August 23rd, 2011

Wrigley Targets Web Gamers

The Wall Street Journal

In May, Aaron Allar saw an ad on the Web soliciting “test subjects” for an alternate-reality game, and he soon plunged into a world of pulsing beats and blinking lights, black packages arriving at his door and game clues that unlocked more games.

“This is the first alternate-reality game I’ve played, and I didn’t know what to expect,” the resident of Twentynine Palms, Calif., says. But he and other players he met through the game soon guessed “the test” must be a promotion for a new video game.

Instead, though, the teaser campaign is part of an elaborate marketing plan for Wrigley’s 5 gum. Wrigley introduced the brand in 2007 to try to bring teens and young adults back to chewing gum. The company was acquired by Mars Inc. in 2008.

The gum maker’s game, dubbed “The Human Preservation Project,” claims to be recruiting players to take part in virtual experiments to save the human race by maintaining sensory experiences.

The “recruitment” began in May with ads on Facebook. In June, “confidential” materials were distributed to participants at the E3 Expo, a trade show for computer and video games, to create buzz among gamers.

Next came a stunt at the Bonnaroo music festival, where thousands of paper helicopters with glowing LED lights representing “ice flies” (a clue in the game) were dropped over the crowd by parachutists.

At the end of June, scavenger hunts in 15 cities provided clues to the next phase of the game, which included a new website featuring a short film.

So far, Wrigley says, 600,000 people have participated in the game in one way or another.

Wrigley’s 5 gum packaging includes a clue tied to the game on the inside flap.

Until recently, the company and 42 Entertainment, the Pasadena, Calif., production firm that developed the Web content, didn’t tie the game to 5 at all. While teaser campaigns by movie and videogame makers don’t usually disclose what they are for, such reticence is unusual for a consumer-products company. It is also unusual to tease something that has already been on the market for awhile.

But lately, Wrigley has started dropping clues that 5 gum is, in fact, behind the game. There is a link to the game’s website,, on 5’s Facebook page, and game codes are included in the gum’s packaging.

“This is the true nature of the brand, which is exploratory,” says Martin Schlatter, Wrigley’s chief marketing officer. “You go down the rabbit hole, and you don’t know how deep it is or where it goes.”

Indeed, with 5, Wrigley countered the conventional packaging and marketing wisdom in the gum industry, choosing slim black gum packs and flavor names like “Cobalt” and “Rain.” And instead of touting the gum as serving a function like freshening breath or whitening teeth, the company sought to position it as a provider of sensory stimulation. Some flavors provide a warming sensation, it said, while others offer cooling.

And the company’s marketing efforts appear to be working. Wrigley says that 5 is its most successful brand launch ever and that it has achieved $500 million in sales in five years.

Brand experts say that Wrigley’s elaborate game—and its lack of affiliation to thechewing gum early on—could also pay off.

“With the whole authenticity trend going on, people don’t like brands not being transparent, but I think 5 gum has done a brilliant job,” says Carol Nakamoto, director of business development for the brand-strategy firm Toniq LLC, which hasn’t been involved in the Wrigley campaign.

Mr. Allar says he was disappointed when he eventually discovered that the only way that he could obtain the later codes was to buy the gum. But that didn’t stop him from playing. “It’s still entertaining,” says Mr. Allar, who has since purchased 15 packs of the gum to get more codes.

Wrigley won’t disclose how much it has spent to develop the game, but it does say it doesn’t plan to pull the plug anytime soon.

That’s good news for Sloane Koogle, a 15-year-old high-school student in Phoenix. She has become so enthusiastic about playing the game that she started a Facebook fan page that now has more than 400 members.

When she discovered that 5 gum was behind the game, she says, “I was kind of like, ‘Wow, all this for gum?’” But she says that since then she has bought 17 packs of 5, and now she’s sold on the gum, too.

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