PlanetFeedback happy to hear consumer gripes

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Planetfeedback.com taps airport angst and a passion for sticky buns to show the value of a site providing free consumer feedback in a pair of TV commercials breaking Oct. 2.

Part of a $15 million TV, print, interactive and out-of-home campaign from DDB Worldwide, New York, the ads will run on cable and spot TV, mainly on public affairs and local TV news consumer reporter segments whose viewers DDB has found have a high propensity to air grievances and compliments.

The goal: Get enough people to vent through PlanetFeedback to create a database for which marketers will pay to gain insight into brand performance or access to vocal consumers for word-of-mouth marketing. Both 30-second spots, which run through December, end with PlanetFeedback's ongoing tagline: "The voice of one. The power of many."

In an ad titled "Vent," an air traveler, who hears he's been bumped from an overbooked flight, turns sharply, crawls into a ventilation shaft and winds his way to a register overlooking an executive's desk. There he politely says, "Excuse me. I'd like to express dissatisfaction with your airline."

"Wanna vent?" a voice-over asks. "Reach the right person, right away. At PlanetFeedback, we help you write a letter, add it to others and get a response."

STICKY BUNS LOVE

In a second spot, "Sticky Buns," a woman takes a bite of a cinnamon roll, rises from her chair, hops into her car and drives to a corporate headquarters. She storms into a silver-haired CEO's office and plants a kiss on his lips, pronouncing dramatically: "I just love your sticky buns."

PlanetFeedback CEO Pete Blackshaw said he hopes "I just love your sticky buns" can enter the popular lexicon--or at least help spark a tie-in with AFC Enterprises' Cinnabon chain. The chain has a number of outlets in airports--a main focus of PlanetFeedback's ad efforts.

The company has focused an array of conventional media and guerrilla efforts on air travel--an industry that offers a virtual cornucopia of complaints. The Federal Aviation Administration said 20% of flights were delayed in 1999, up 58% from four years earlier, and flight cancellations were up 68% in the same period.

PlanetFeedback print ads broke in in-flight magazines this summer; ads on airport billboards and the CNN Airport Network break later this month.

The site also has arranged for 1,700 travel agencies to stuff PlanetFeedback fliers into airline ticket envelopes. It's also slipped stacks of temporary bag tags featuring airline logos and PlanetFeedback ads onto airport ticket counters.

MAKING A LITTLE GO A LONG WAY

Guerrilla tactics will help stretch a marketing budget that needs to cover a lot of ground, Chief Operating Officer Mike Nazzaro acknowledged.

"We have a challenge raising awareness of a new category beyond just selling the news of PlanetFeedback," Mr. Nazzaro said.

The sharp correction of the Nasdaq stock market during the spring came just as PlanetFeedback was trying to raise its second round of venture capital funding. Still, the Cincinnati-based dot-com secured $25 million in May. Investors include former Time Warner co-CEO N.J. Nicholas and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab co-founder Nicholas Negroponte.

But the harsher economic climate has made Mr. Blackshaw more cautious--prompting him to trim advertising outlays by about 25%, he said. That same climate also could make it harder for competitors to raise funds, he added. Rivals include eComplaints.com, Epinions.com and FeedbackDirect.com.

BUSINESSES FOOT BILL

Like many dot-coms, PlanetFeedback is spending most of its marketing budget on consumers who aren't footing the bill. Revenue will come from selling businesses such services as Brand Pulse, which tracks complaint-compliment ratios, loyalty of a brand's consumers and their power to influence others. PlanetFeedback declined to specify clients, but said they include a package-goods company, travel business and a federal agency.

Mr. Blackshaw himself is one key to PlanetFeedback's prospects, said Norm Lehoullier, co-managing director of Grey Interactive, New York, who personally is an investor in the start-up. Mr. Blackshaw, who has an MBA from Harvard University, joined Procter & Gamble Co. and helped brand that company's interactive efforts by co-chairing the Future of Advertising Stakeholders Summit. "He has almost a populist persona," said Mr. Lehoullier.

While many companies have their own consumer affairs departments, PlanetFeedback actively solicits consumer comment, has access to comparable statistics on competitors and real-time data turnaround, Mr. Blackshaw said.

COULD HAVE AVERTED COKE FIASCO

"Marketers can't always wait for information to push up from the customer service department because it may be too late," Mr. Blackshaw said, noting Coca-Cola Co.'s incident in Belgium last year, in which there were reports of consumers being sickened by the product. "If they had just had a real-time feedback system . . . they might have been able to nip that in the bud."

PlanetFeedback generated about 500,000 unique visitors per month and about 500 consumer letters a day, sometimes up to 5,000.

"If you totaled the money the Krafts, Unilevers, P&Gs and (Johnson & Johnsons) spend listening to consumers tell them how to improve a product, you're going to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars," said Mr. Blackshaw. "Even at this point we've probably got more suggestions on improving product than I ever saw in my four years at Procter & Gamble."

Copyright October 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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