October 31, 2005
Case Study

Calvin Klein's Team on How to Make Your Times Square Billboard Stand Out (Only Semi-Impossible)

SUMMARY: Times Square is packed with huge super-clever billboards. It's almost impossible to stand out in the cacophony. Here's an inspirational Case Study on a Calvin Klein ad that managed the almost impossible. Even though it was only live for one day this summer, it garnered media attention in 15 countries (and yes, boosted NYC sales). Includes practical notes on how to measure results from a billboard.
CHALLENGE Like a New York nightclub, fragrances only stay hot for a limited time.

Calvin Klein's CK One fragrance is 10 years old, which means much of its target market was barely pubescent when it first launched.

How do you turn a now-classic brand into high-buzz brand again? Danielle Cardelia, VP Global PR Calvin Klein Fragrances, needed to launch an "edgy" event-based campaign.

She chose a Times Square billboard because she hoped the resulting buzz would extend beyond the US -- and Times Square is one of those locations nearly everyone in the developed world has heard of. It's American, but also universal (kind of Calvin).

Only problem -- it's hardly unique. Walking through Times Square is like running a gauntlet of clever larger-than-life campaigns all designed with the same exact end in mind. How could CK One stand out enough to get global fashion news coverage?

CAMPAIGN On July 19, 2005, Cardelia's team took advertising integration to a whole new level.

When most advertisers use the term "integrated" they mean using the same creative elements across multiple media -- such as sticking the same photo in a magazine ad and an online banner.

Cardelia decided to take the actual models that were featured in CK One's current TV and print ads and stick them into a Times Square billboard... in person.

From 7a.m. until 8p.m., live male and female models were dancing, listening to music, and decoratively hanging out on a stage built to look like a huge CK One bottle above the Times Square Hard Rock Cafe.

Here are five practical tips for anyone who'd like to swipe ideas from this campaign:

-> Tip #1. PR prep

Boil down your premise into a single, short sentence -- a micro-elevator pitch. The CK One campaign was "a live perfume bottle with people dancing around inside it." Pre-pitch targeted media a week before the event. It's enough time for them to assign reporters and consider story angles but not so much time that the idea gets boring. The CK One team sent out a media package that included a DVD of the commercial, the fragrance and a press release.

Then, two days before, a release was sent out via PR Newswire. And phone calls were made to top TV stations on the morning of the event.

The campaign's microsite (link below), which was mainly developed for press purposes, had a section for the press that included print ads currently running, fact sheets and a media alert.

During the entire process, such as when the bottle was being built in New Jersey, the team shot video of the progress. Once the bottle went live, they set up a satellite feed for photos and video so that print and TV media could pull video according to their needs.

-> Tip #2. Permit-hell

Even though the team was experienced in Times Square campaigns, it took them 100 hours simply to handle all the necessary permits.

Part of the reason it was so complicated was that, to execute a good stunt, you must do something that nobody has done before, so you may have no idea what entities need to be involved.

"We had six entities involved in approving this." These included transportation, the building owners, and building renters. When it turned out that the building over which they were constructing the billboard was a landmark, another commission had to become involved.

-> Tip #3. It's like staging a play -- plan accordingly

"It's just like putting on a Broadway play, but you don't get to do a rehearsal." With that in mind, leave plenty of time for things to take longer than planned.

The bottle was first built in a stadium, then assembled on a marquee above the building's entrance. Twenty engineers -- from the city, from the building, and CK One's agency's own -- were all involved. To create the bottle, the team hired a contractor who specialized in concerts, so it would work smoothly as a stage.

Naturally the team also rented a trailer for the models' hair and makeup.

-> Tip #4. Maximize results with a street team

The campaign tied in with Macy's at Herald Square, with 12 members of a street team handing out samples and coupons offering a free canvas messenger bag with purchase. The street team had been given three pages of talking points about price, description of what the fragrance smelled like and where it was available.

-> Tip #5. Measure in multiple ways

The CK One team decided to measure results in a wide variety of ways to defend their campaign investment to management.

o Media mentions -- Measured through Burrelles and VMS, multiplied by the reach of each media outlet.

o Direct impressions -- Number of people who go through Times Square on a typical summer day.

o Word of mouth -- A guestimate of how many people who saw the campaign mentioned it to friends. (The team guessed 10% of viewers would say something.)

o Microsite traffic -- Making the leap from offline to online for a billboard campaign is awfully hard, so any microsite traffic at all would be a big win.

o Sampling -- The number of sample packets that were handed out.

o Sales -- The amount of CK One sales at Macy's for that day compared to the same day a year before. RESULTS "It was a giant risk, with great results. We were thrilled," says Cardelia. The team estimated they got $12 million worth of media coverage and direct marketing impact from the day-long event, which cost $500,000.

Media coverage included fashion and style magazines in 15 countries (link to samples below), as well as a full page in the New York Post. Plus, TV mentions included Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, Regis & Kathy (where they held up the NY Post story on camera) and CNN.

The microsite received just under 100,000 visitors, mainly press-related, in two weeks before and after the campaign.

The street team was also unexpectedly successful. Although they'd been armed with 20,000 sampler packs to give away, they ran out mid-day. So CK One's team had to rush to the plant for another 20,000. By the end of the day the team had given out all of those as well. Not a sample left. (Lesson, never assume you have enough samples.)

Last but not least, Macy's Herald Square location CK One sales tripled that day.

One final note: The perfect location within Times Square turned out to be a building that was under re-construction. "We were building our bottle and they were building the restaurant," says Cardelia. "It probably wouldn't have worked if the Hard Rock was open."

Don't make your campaign compete with the building it's hanging on.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from CK One's campaign: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/ckone/study.html

Mixed Marketing -- the PR stunt agency that created this campaign http://www.mixedmarketing.com

Campaign microsite: http://www.ckonebillboard.com/

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