||That's Not a Country Music Star. It's a Marketing Machine
Madison Avenue wants to get its act together this summer and take it on the road.
Advertisers and media companies are sponsoring events and promotions that emulate the kinds of road trips embarked upon each summer by millions of Americans. Trucks, buses, RVs and even fire engines are being sent around the country to bring brands to consumers as part of a popular trend known as experiential marketing.
The goal of experiential marketing is to build closer ties with consumers than can typically be forged through traditional tactics like television commercials or cents-off coupons. In this instance, the idea is for people to encounter the brands as they are out and about for activities like camping, attending music festivals, sightseeing and visiting amusement parks.
Among the brands planning summertime road trips are Bon Appétit magazine; the CBS television network; Hendrick's gin; the History cable channel; Hot Rod magazine, in partnership with Walmart; Jack in the Box, the fast-food chain; the sitcom "New Girl," on Fox Broadcasting; Porsche Cars North America, teaming up with Men's Journal magazine; Sauza tequila; and the "Truth" campaign from the American Legacy Foundation, which seeks to discourage teenagers from smoking.
"In these days of digital, high-tech, social media, we can't forget how important the one-to-one is," said George F. Schweitzer, president of the CBS Marketing Group division of the CBS Corporation.
Mr. Schweitzer is overseeing what is being called the CBS Buzz Tour, a bus that will "spread CBS love throughout the country," he said -- i.e., promote the network and its programming, give away CBS merchandise and offer fans meet-and-greets with stars.
The bus is to make around 60 stops in places like Boston, for the CBS broadcast of the "Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular"; Minneapolis-St. Paul, for the Minnesota State Fair; San Diego, for Comic-Con International; and South Bend, Ind., for the 60th anniversary of the CBS affiliate WSBT.
The CBS road trip will also have new-media aspects. For instance, the bus has its own Twitter hashtag, #CBSbuzz. And computer users can follow the tour online, at cbs.com/buzz, where there will be episodes of a Web series with two hosts described by Mr. Schweitzer as "our brand ambassadors": Alex Boylan of "The Amazing Race" and Burton Roberts of "Survivor."
Another reason there are more road trips this summer is the growing popularity of food trucks in local markets. Some tours operate as regional or national versions of those trucks, like the Cross-Country Cookout, a tractor-trailer sponsored by History that will serve up barbecue at events including Comic-Con and Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days.
"We have always been focused a little more on the one-off events," said Chris Meador, vice president for consumer marketing at History, referring to promotions to "drive awareness" for individual series on the channel.
"Something like this is such a bigger brand play, a way for us to celebrate communities that make history," he added. "And we'll bring our talent on the tour, too, and tell people to come see the faces that 'make History.'" The channel is working with the Civic Entertainment Group in New York on the tour.
Another food truck on a road trip with more than a local route is the Jack Burger Truck from Jack in the Box, which is visiting the Southeast, a market where the chain has recently expanded.
"We're a fairly new brand in the Southeast," said Tammy Bailey, division vice president for regional marketing at Jack in the Box in San Diego, and "we wanted to connect with our consumers there on a different level, on a much more emotional basis."
At the first stop, at the Country Music Association Music Festival and Fan Fair in Nashville on Thursday, "there was a line a block long continually throughout the day," she added. Two agencies, Beyond Traditional in Portland, Ore., and Secret Weapon Marketing in Santa Monica, Calif., are collaborating on the brand vehicle.
Road trips are not without their challenges. "It is very different than operating a stationary restaurant," Ms. Bailey said, in areas like food safety and training. Then there are "the uncontrollables in this kind of business model," she added, like the cost of fuel.
"We had heard stories of $6 gasoline, so we breathed a sigh of relief" at lower recent prices, Ms. Bailey said. Mr. Meador at History also had a "contingency budget," he said, if diesel prices had spiked.
A road trip that would have probably been undertaken no matter the price of fuel is the one sponsored by Porsche Cars and Men's Journal. The Spirited Escape Road Trip, 10 days from New York to Birmingham, Ala., features the former football player Dhani Jones promoting the 2013 Porsche Boxster S.
"This is the first time we've done something like this," said Scott Baker, manager for marketing communications at Porsche Cars in Atlanta.
(Source: The New York Times, 06/12/12)