Bridge Worldwide CEO Jay Woffington
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That doesn't mean marketing whose meaning can be figured out (itself an improvement for many ads). Nor is it cause marketing per se -- i.e., aligning a brand with a charity in hopes goodwill will rub off, like a guy who hangs around puppies or babies to attract women.
Rather, as Mr. Woffington and Chief Marketing Strategist Bob Gilbreath see it, the idea is to make the marketing the cause, with intrinsic value to consumers so it pulls them in rather than be thrust upon them where they can least avoid it.
"Consumers hate advertising," Mr. Gilbreath wrote in a preamble for a WPP Digital-backed discussion group last year. "Meanwhile, consumers hate us -- the marketers and advertisers who invent new ways to spam them online and offline. The result: CMO and agency turnover is rising dramatically, and advertisers are ranked below lawyers in terms of public respect."
'Not on my watch'
Bridge's alternative, according to Mr. Woffington: "How do you make sure your marketing is held up to the same standard the product is? ... P&G says their products improve people's lives. But how about the marketing? Does the marketing itself improve consumers' lives? ... That's a much higher standard than just selling more product."
Trying to answer yes to that question is an approach, he said, that's helped Bridge attract talent to grow staff at double-digit rates for more than five years (currently more than 200) in a place not widely seen as a digital mecca. But it's also one Bridge believes is working for an ever-wider variety of clients, including not only P&G but ConAgra Foods, which has attracted more than 2 million visits to a healthful-lifestyle site since January, and Kroger Co., which has gotten more than 1.2 million votes on more than 35,000 designs in a contest to create the grocer's national reusable bag.
The concept of marketing that in itself accomplishes something of intrinsic value is gaining growing currency beyond Bridge clients.
Kimberly-Clark Corp. this year rolled out a $2 million, three-year "Not on My Watch" program for a bus tour to teach nurses and others to combat hospital-associated infections that kill an estimated 100,000 people annually in the U.S. Not only could the program save lives, said John Amat, VP-global sales and marketing for K-C Health Care, it could help save some of the $4.5 billion spent annually to treat such infections, much of which soon will no longer be reimbursed by Medicaid.
Johnson & Johnson in recent years has funded what it calls the world's largest database on children's sleep, said Bridgette Heller, global president-baby care, hoping to create a pediatric-sleep specialty in developing markets, prove the importance of sleep in child development everywhere, and, of course, point out to parents that giving their babies a bath before bedtime helps get them to sleep (which doesn't hurt the world's largest purveyor of baby bath soap).
Of course, the basic idea isn't entirely new. Marketing that attracts people rather than catching them off guard has been core to the promise of digital since it was called "interactive" in the 1990s (a slightly different take on Seth Godin's "Permission Marketing"). Such decade-old programs as P&G's Pampers.com or J&J's BabyCenter are largely built on dispensing timely advice to moms.
But most people didn't want to interact with online advertising in the 1990s or later, as evidenced by low click-through rates, and media companies have instead looked for other ways to "monetize eyeballs." That's an uphill battle, as each new application seems to prove, Mr. Gilbreath said.
He pointed to an experiment he ran last month on Facebook to recruit people to a benefit where they would essentially play "Guitar Hero" or "Rock Band" for the Cincinnati Fine Arts Fund. He reached 71,000 Facebook members who said they were "Guitar Hero" fans through one buy and another 149,000 members with another untargeted buy. But he got only a 0.2% click rate on both.
As evidence of how little intrinsic value of marketing seems to have sometimes, Bridge had no trouble securing the unclaimed URL for its new blog on the subject -- Marketing With Meaning. "It was available because we marketers have been thinking the wrong way for so long," Mr. Gilbreath said.
Of course, getting the "marketing with meaning" message across to an industry still largely geared toward foisting messages upon unprotected eyeballs isn't easy. Mr. Gilbreath also set up a discussion group for attendees of WPP Group's Stream digital conference last year on the subject, which attracted only eight participants.
But Bridge is getting substantial numbers of people to participate in programs it's been creating for clients lately.
The 2 million visits to ConAgra's Start Making Choices site since it launched in January has substantially exceeded expectations, said Guisseppe D'Alessandro, the company's VP-strategic marketing. The site conveys nutrition, exercise and other well-being tips from cardiologist James Rippe, founder of the Balance Institute, as it weaves in messages and sponsorship from the company's Healthy Choice, Eggbeaters, Hunt's, Orville Redenbacher and Pam brands.
"Consumers were telling us they were starved for time, and they had a lot of stress in their lives, and they lacked balance," Mr. D'Alessandro said. The households headed by health-conscious "health managers" targeted by the site (roughly a third of the population, who also tend to be disproportionate consumers of the ConAgra brands). The site has provided a platform to pull together brands that didn't have much in common besides their owner before.
Kroger, too, has been pleasantly surprised by reception to its contest at designagreenbag.com, as 35,000 people have used the online design tool so far. Each of them get a free reusable bag and a chance at $500 for the winning design.
For Kroger's card-based loyalty program (a digital coupon for the free bags is loaded onto members' accounts), it's a step beyond purely transactional appeal, though it's been promoted through the chain's conventional levers: tags on TV ads, promotional circulars and instore signage.
Tip of the iceberg
"We're really just beginning our online journey," said Ken Fenyo, VP-corporate loyalty. "This is our first promotion and big attempt to get out there and do something different to engage our customers."
While Avenue A/ Razorfish redesigned the site last year, Kroger went with Bridge to handle the program. It had worked with the agency on a program with P&G that loads coupon offers directly into loyalty accounts.
The Diabetes Control for Life program Bridge created several years ago for Abbott Laboratories' Glucerna brand, meanwhile, goes further, monitoring clinical results on how well it helps control bloodglucose levels of participants.
Bridge has commissioned a clinical study indicating that program participants lose weight and have better blood-sugar management than nonparticipants, as well as separate research showing compliance with blood-glucose testing by participants increases threefold after they begin (and that Glucerna product consumption increases ninefold).
Mr. Woffington has a personal stake: His wife, Julie, is diabetic. "If you understand the consumer ... you know that controlling blood glucose requires more than a shake/bar/cereal," she wrote in an e-mail. "This service is a smart addition to the brand franchise."
Still about eyeballs
To be sure, not everything Bridge does is about saving the planet or improving health. Recent work that falls under its "new imperative to add value to customers' lives" rubric include a "Jingles for Pringles" video contest, a Pringles program that loads shopping lists onto mobile devices and numerous efforts that provide value the oldfashioned way -- through discounts or offers -- via P&G's online couponing or sampling programs.
Sometimes, Mr. Woffington conceded, it's still about reaching eyeballs. "We still do banner ads, we still do [more-traditional digital] campaigns when clients want that," he said. "But it's not what we prefer."
K-C, J&J try research marketingClinical research has long been a mainstay of getting drugs to market. But using clinical research as marketing, or to validate its impact, is a newer approach Johnson & Johnson and Kimberly-Clark Corp. are undertaking to prove they're doing some good in addition to making sales.
Bridgette Heller, global presidentbaby care for Johnson & Johnson, has worked on some fairly novel marketing programs for a packagegoods executive over the years, such as launching mail-order Gevalia Kaffe for Kraft Foods.
But one of her favorites is a program J&J doesn't classify as marketing at all, though Ms. Heller said it's clearly helping the brand: developing the world's-largest database on children's sleep patterns.
"It's contributing a lot of growth to our [baby-care] portfolio as we help [moms] learn how to apply a routine that helps their babies, toddlers and them sleep better and longer through the night," she said.
That routine includes a bath and, J&J hopes, a Johnson's or Aveeno baby bath product.
But beyond that, J&J is also commissioning research seeking to prove "that children who get more sleep are better-performing, healthier, happier children in life," she said. It also has been sponsoring the work of child psychologist Jodi Mindell, who's been a guest on Walgreens-sponsored segments on Lifetime and helped train pediatricians in China as sleep experts.
"We think it's a huge contribution to society at large and to the lives of children beyond what's good for our business," Ms. Heller said, though she added: "Sure, it's going to be good for our business."
For K-C Health Care, the more than 100,000 deaths and 1.7 million illnesses linked to hospital-associated infections each year in the U.S. are something the company is trying to take very personally and assume a role in reducing, said John Amat, VPglobal sales and marketing for the unit.
In March, K-C began sending a bus with a mobile classroom on a 38- state, three-year, $2 million tour, a massive effort in a business-tobusiness category that rarely sees seven-figure campaigns.
K-C sells hospitals and nursing homes soap and other products aimed at preventing such infections, so it hopes to gain from the effort. But it's also looking to fill the gaps created by budgetary squeezes that have eliminated anti-infection training programs at many institutions, Mr. Amat said.
Collecting data on whether the effort is working is tricky, since physicians and hospitals don't want to readily publicize their mistakes, he conceded. But K-C still intends to try.
"Once [government-mandated] data reporting is completely open," he said, "we're hoping to show ... the impact we can make."