What happened next shocked him.
Within two months of launching the site in February, 170,000 people visited, according to site server logs, and 83,000 requested a sample. The average person visited 1.9 times and spent a total of 7.5 minutes on the site for each visit, a figure even more startling considering the site is just 10 pages deep.
"This is shampoo, a product anyone can buy anywhere," Mr. Burke said. "The fact that so many people visited and requested samples says we're forging a relationship with consumers."
Pert Plus desperately needed a better consumer relationship. One of the best-selling shampoos in the late '80s and early '90s, it went into a tailspin as it and other combination shampoo/conditioner products fell from favor.
The brand relaunched late last year. In ads from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, a goofy guy dubbed "sink guy" runs around Miami Beach, Fla., with a portable sink and offers to wash people's hair with the reformulated Pert Plus.
Though it was clear the Web site had to play off the imagery and irreverent attitude of the offline campaign, Mr. Burke set three basic online objectives: generate awareness for the relaunch, get consumers to try the product and gather data about Web users.
A splash page invites people to place their head on the computer screen, a mock attempt to measure the cleanliness of their hair.
There's even a help screen diagramming the correct procedure. Once inside, consumers can fill out a short demographic form to receive a sample (a sweepstakes offering a trip to Miami Beach ended in April). Clicking a link to "get a friend in a lather" yields a template to create an e-mail message. The recipient gets an invitation to visit the site and register for a sample. Two pages describe the product.
Site development started last November, a tight three months before the launch. One of the most difficult tasks was to align technical development with consumer measurement and database initiatives, said Melisa Vazquez, P&G account director at Giant Step, Chicago.
The team confronted issues such as: What should happen if someone visits the site, signs up for a sample and uses the e-mail referral section to send a message to a friend? What happens if the friend who got the referral visits the site but doesn't register? Or if the friend comes back later to register?
Using cookies and e-mail tags, Giant Step linked all the activity together in the database.
Another complicating factor: customizing outgoing e-mail messages to match activity. The agency also responded to almost 3,000 unsolicited e-mails consumers sent to sink guy.
The media campaign, planned by Giant Step and executed by Grey Advertising's Media.com, New York, focused on three entertainment sites: Sony Station, MTV Online and E! Online. The Pert Plus brand was integrated into site programming-Sony's Wheel of Fortune game, for example, was briefly renamed "Wheel of Fortune Online. Lather. Rinse. Spin!" and had the Pert Plus logo.
The campaign, which also included banner ads on 13 other sites, yielded 40.5 million impressions, or about a 0.84% click-through rate. Showing the power of sponsorships, the integrated advertising generated 79% of the click-throughs, Giant Step said.
So what does all this say about the viability of consumer brands on the Web? Though Mr. Burke says he's pleased with the results, he admits he isn't sure how to benchmark the campaign.
"You don't know what you don't know," he said. "Can we look at it as marketers and say, 'Does it look and feel like the rest of the campaign?' Yes, it did."
The site also fulfilled his other two objectives: sampling and database generation. "But I'm not sure we know how to get more specific than that," he said.
P&G won't say what it spent to develop the site, but costs were defrayed by its interactive marketing group, which provides matching funds for some projects. That lessens pressure on brand managers to show return on investment.
P&G is wrapping up budgeting for the next fiscal year, which starts in July, and Mr. Burke will say only that he plans to continue to fund Web work for Pert Plus.
P&G must also figure out how to use the 54,000 people who checked a registration box, volunteering to participate in research (Mr. Burke has a plan but won't say more). In the meantime, Giant Step is conducting an online survey among some site visitors to measure post-sample purchase intent to compare online and offline sampling effectiveness.
"We have a working population from whom we are learning. That's more than a lot of marketers can say" said Giant Step's Ms. Vaz
Debra Aho Williamson is a writer focusing on Internet business issues. Send Internet case study ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Editor Bradley