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Few products can generate less consumer excitement than salt-be it destined for driveway, table or water-softener-as James Timmes discovered when he arrived at Akzo-Nobel in 1990.

The 46-year-old senior marketing manager had a background in consumer package goods after 10 years at Union Carbide working on Glad bags and wraps, so when he "found out the marketing philosophy was commodity and competition on price," he decided to make some noise.

"Salt.... is used in virtually every household in the country," he says, "and yet it's one of those products people don't spend a lot of time thinking about."

His first move was to create a single brand, putting every product line under the venerable Diamond Crystal name, acquired in 1988. Then he turned to advertising.

Starting in 1992, the company cranked out broadcast TV spots for Diamond Crystal table salt, including reduced-sodium Salt Sense. Radio spots, Sunday FSIs and bonus packs were added to the marketing mix via J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit.

Next he looked to highly targeted cable TV programming. Mr. Timmes pitched water-softening products on cable sports. Why? Because, he says, "the man of the house makes that purchasing decision simply because of the weight of the bags-up to 100 lbs."

Another clever buy was made on Weather Channel, this time for the company's road-salt products. That campaign-later including sponsorship of winter storm updates-was targeted not only at consumers but at state and local officials who make the decisions on what to buy to clear icy roads.

The highway salt market is the single biggest segment of an industry that sold 32 million tons of the stuff in 1994, according to Salt Institute. The market fluctuates with the severity of the weather; or, as Mr. Timmes puts it, "When we say it's a bad winter, that means it's a mild one."

The market registers "single-digit growth," notes Mr. Timmes, but for "two years in a row, we have outpaced category growth. [And] there is nothing like increasing your share in a growing market."

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