July 28th, 2011

Sharpie targets teens in ad push

The New York Times

SHARPIE, whose permanent markers were immortalized by NFL receiver Terrell Owens when he pulled a Sharpie out of his sock to sign a football after scoring a touchdown, is turning to more minor celebrities to promote its products.

The marker company is officially introducing a revamped Web site on Wednesday as part of its 2011 back-to-school marketing campaign, which also features avid, though lesser-known, Sharpie fans, and urges consumers to “start something” with its products. Directed at teenagers, the campaign also includes new print, TV, Internet and cinema advertising, extensive use of social media, and new packaging, markers and colors.

Sharpie, introduced in 1964 by the writing instrument manufacturer Sanford, is part of the office products business unit of Newell Rubbermaid. According to Budd Bugatch, who follows Newell Rubbermaid for Raymond James, it is the leading permanent marker and highlighter brand in the United States with a 60 percent share of the market.

Back-to-school sales are vital for these products. Jason Gere, who follows Newell Rubbermaid for RBC Capital Markets, estimated that 27 percent of sales of all Newell Rubbermaid office products — which also include Rolodex and Paper Mate, Parker and Waterman writing instruments — occur in the third quarter, during the months of July, August and September. He said this figure was even higher for Sharpie.

The new campaign, created by the Chicago office of Draftfcb, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, expands on a theme to “uncap what’s inside” introduced by the agency in 2009.

“Sharpie can be a catalyst for self-expression,” and the new campaign “is an evolution” of this concept, said Gigi Carroll, senior vice president and creative director of Draftfcb in Chicago.

The campaign is aimed at teenagers, said Sally Grimes, Sharpie’s global vice president for marketing, because they “use Sharpie in the most creative, inspiring ways. Teens have always been our primary user in the past, but we talked more to moms in the past.”

Although Sharpie traditionally has been known as the marker used by celebrities to sign autographs, “true Sharpie celebrities are everyday advocates” using the markers for creative purposes, she added.

Thus, the stars of the new campaign are four avid Sharpie users. They are Erica Domesek, a do-it-yourself aficionado who employs a new Sharpie fabric marker to turn a pencil case into a purse; Cheeming Boey, who uses pens to turn paper coffee cups into works of art that sell for as much as $900; Mark Rivard, who customizes skateboards with markers; and Marirose Weldon, a young singer and songwriter who uses a Sharpie Liquid Pencil to write lyrics.

Each featured fan appears in a magazine ad that prominently displays the fan’s creation and the Sharpie product used to make it; the ad copy says “It starts with Sharpie,” and asks, “What are you going to start?” and includes the tagline, “Uncap what’s inside.”

Running in July and August issues of teenage magazines like Seventeen and Teen Vogue, the magazine campaign includes a one-third-page ad showing the Sharpie products the fan used to create his or her work, which is shown in a full-page ad on the facing page. The smaller ads also contain QR codes that direct readers to a Sharpie mobile page with videos of fans.

One 30-second TV spot — running through Sept. 25 on national network and cable TV channels like MTV, Fuse and Nickelodeon — asks viewers what the world would be like without self-expression, and depicts Sharpie-decorated items like a black and white guitar and dirt biker’s helmet.

A second 30-second spot begins with a young man’s hands uncapping a pen to write “I love” on a sticky note; it ends with him creating a “Will you marry me?” sign made up of multiple sticky notes. The voiceover says, “With Sharpie’s collection of no-bleed pens, there is no limit to what you can say. Or do. What are you going to start? Sharpie. Uncap what’s inside.”

The campaign includes similar digital display and video ads on teenage sites like Alloy and MTV, as well as cinema advertising, a first for Sharpie. Versions of both the TV spots and QR videos are being shown in about 1,200 movie theaters in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York through late August.

Sharpie’s new Web site will display Sharpie’s “creative community” and ask visitors “What are you going to start?” It will also contain a new virtual gallery of user-generated Sharpie creations, and a new ability to search for products by color.

The culmination of the campaign — which also includes the introduction of a highlighter with gel-stick technology that prevents smearing, the fabric marker, five limited-edition colors, and packaging redesigned for easier shopping — will come on Aug. 27. On that day, Sharpie will take over YouTube’s home page with an interactive mosaic of consumer-generated artwork, the ultimate expression of “what fans have started with Sharpie,” according to Ms. Grimes.

She said Sharpie’s 2011 advertising expenditures and media mix would resemble last year’s. According to the research firm Kantar Media, Sharpie spent about $12 million on advertising in 2010, $9.26 million on television advertising, $1.8 million on magazine advertising, and $1.06 million on Internet advertising. In the third quarter of 2010, which included the back-to-school selling season, Sharpie spent $7.5 million, including $6 million on TV advertising, $551,000 on magazine ads and $909,000 on Internet advertising, Kantar Media said.

Wendy Nicholson, a Citigroup analyst who follows Newell Rubbermaid, said the new advertising was “more lively than I’ve seen in a long time. You’ve got to give Sharpie credit for trying to use the digital medium in an aggressive and creative way.”

Prof. Russell S. Winer, chairman of the marketing department at the Stern School of Business at New York University, called the advertising “a really interesting, multichannel campaign.”

However, he warned that by focusing so heavily on young buyers, Sharpie was excluding “a large group of people — older consumers who do not necessarily use writing tools for creative purposes.”

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/27/business/media/sharpie-aims-a-new-campaign-at-teenagers.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all


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