DOG DAYS: AS SUMMER APPROACHES, THOUGHTS TURN TO WAYS TO PROMOTE SEASONAL PRODUCTS, FROM WEINERS TO THEME PARKS.
The sound of bats cracking isn't the only thing marketers are hearing since opening day at the ballpark. The sound of cash registers ringing up sales of an anticipated 26 million frankfurters is music to the ears of Oscar Mayer Foods and Sara Lee Corp., among others.
Welcome to the hot-dog days of summer, where franks are just one of a passel of products that happily watch consumption rise along with the mercury. Even before Memorial Day -- the traditional summer season kickoff -- sales start sizzling for everything from beverages to bug spray.
According to ACNielsen, consumers start loading up on seasonal standbys as early as March. Dollar sales of pickles, for example, jumped 16.8% for the 13 weeks ended June 20 last year, a shade under the 16.2% rise for ice cream registered during the same period. Salad dressing sales chugged ahead 17.4% during that time, while barbecue-sauce sales advanced 57.8%. Suntan preparations surged 565%.
As consumers storm the beaches and head outdoors, marketers are taking their sales pitches on the road, with traveling tours taking in fairs, carnivals and local events.
Oscar Mayer's famed Weinermobile, for example, will travel 300,000 miles to 200 cities as part of a promotion called "Oscar Mayer Share the Smiles."
The event will benefit Second Harvest, a hunger-relief organization, by offering consumers the ability to make a donation while having their picture taken with the 23 foot-long frank on wheels.
A WAY OF REACHING OUT
Oscar Mayer's hotdoggers won't be the only marketing tour drivers. A growing number of marketers is reaching out to consumers with free samples or on-premise events because that can be less expensive than media advertising, and more memorable.
"An interactive act is more impactful than a passive opportunity," said Brad Bryen, exec VP at U.S. Concepts, an event marketing company that has worked with Schieffelin & Somerset, MCI WorldCom and USA Networks, among other clients.
"People are much more likely to recall your brand after a face-to-face live interaction," he said.
A summer road tour can run anywhere from $200,000 for a modest 10-week event to $2 million for an elaborate one, he said -- peanuts compared with a major network TV schedule.
The media, too, tend to follow sun worshipers. Radio usage indexes at almost 120 as compared to a baseline 100 in summer, according to media executives, while outdoor ad prices go up as inventory tightens.
"The demand for outdoor [boards and locations] traditionally goes up in May through September," said Jack Sullivan, media director for out-of-home at Leo Burnett Co.'s Starcom USA. "Because school is out and more people are out on the streets, more miles are driven and there is more opportunity to reach [consumers] through outdoor events, hot spots, beer gardens and pedestrian areas downtown."
He added that prime outdoor boards, in areas such as the New Jersey shore, see prices soar in summer.
TV VIEWING HABITS CHANGE
There might be fewer people inside, but those who are still seem to be watching TV despite summer reruns. In fact, they watch more TV in summer than in the medium's heyday.
"TV viewership drops off a fraction, but not nearly as much as it did in the 1950s and 1960s," said Starcom Director of Research Kate Lynch, citing a Nielsen Media Research report.
The report found the daily average of households using TV declines from over 30% in March to about the 28% range through August. That's a marked contrast from 1951, when the percentage of households using TV plunged from about 23% in March to 15% in August.
Still, TV prices go down in summer, she said, except in key categories such as beer and soft drinks.
The force will be with one of those categories this summer, as Pepsi-Cola Co. becomes the exclusive soft-drink sponsor of the hotly anticipated "Star Wars" prequel.
Pepsi will distribute collectors cans with the film's characters for its Pepsi, Pepsi One and Mountain Dew drinks, and its advertising, from BBDO Worldwide, New York, will feature a character called Marfalump, created by George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic production arm.
Rival Coca-Cola Co., meanwhile, will stick with its 3-year-old Coke Card promotion this year.
'OFFICIAL' COUNTRY TIME
But it's not a soda that's claiming the "official sponsor of summer" title. That distinction goes to Kraft Foods' Country Time powdered drink mix, which is using the tagline in its advertising and this year is tying in with Major League Baseball, giving a "Hank Aaron Award presented by Country Time" award to the best "complete" hitter in the American and National leagues.
Kraft is using the baseball connection in a summer promotion in 5,000 U.S. supermarkets in July and August, with a sweepstakes awarding a Hank Aaron 25th anniversary baseball jersey.
Kraft also is leveraging together a bundle of its brands in two other big summer promotions. The first, called "Food & Family," breaks May 16 and links 27 brands from Cool Whip to Velveeta.
"Summer is a key selling season for some of Kraft's most important categories," said Kathryn Nyquist, corporate category promotion manager. "Our research shows that consumers are looking for ways to spend less time in the kitchen when the weather heats up."
She noted that's a good sales opportunity for Kraft's convenience food lines.
Its first promotion centers around a customized magazine -- free with the purchase of three Kraft products -- that offers 80 pages of seasonal entertaining ideas and coupons worth $20 off participating products. A newspaper free standing insert on May 23 will support the promotion and in-store ads will take on a seasonal look with a patio table/umbrella theme and an inflatable sun.
The second phase starts up June 13 with even more brands -- 32. Through this promotion, consumers will get free Oscar Mayer hot dogs when they purchase any four participating Kraft lines.
A summer "Food Solutions Guide" will support at checkout, retailing for $2.99, and point-of-purchase materials will carry a Fourth of July theme, including stars and stripes and an inflatable rocket.
SALAD DAYS, TOO
Although a plethora of brands are riding Kraft's promotional program, a few are a particularly logical fit: salad dressing, for example.
"In general, there's more [marketing activity] for salad dressing in the summer. When you have a limited [marketing budget] you use it when there's the most consumption," said David Bardach, senior brand manager at Kraft.
The same is true for barbecue sauce. According to Competitive Media Reporting, spending on "seasonings, spices, extracts and marinades," was $4.7 million during January through March 1998, almost tripling to $13.5 million in the June to August period.
This year, Kraft is putting its ad weight behind Bull's-Eye barbecue sauce with a campaign from Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago, that plays off the product's "bold" taste.
In the spots, scruffy-looking cowboys eating ribs by an open campfire make hilarious confessions -- one is raised by hippies; another isn't a natural blond; another once was lost and asked directions. The response in each case is, "That's bold."
The steady economy and sky-high stock market bode well for theme parks this summer.
Cedar Fair, owner of five Sandusky, Ohio-area amusement parks, is "expecting a great season," a spokeswoman said.
Ads for the northern Ohio parks break May 9 from Liggett Stashower, Cleveland, and will feature a host of promotions and discounts for "families and thrill seekers."
EXTENDING THE SEASON
Although July and August are peak months for theme parks, some are extending the season to lessen their dependence on summer. The Six Flags park located in Gurnee, Ill., a Chicago suburb, has declared its season as March to December, said Traci Blanks, senior VP-marketing, by adding more indoor activities like shows, arcades and simulator rides.
Six Flags, with 25 parks in the U.S. and six in Europe, also is in the process of branding four new parks: in Buffalo, N.Y.; Denver; San Francisco; and Washington. An ad campaign, from Ackerman McQueen, Oklahoma City, will herald these moves, later this spring.
Anheuser-Busch Cos.' SeaWorld Adventure Parks unit is planning to open a new, coral reef-theme park in 2000. Called Discovery Cove, the Orlando-based park will feature swimming with dolphins and sting rays and will seek to eliminate pesky lines by limiting visitors to a pre-reserved 1,000 daily slots.
Such elitism will come at a price, however. Although A-B hasn't said what it plans to charge visitors to Discovery Cove, analysts have estimated a minimum of $150 a day -- three times the current going rate at most major theme parks.
ICE CREAM FLURRY
There will be a flurry of activity on the ice cream front this summer -- literally.
Friendly Ice Cream Corp. is jumping into soft-serve for the first time with a product called Cyclone that mixes ice cream and candy morsels.
On May 10, the 646-unit chain is slated to launch an estimated $10 million campaign to support Cyclone from new agency Berry-Brown, Dallas.
The product seeks to take a lick at the industry standard, International Dairy Queen's Blizzard, and newcomer McFlurry from McDonald's Corp.
The burger giant's dessert has been rolled into 15,000 outlets in the U.S. and 35 international markets since last spring. But no national advertising for that product is expected.
Tom Fuchs, VP-marketing, Carvel Corp., said he expects the attention to soft-serve to boost sales of Mega Mix, a similar dessert sold in its 450 outlets.
Rather than focus on that concoction, however, Carvel will use its $8 million marketing budget to tout ice cream cakes, which are sold in some 4,500 supermarkets in addition to Carvel shops. Della Femina/Jeary & Partners, New York, is the ad agency.
The big push among packaged ice creams this year is expected to be behind the decadent and super-indulgent brands, as consumer interest in plain-vanilla low-fat brands and yogurt wanes.
"Our focus will be on really cool flavors," said Jim Page, Dean Foods' VP-marketing, including Brown Cow and Purple Passion, with outdoor advertising from Euro RSCG Tatham, Chicago, as well as an extensive sampling program at baseball games, soccer matches and the like.
Mr. Page said he doesn't expect a lot of advertising industrywide behind frozen yogurt and low-fat products.
"The general consensus among consumers is 'I won't sacrifice taste. I just won't eat as much' " of superpremium ice creams, Mr. Page said.
That's reflected in figures from Information Resources Inc.'s InfoScan service, which show low-fat frozen yogurt sales down 3.6% to $472 million for the 52 weeks ended March 21, and fat-free yogurt down 24.9% to $137 million.
Regular ice cream, meanwhile, showed a much slower slide, down less than 1% to $3 billion.
SWIMSUITS GO LARGE
All that full-fat ice cream seems to be showing up in waistlines, if swimsuit trends are any indicator.
Large-size swimsuits are the next big thing, especially on the Internet, said Maurice "Corky" Newman, chairman-CEO of Sirena Apparel, which manufactures bathing suits under the Hang Ten, Anne Klein and Liz Claiborne labels.
Mr. Newman estimated that large sizes made up 50% of Sirena's online sales during the first month its sirenaapparel.com Web site was open for business.
"Department stores are losing a good bet" by not promoting and displaying its large-size suits better, he said.
Whether in large or small sizes, swimsuit sales will be brisk in the summer, when stores sell 75% to 80% of their inventory. Mr. Newman said '99 store orders were running 28.5% ahead of '98 by mid-April and actual retail sales were up about 25%.
Under many of those suits, marketers are betting, will be self-tanning products that simulate the real thing.
Schering-Plough Corp.'s Coppertone will pump up its No. 1 spot among sunscreen brands this summer with a $15 million spring ad campaign from Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/
Euro RSCG, New York, for new spray-on products and a reformulated line of sunless tanners. That includes an overhaul of its Coppertone Moisturizing Sunless Tanner Lotion line and a new Coppertone oil-free lotion in SPF 45.
Another addition, Coppertone Cool Beads! Aftersun Moisturizer, is an aloe vera gel with vitamin A and E beads to cool sun-tanned skin.
Coppertone remains the leader in the $446.4 million sunscreen segment, but faces strong competition. Both Johnson & Johnson's Neutrogena -- introducing three new suncare products -- and Playtex Family Products Group's Banana Boat will break TV advertising for the summer season, from New York shops Carlson Partners and Grey Advertising, respectively.
Pfizer's Bain de Soleil will go into print advertising for its new products this summer and has added a twist. Magazine ads from Cline, Davis & Mann, New York, for its Orange Gelee line carry a scent strip so consumers can sample its citrus smell.
REPELLENT ADDS ATTRIBUTE
Another topical summer skin product is doing double-duty this summer. United Industries' Cutter insect repellent is adding Cutter Ivy Block lotion, aimed at preventing poison ivy exposure.
But the new product won't receive ad support while it works to gain distribution, said Bob Rubin, VP-marketing for United.
The pest control and insect repellent category has sprung to life in recent years with an increasing number of new products. It's likely to get even more active because United is now owned by Thomas H. Lee Co., the investment company that was the force behind Snapple Beverages' marketing push before it was sold to Quaker Oats Co.
VLASIC'S PICKLE PUSH
A new spinoff also is trying to blanket picnics, but from the food front. Vlasic International Foods, spun off from Campbell Soup Co., has a burger-size pickle called Hamburger Stackers and is linking up with promotional partners to maximize its small budget.
Vlasic breaks its "Build a Better Barbeque" promotion in mid-May with an FSI drop to 50 million households. Through the offer, consumers get a $3 rebate on fresh chicken with the purchase of Vlasic pickles or A&W root beer.
The company is trying to spread the word about Hamburger Stackers through an event that saw "Saturday Night Live" alum Laraine Newman flipping burgers at Chicago's infamous Billy Goat tavern, the inspiration for the late-night NBC show's classic "Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger" routine.
"A big percentage of our sales come in the summer months," said a spokesman, who added Vlasic's strategy has been to promote pickle usage year-round.
GRILLING: CHARCOAL VS. GAS
Clorox Co., meanwhile, is trying to dissuade the backyard barbecuer from flipping that burger over a gas grill.
In its national TV and radio campaign, the marketer's Kingsford charcoal is declaring war on gas grills by indicating that when it comes to outdoor cooking, only wimps take the easy way out.
The testosterone-laden pitch for the No. 1 charcoal brand from Y&R Advertising, San Francisco, is themed "Real men use Kingsford" and shows two macho men stoking their fire while a menacing bear creeps up behind them. In the next scene, the men are cooking what looks suspiciously like bear meat over their Kingsford flame.
The goal is to boost the category and, subsequently, Kingsford's sales beyond the 3% growth the $470 million charcoal category posted in 1998.
Kingsford may be positioning the gas grill as sissy, but retailer Neiman Marcus has something decidedly more prissy in mind: It is featuring a $3,500 gas grill in its summer catalog.
Contributing: Mercedes M. Cardona, Alice Z. Cuneo, Jill Heisler, Louise Kramer,