -– the focus of the fountain videos -- were up 12% to $31.2 million. But the plain-mints category rose faster -– 15.4% to $150.4 million. Sales of Mentos Sugar-Free Diet Candy rose 38.8% to $6.3 million, but those won't start a fountain reaction with Diet Coke.