Building the buzz for PocketPaks

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Pfizer Consumer Healthcare recently launched the TV ad portion of its $40 million marketing effort behind Listerine PocketPaks, but that wasn't what turned Karen Tennant of Dyersburg, Tenn., into a consumer of the tiny, portable mouthwash strips that melt on the tongue.

Her middle-school-age daughter had already heard about them from a friend, who had heard about them from her dad, owner of an independent pharmacy who had received a case of the trial size pack he had never ordered, along with a bill. Intrigued, he put the packs on display, and they sold out almost immediately, generating a voluntary re-order.

That's one of dozens of ways Pfizer began generating considerable buzz about the brand coast-to-coast even before the $20 million TV and online media effort from WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, New York, which began breaking last month. An elaborate array of buzz-building efforts has also included professional marketing through dentists, sampling through college campus welcome packs last fall, publicity efforts, prominent placement on such retailer Web sites as Kroger.com and RiteAid.com and an online game at PocketPaks.com. The "Germinator" game is designed with a pass-along effect that's part of the viral marketing effort, encouraging consumers to e-mail scores to friends to get them to play.

Pfizer is hoping for results similar to what it achieved in Canada last year, where a national sampling program of 1 million units and consumer events in eight cities from Pow! Promotions or Whatever, Toronto, joined with TV and print ads from JWT to generate sales 63% ahead of projections.

"Ultimately it's meeting a need," said Paul Sturman, Pfizer Consumer Healthcare's VP-marketing. "People are on the go throughout the day and are looking for discreet and portable solutions to things."

The ultra-thin postage-stamp-size PocketPaks strips follow the intense mint craze and contain the same germ-killing ingredients as Listerine mouthwash.

Pfizer's buzz-building effort follows P&G's similarly styled "diffusion marketing" pre-launch of Crest Whitestrips last year. P&G generated more than $40 million in online sales of Whitestrips prior to its introduction in conventional retail stores last May, through a combination of event marketing; online, outdoor, print and radio ads, and appearances on the QVC home shopping network.

It's too early to track sales for PocketPaks, which reached national distribution in October. But so far, Whitestrips appears to have generated more online buzz during its pre-launch than PocketPaks have, said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of Intelliseek, which monitors both direct online consumer feedback to its Planetfeedback.com site and indirect online chat in newsgroups and Web sites. But he added that everyone in Intelliseek's Cincinnati office already had heard about PocketPaks, mainly from friends or seeing it in stores, even without having seen ads. Highest media weight for the PocketPacks campaign is expected in the first half of 2002.

Contributing: Lisa Sanders and David Goetzl

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