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Jude Rake, a structural engineer who once built atomic power plants, last year took on a project nearly as challenging.

As a senior brand manager at S.C. Johnson & Son, Mr. Rake was charged with taking some of the wind out of one of the more curious marketing stories in recent history: Avon Products' Skin-So-Soft, a brand consumers were using to ward off mosquitos.

For several years, that product had been making inroads into the insect-repellent category where Johnson markets its popular Off! brand. All from word of mouth.

"The Avon product had become folklore," says Mr. Rake. And Johnson would be hard pressed to convince a practically cult-like crowd-and others looking for a cosmetically friendly insect repellent-to switch to Off! Skintastic, positioned as longer-lasting and more effective.

But that wasn't his only challenge. First, the 35-year-old Mr. Rake had to convince management of the privately held marketer to put full marketing clout behind a product whose main attribute wasn't simply repelling bugs.

By quantifying the number of current Skin-So-Soft users, he convinced management to proceed.

An initial campaign from Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago, consisted of a 30-second TV spot and limited print. In addition, Johnson distributed 675,000 free samples of Off! Skintastic and established a sampling program at pediatrician's offices in the Northeast.

This year, Mr. Rake upped the competitive ante with a testimonial-style, 30-second TV spot shot at a party the company hosted in Florida for 160 Skin-So-Soft users.

Off! Skintastic sales are up 26% for the 12 months ended May 10, 1994, says Mr. Rake. And its market share is up 10 points during the same period. Overall, Off! Skintastic commands 24% of the insect repellent category.

That's marketing sting.

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