Stretching into an icon

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OfficeMax is trying to turn its Rubberband Man character-the Afro-sporting, office supply guy who passes toner and towels to coworkers-into a brand icon as it struggles to distinguish itself from larger competitors.

The office supply retailer is establishing a Web site that includes outtakes from the TV ad and downloadable images and is considering adding video games and downloadable ringtones of the 1970s Spinners hit for which he is named. It plans to splash the character's image throughout its stores with signs and in its direct marketing and catalogs.

broad approach

The Rubberband Man will also be featured prominently in three half-page ads in the 50th anniversary of rock `n' roll issue of Rolling Stone hitting newsstands June 4 and will appear in TV executions during the back-to-school season later this summer.

The marketer is even hoping to get the actor who plays the Rubberband man, Eddie Steeples, onto "The Tonight Show" as a guest, where the spot has already been parodied.

"We've really got something here," said Tom Russell, director-marketing for Boise Office Solutions, part of Boise Cascade Corp., which acquired OfficeMax in December. "We continue to do what we can to make our dollars work as hard as they can."

OfficeMax is hoping to break through with personality because its rivals have bigger marketing budgets. Scott Williams, VP-marketing for Boise Office Solutions, said sticking with the character makes sense because advertising that stands out in the category doesn't "come that often."


But success depends on the marketer and agency Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Chicago, execute well enough to build on an initial positive reception to the ad. "It's one thing to get some buzz," says Allen Adamson, managing director at WPP Group's Landor Associates. To do more "takes a fair amount of focus."

Some question whether OfficeMax should pour marketing resources into a character that might be phased out after a couple years or so. Unlike some marketers who need to constantly change tactics to reach a changing customer base-brewers, athletic-wear marketers-OfficeMax is targeting a stable market.

"In a category where there's predictability, I would [favor] a strategy that looks for something that is sustainable," said Tom Collinger, a professor at the Integrated Marketing Communications graduate program at Northwestern University.

OfficeMax needs to get a lot of bang out of its marketing buck. It spent $49 million in measured media in 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, and was far outspent by Office Depot's $89 million and Staples' $73 million.

The Rubberband Man made his debut in December, kicking off OfficeMax's "What's your thing?" campaign. The campaign tries to connect OfficeMax to workplace humor and situations. Mr. Scott said the campaign-including a spot where two guys try to fake sickness by coloring their faces with highlighters -has bolstered consumer perceptions of the chain.

`tonight show' parody

Indeed, the Rubberband Man in particular appears to have struck a chord. The ad received 15,000 hits within two days of going up on the company's Web site. "The Tonight Show" parody last month superimposed bandleader Kevin Eubanks' face on the character.

That's a good sign, said Don Pogany, DDB group creative director. Having worked on the "Whassup" campaign for Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser, Mr. Pogany has experience with campaigns that seep into the culture.

"The Jay Leno/Kevin Eubanks parody of Rubberband Man on `The Tonight Show' feels reminiscent of Whassup parodies we saw in that there seemed to be an assumption that most people ... were familiar with and liked the advertising," Mr. Pogany said.

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