Turning the Golden Dollar Into a Gold Mine
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Turning the Golden Dollar Into a Gold Mine

The U.S. Mint was facing the equivalent of what Ford would be facing if it decided to reintroduce the Edsel: produce, brand, and sell a new dollar coin to consumers.

Paul Holmes


The U.S. Mint was facing the equivalent of what Ford would be facing if it decided to reintroduce the Edsel:  produce, brand, and sell a new dollar coin to consumers.  Like the Edsel, the previous dollar coin, the Susan B. Anthony (SBA), had been rejected when it was introduced and was the subject of great scorn.  Fleishman-Hillard (FH) put together a phenomenally successful yearlong program to convince consumers that this new product—the “Golden Dollar”—was something that they should try because it was very different from what had come before.  This included highly innovative product placements on television game shows that instantly made the Golden Dollar part of the popular culture and showed how dramatically different it looked from an SBA, partnerships with national retailers that demonstrated significant acceptance by both businesses and consumers, an extraordinary earned media effort that reached virtually every major national television news program with positive images and stories of the coin, and a series of unusual events around the country that demonstrated to consumers that it was both possible and acceptable to use the Golden Dollar.  Contrary to widespread skepticism, within six months of the coin’s launch an extraordinary 90 percent of Americans were aware of the Golden Dollar and a significant majority either had already used or said that they would use it.  More than 700 million Golden Dollars were snapped up by consumers in 2000, 7 times what the Mint itself said would be a success.


The Congress required the U.S. Mint to produce a new dollar coin to take its place alongside the quarter, dime, nickel, and penny as a circulating coin.  The new coin would be a substitute for an enormously popular existing product—the dollar bill—that the federal government was specifically prohibited from eliminating.  Furthermore, the previous dollar coin had been one of the most phenomenal product flops in marketing history because it was so hard for consumers to distinguish from a quarter and because there were few reasons to use it.  That experience hung like a branding albatross over what the Mint had to do.

This meant that there were two primary challenges.  First, consumers had to be convinced that the new dollar coin was different in every way from the SBA, especially that it looked and felt different and so was easy and convenient to use.  Second, consumers had to be convinced that there were times when using a dollar coin made sense so that they would agree that it and the dollar bill should both exist.


The objectives of the program were to build what we termed “positive awareness,” gain acceptance of the Golden Dollar among consumers, and get consumers to use Golden Dollar coins in routine purchases.  Accordingly, FH wrote a 100-page integrated communications plan and timeline that charted our program in three phases.

To meet the program objectives, Fleishman-Hillard used some of the most sophisticated and innovative research techniques available to develop target audiences, establish a brand identity for the coin, and create and refine the messages that would best resonate with consumers.  In fact, the entire campaign was based on research efforts rather than merely seat-of-the-pants analysis.  Even the name—“Golden Dollar”—was extensively tested in focus groups to determine both how well it was received and the image it invoked.

Preliminary research confirmed the need to target two primary audiences—urban dwellers between 18 and 49 years of age and Generation Y consumers, who were the biggest users of coins.  Prior to beginning the program quantitative research established baseline levels of consumer awareness, interest, and support for the Golden Dollar.  Ongoing surveys and polls were built-in to the program to track changes from the baseline.  In addition, we worked with the U.S. Mint to determine the actual number of Golden Dollars produced and shipped so that we had the equivalent of weekly sales figures.

Two very special research efforts greatly enhanced the program while it was underway.  Using Fleishman-Hillard’s proprietary “e.c.h.o.” media content analysis, we were able to determine not just the number of stories on the Golden Dollar but also whether those stories included the messages we wanted to deliver to the target audiences.  We also created a special “Dollar Coin Index” that in a single number measured and explained changes in coverage and consumer awareness.


There were four primary strategies.  First: distinguish the Golden Dollar from the SBA to overcome the extreme negative image of dollar coins the SBA continued to create.  Second: build a sense of excitement about the new coin by positioning it as being smart and trendy.  Third: create widespread interest among retailers, vending machine owners, transit systems, and financial institutions to demonstrate that the Golden Dollar could be used.  Fourth: blunt what research showed would be criticism from dollar bill supporters and the financial community.


Fleishman-Hillard planned and implemented more than 25 separate events—all designed to reach our target audiences and support of our strategies—that garnered extraordinary numbers of positive media stories in virtually every national outlet.  Besides multiple national and local news reports, this included such unusual events as sending 12 Golden Dollars into space on a Shuttle mission, a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, offering a week-long prize on Wheel of Fortune (including the coin being “guarded” by the U.S. Mint Police and talked about by Vanna White and Pat Sajak during all five shows), and questions about the Golden Dollar on other highly-watched shows such as Jeopardy and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

We positioned the Golden Dollar marketing campaign as a masterstroke by the U.S. Mint to increase attention among the business and financial media.  Normally these outlets would have avoided any discussion of the coin because of it appearing to be a political rather than a business story.

Major media events were created to demonstrate that the Golden Dollar was indeed being accepted.  This included transforming the technical story of the coin’s metal alloy into a consumer friendly story that showed how easily the coin could be used in transit systems and vending machines across the country.  In January 2000, we implemented a partnership with Wal-Mart that generated extraordinary national press coverage as the long lines of people at the 4000 stores waiting to get the Golden Dollar demonstrated that it was far more popular than the SBA had ever been.  In one month the Wal-Mart promotion alone put 94 million Golden Dollars into the hands of consumers.

Other high-profile promotions included getting the image of the Golden Dollar on 10 million boxes of Cheerios and a Golden Dollar coin included in every 2000th box.  Golden Dollar give-away events at major transit systems in Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and San Diego created extraordinary national as well as local media interest and at the same time demonstrated to consumers that there was a place for the Golden Dollar to be used.

Fleishman-Hillard also implemented a comprehensive banking outreach effort that included monthly meetings of an FH-recommended ad hoc “Financial Institutions Advisory Council” (FIAC) composed of leaders from major banking and credit union associations; an extensive phone and direct mail outreach effort to over 4,000 of the nation’s largest banks; and a mailing to the 34,000 distinct financial institutions in the U.S. to provide information on how they would order Golden Dollars for their customers.  The creation of the FIAC led to a large number of articles in the associations’ print and electronic publications and greatly enhanced acceptance of the coin and support for the Mint’s Golden Dollar campaign.


Within six months of launch, an astounding 91 percent of American consumers were aware of the Golden Dollar, 78 percent supported the coin’s existence, and 50 percent reported having already received at least one.  These results preceded all of the advertising and so can be attributed solely to Fleishman-Hillard’s efforts.
The sales figures, which demonstrate the coin’s use, were even more impressive.  The Mint had set a goal for 2000 of 100 million Golden Dollars in circulation.  The Fleishman-Hillard program put 200 million Golden Dollars into circulation in just the first month of the campaign.  By the end of the year more than 700 million Golden Dollars were in the hands of consumers—seven times what the Mint itself considered a success.  This was also 14 times the number of SBAs that had gone into circulation each of the previous three years before the Golden Dollar was launched.  Consumer demand was so strong that the Mint had to produce more Golden Dollars in its first year than the total number of Susan B. Anthony dollars produced in the 21 years that coin was available.

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