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Apr 13, 2004
Case Study

How TABASCO Markets With Screensavers -- 600,000+ Downloads and Counting

SUMMARY: Are screensavers old hat as a marketing medium? TABASCO Brand doesn't think so. In fact they are overjoyed that so many marketers either overlook the idea, or do a remarkably lame job of testing it.

Discover the top five mistakes advertisers typically make with screensaver campaigns. (You may have even made them yourself.)

Plus, we've posted a Hall of Fame featuring the six best TABASCO screensavers (including one for a B-to-B campaign) to inspire you:

This Case Study starts way back in 1998 (but trust us, it's highly relevant to today's marketers) when McIlhenny Co, makers of TABASCO™ Brand Pepper Sauce had launched a fairly revolutionary Web site called Pepperfest.

Pepperfest featured more interactive features than many CPG sites have even now six years later. While visitors seemed to like it, there wasn't any branding data out there on whether the experience actually translated into increased offline sales and brand loyalty.

So the marketers at McIlhenny decided to run an online survey to ask consumers what they thought.

Marketers worried they might not get enough answers to be statistically reliable. So, they asked their agency to come up with an incentive to spur response to at least 1,000 responses. And thus, the first TABASCO screensaver was born.

Results were astonishing. 18,000 consumers took the survey and downloaded the screensaver.

McIlhenny realized they'd lucked out, inadvertently discovering a way to keep their brand message floating on consumer's desktops creating daily brand impressions for possibly months on end.

Keeping screensaver downloads, brand impact, and user satisfaction as high as possible became a major part of the brand's ongoing online agenda. But, how do you keep the screensaver thrill going for six years (and into the foreseeable future)?


The creative team behind TABASCO's screensavers admit they're lucky because unlike other online ad units, there's not much strong competition. "Most of them stink."

Why? Turns out most screensavers are not properly conceived for the medium. Advertisers keep making the same big mistakes over and over again.

Mistake #1: Action unfolds too quickly

Screensavers aren't TV commercials or banners. You have hours to get your message across... so you'd better have hours of entertainment value.

That doesn't mean you have to have hugely involved movie. Consider the great screensavers of the mid-90s -- the flying toasters, the lawnmower guy who "mowed" your desktop, the fishtank, the flickering fire, the motorcyclist who jumped over varying line-ups of cars, the snowflakes that slowly piled up to cover your entire screen....

Successful screensavers are almost zen-like. They slowly unfold. Not much happens, but it's always fun to watch in an idle moment.

A typical TABASCO screensaver's action takes place over 30-45 minutes or longer. Example: the pepper plant screensaver shows the plants slowly growing at the plantation... viewers are almost mesmerized as leaf after leaf unfurls and water quietly ripples in the bayou.

Mistake #2: Action never changes

Many bad screensavers try to use up time by repeating the exact same few minutes of activity over and over again without any variation whatsoever until the watcher wants to scream with boredom.

Even slight changes can be modestly entertaining. For example: TABASCO's Mardi Gras screensaver showed a 45-minute series of floats parading by, restarting each time in a slightly different order.

Mistake #3. Too much interactivity

A screensaver isn't a videogame. How compelled would you be to relax and watch the clouds go by if you had to constantly click on them? Screensavers are supposed to be relaxing, not work.

On the other hand, a little destruction definitely speaks to a deep human need. Example: TABASCO's NASCAR screensaver had a racecar energetically bashing into icons on the desktop.

Mistake #4. Blatant advertising material

If your screensaver is successful, you're going to be in your fans' faces day in, day out for a very long time. In that context, a little brand messaging goes a long way. Offer messaging and even big logos are inappropriate. Nobody hangs onto an overt ad for fun.

Mistake #5. One-shot promotion

Lots of companies have tried offering a screensaver, posted it to their site, and perhaps zapped out a quick ad campaign promoting it. Then a few months later the campaign is over and forgotten.

TABASCO's marketers decided that since screensavers are long-term marketing ploy, they should be treated as such. The download link has remained in almost exactly the same spot on the site for six years. But, every year there's an all-new screensaver for fans to enjoy.

Also, the development team deliberately keeps file sizes small -- if possible under 2 megs -- enough for consumers to email to each other, giving rise to viral reach.


Consumers have downloaded more than half a million screensaver copies from TABASCO's Web site since the ongoing campaign began. Plus, an estimated additional 20-30% have received the screensavers virally via email from friends.

The campaign has proven so successful that McIlhenny has further invested in testing a b-to-b version for the foodservice industry (with great success); and the annual budget always includes funds for another screensaver creative.

Useful links related to this article:

Live samples of 6 past TABASCO screensavers:

Bent Media - the agency that created all six screensavers:

ScreenTime Media - the tech Bent Media uses to produce screensavers more easily

TABASCO's main "Pepperfest" site
See Also:

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