Happy With First Film Festival Appearance, Airborne Returns to Park City

Cold Fighter Heads to Sundance This Week With TV's 'Extra' in Tow

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The deal: Airborne, a fast-growing, privately held company that markets herbal supplements and cold fighters, set up shop at the Sundance Film Festival for the first time last January, creating a lounge on highly trafficked Main Street. Among the marketer's offerings in Park City: nonstop Airborne samples, its Germ Guy mascot doing some performance art and its school buses shuttling festival-goers around the Utah town.

The result: For a relatively modest six-figure investment, the marketer drew 22,000 people into its event space, gave away 48,000 samples and 3,500 pieces of swag, including bright-yellow Airborne-branded fleece scarves that were omnipresent throughout the 10-day festival. The effervescent cold-fighting tablets became must-have products. Airborne will be back at Sundance this year with an expanded presence and a partnership with Hollywood news magazine "Extra."

Airborne's Germ Guy was a hit at the marketer's event tent at last year's Sundance Film Festival.

There were two compelling reasons for Airborne's first visit last year to the Sundance Film Festival, according to executives at the marketer and its ad agency, Ten United, Columbus, Ohio.

First, the herbal-supplements brand has a strong and loyal celebrity following, with much of the buzz on the product coming from word of mouth by those early adopters. Second, there's a heavy concentration of Hollywood types at the film festival, shaking hands, kissing and partying in close quarters and enduring temperatures far below those of sunny Los Angeles.

Dispensed vitamins day and night

Airborne, with sales expected to reach $300 million soon, opened a lounge on the busiest street in Park City, Utah, under the same roof as Harry O's, home of nightly chef-created dinners and a major destination for the glitterati. The lounge dispensed its fizzy vitamins day and night.

The marketer also sent its mascot, Germ Guy, to chat up festival attendees, and school buses to drive people from venue to venue. The buses, which are part of the brand's logo, are a tip of the hat to the product's inventor, a former grade-school teacher.

At the time, Airborne was a mighty but relatively small player in the cold-and-flu category. The brand had a meager ad budget, spending less than $2 million a year in 2004 and 2005. Recent growth, though, has been explosive. Airborne, which has expanded its product line with a sleep aid and an on-the-go variation, now expects sales of $300 million for the fiscal year ending March 31.

Airborne has become the top seller in the cough-and-cold aisle, besting much larger rivals such as Sudafed and Benadryl, and its ad spending is expected to reach $30 million over the next year. Much of the growth came after Summit Partners, a private-equity firm, took a controlling stake in the Carmel, Calif., company in 2005. There's a possibility that the company is looking for a buyer, and industry watchers said it could command a price of $1 billion or more, even though its folksy herbal remedies aren't clinically proven.

Not an official sponsor

The investment in Sundance was modest -- less than a half-million dollars, executives said -- but well worth it. Airborne, like many marketers who stage events there, was not an official Sundance sponsor.

"We felt like it was absolutely the right event with the right fit for the brand," said Lee Brody, exec VP-consumer engagement at Ten United. "It's a very efficient spend, it generates a lot of goodwill, and it's a trigger point for a lot of other buzz."

The timing of the festival is another plus, he said. Because it's in January, it can be used as a launching pad for a year's worth of marketing activity.

Last year, some 22,000 people tromped through the Airborne Lounge, where the brand gave out 48,000 samples and 3,500 gift bags. The program worked so well that Airborne will return, with a more significant presence, at this year's festival, which starts Jan. 18.

Video-booth testimonials

The Airborne Lounge will feature nightly parties, a room where filmmakers and journalists can gather, and a video booth where people can give Airborne testimonials. The marketer recently sent a model of the video booth to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and gathered hours of footage for use in its marketing.

Additionally, Airborne partners this year with the Hollywood news-magazine show "Extra," which will run co-branded segments from the lounge and will station its reporters there for celebrity interviews and Sundance updates, guaranteeing the marketer some lucrative on-air time.

Elise Donahue, CEO of Airborne, said Sundance has proved invaluable for building trial of the expanding Airborne product line and pumping brand awareness, both in the celebrity community and the general festival-going audience.

"I love Sundance because we can talk casually to people and get their impressions of the brand," Ms. Donahue said. "We can see their response to new products and get ideas from them about what they'd like to see next from us. The greatest benefit is the ability to interact with people and get their reactions one-on-one."

Ms. Donahue said she wasn't sure what to expect from the first year of Sundance, but was heartened to see 200 to 300 people in line outside the Airborne Lounge waiting to get inside. She hopes for more of the same this year.
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