Contac Millennium Bug Contest
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
CEO

Contac Millennium Bug Contest

By capitalizing on Millennium fever, Contac created consumer excitement, achieved branded awareness for a 34-year-old product, and positively impacted sales during the peak of cold season.

Paul Holmes

 

Remember when the world speculated about where the “Millennium Bug” would strike on January 1, 2000?  Only one company knew for sure -- CONTAC.  After traveling the U.S., the Contac Millennium Bug (a VW Beetle filled with giant Contac capsule replicas) was delivered on New Year’s Day to the person correctly guessing how many capsules filled the car.  By capitalizing on Millennium fever, Contac created consumer excitement, achieved branded awareness for a 34-year-old product, and positively impacted sales during the peak of cold season.

CHALLENGES

How do we fill the car?  Using real Contac capsules required more than 4 million capsules weighing more than two tons – too heavy for the car to support.  To overcome FDA issues, placebo capsules were considered but ruled out, due to cost and production issues.  A candy or plastic alternative would have to be custom produced and delivered within 4-6 weeks following FDA approval of the new capsule formulation.  Since candy would melt, a U.S. company making a clear, plastic capsule was finally located, and other suppliers imprinted Contac’s logo and trademark red band.  Capsules were hand-stuffed with pink and yellow yarn puffballs representing Contac’s tiny time pills.  Filled and empty capsules were used to total 800 pounds, which the car could support.  

RESEARCH

Media Audit: A literature search revealed most major media outlets begin their cold/flu season coverage in September, before the season’s peak and most consumer purchases.  Also, the media historically has covered little cold and flu branded/product news.  Thus a creative news hook was needed to secure branded media coverage.

A literature search and interviews with key media revealed most coverage prior to September focused on the potential computer crash, and reporters and editors said the lighter contest angle was interesting and would likely get coverage unless there was a major crash.

Market and Audience Selection

FAN (Flu Activity Notification) research identified the top U.S. cities most heavily afflicted during the previous cold/flu season.  Ketchum cross-referenced those cities with Neilsen Contact sales market data to select the 10 cities for the Millennium Bug special events.

Proprietary Usage and Attitude survey data from SB showed that the vast majority of current Contac users are ages 35+, and a major portion of all OTC cold medication users are 18-34.

Interviews with SB sales executives revealed concern for securing adequate retail shelf space for the new Contac.  Therefore, our plan had to include an element to get major retailers excited about the brand.

PLANNING

To launch the new-and-improved Contac Cold Capsules for the 1999/2000 cold season, SB approached Ketchum in July 1999 to develop a public relations campaign capitalizing on the brand’s high-name recognition with consumers 35+, and introducing the product and its benefits to a new generation of users.  Playing off the Millennium hype and anticipated computer glitches, Ketchum developed a nationwide Contac Millennium Bug Contest.  Predicting that the only “Millennium Bug” to materialize in January would be the cold and flu bug, Ketchum filled a Volkswagen New Beetleâ (aka “Bug”) with jumbo-sized, new-and-improved Contac Cold Capsule replicas and toured it across the country to 10 cities among those hardest hit by cold and flu the previous year.  Special events in those cities included guessing how many capsules filled the car.  Entrants nationwide could enter the contest via mail.  In total, 12 prizes were awarded—one for each hour of cold relief provided by the new Contac Cold Capsules.

Objectives

  • Demonstrate positive impact on sales in tour city markets.
  • Promote national name recognition and brand awareness during 1999/2000 peak cold season (November-February).
  • Deliver product-benefit messages directly to consumers/one-on-one consumer interaction.

Strategies

  • Leverage SB sales force’s relationship with key national retail accounts to create trade acceptance for new-and-improved Contac to help ensure adequate shelf space.
  • Capitalize on the computer Millennium Bug interest through alternative, light-hearted news.

Audience

  • Consumers 35+ years old (current users); and new generation Contac users, 18-34 year olds.
  • Budget
  • The $391,000 budget covered agency time ($144,000); and out-of-pocket expenses ($247,000), including spokespersons salaries, logo clothing, travel and meals; purchase of VW and 11 other prizes; tow vehicle rental, insurance and gas; trailer purchase; and contest entry forms/coupons.

EXECUTION

Contac Millennium Bug Tour: From November 1999 to January 2000, The Contac Millennium Bug traveled more than 10,000 miles attracting attention as it traveled across the U.S.  Contac messages, contest entry forms and coupons were delivered at 26 high-profile special events (Krogers, Walgreens, etc.).

Media Kit: An eye-catching media kit, including one of the giant replica Contac capsules, was sent in waves based on when the Beetle would visit a location.  In follow-up calls, media remembered the kit.

Postcard Mailer: Ketchum created a postcard “teaser,” sending it to media in late December, just prior to the winner being announced.  This reminded them to cover part two of the story in January 2000.

Mat Release and Radio News Release: The mat release and radio news release were used to further promote the contest and extend reach beyond tour special events markets.

Web Site: Ketchum designed www.contacmillenniumbug.com, the Contac Millennium Bug Web site, to provide an easily accessible outlet to obtain entry forms and details about the contest and new and improved Contac.  Budget limitations prohibited online entry.

Satellite Media Tour

Ketchum cost-effectively gained incremental media results through a co-op satellite media tour in January 2000, after the contest was over.  Dr. Robin Hall, spokesperson, provided tips on how to stay healthy during the cold/flu season and promoted Contac as a great remedy.

EVALUATION

Objective 1 - Demonstrate positive impact on sales in tour city markets.

Based on Neilsen data during the week of the Contac tour and the week immediately following, sales in the tour stop cities were an average of 1.22 dollar share points higher than the total U.S. average for the same two weeks.

Objective 2 - Promote national name recognition and brand awareness during peak cold season (November 1999-February 2000).

Media coverage reached 31,875,769 consumers with major placements in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Detroit News.  All coverage occurred during peak cold season (Nov.-Feb.), even though research indicated media previously focused their coverage early in the cold season (Sept./Oct.).  100% of coverage was Contac branded.

94 percent of all media placements contained information on the attributes of the new Contac cold medicine.

Objective 3 - Deliver product benefit messages directly to consumers/One-on-one consumer interaction.

More than 115,000 hopeful entrants submitted a guess for a chance to win the 2000 Volkswagen Beetle.  Thousands of consumers talked with Contac spokesmen at the 26 official tour stop locations, and along the 10,000 miles of highways at hotels, gas stations and restaurants.  They heard product messages, and received coupons and entry forms.
Based solely on the press kit mailing, radio stations in three markets contacted us to do free live remotes from tour stop locations.  The live remotes promoted the contest and encouraged people to view the car in person, where Contac spokesmen could deliver product messages.  

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