How? By zoning in on what stinks about college life -- everything from armpits to boyfriends and ever-growing piles of laundry in the corner of a dorm room.
The relatively young (Febreze's family of products has been around less than a decade) but burgeoning $600 million brand has just kicked off "What Stinks," the online and viral campaign for its fabric-refresher spray aimed at college students.
"There are 18 million college kids out there and we've never really targeted them," said Martin Hettich, North American marketing director for Febreze. He said there have been pockets of students that over the years embraced the odor-fighting spray, typically priced between $3 and $7, despite the fact that there has been little in the way of dedicated advertising toward the group.
So why has the brand been popular among this set? "Washing is not a convenient part of the lifestyle at college," said Mr. Hettich.
Focus on Facebook
Targeting this potentially huge demographic presented a problem, however. "Our mainstream media buys are not effective for 18- to 22-year-olds," said John Paquin, exec VP-global account director for Febreze at WPP Group's Grey Worldwide. The brand's media agency is Starcom MediaVest and its interactive shop Barefoot, Cincinnati.
Recognizing that the campus is a far cry from where the marketer has thrust its marketing efforts in the past -- at soccer moms looking to remove odors from sweaty gym clothes and soiled furniture -- Febreze and Grey, its longtime ad agency, decided a mainstream-marketing approach likely would fail.
That's when Febreze opted for an online and viral approach, at the center of which is Facebook, a real no-brainer these days when it comes to youth marketing. According to Anderson Analytics' third annual fall brand survey of college students released earlier this month, Facebook beat out MySpace as the most popular social-networking site for the demographic.
So it's no surprise, then, that WhatStinks.com, an interactive website all about Febreze spray, is actually housed within Facebook, and that P&G plans media buys and banner ads on Facebook.
On the Facebook site, the Febreze brand swaps its "It's a breath of fresh air" tagline for college-oriented ones such as "Febreze ... Because surprise! Your parents are visiting!" and "Febreze ... Because the laundry room is sooooo far away!" It also adds a mascot in the form of a gigantic Converse-wearing nose.
Other features of the site include: the "Dank Game," a video game where players aren't armed with machine guns, but bottles of Febreze to attack dirty socks and boxers, and a "What Stinks" news feed that gathers news of smells all around the world. Recent posts include an AP wire report about a toilet-paper thief in Wisconsin.
As part of the campaign, Febreze is also running a "What Stinks" photo contest with prizes that marry Febreze with another brand college students love -- Apple and iTunes (the contest rules are referred to as "legal mumbo jumbo," by the way).
Keeping in step with its humorous tack, the marketer is also invading campuses for a Febreze-branded comedy tour with the improvisational troupe Upright Citizens Brigade. The first leg of the tour, taking place between now and early December, is Boston University and Florida State University, and features interactive performances in which the cast interviews students about what stinks in their lives. Footage will be incorporated into each live performance. The on-the-ground push will also feature giveaways of dorm-life staples such as marker boards and laundry bags (for fabric items beyond the help of Febreze).