Jun 29, 2006

Cutting through the Noise

Experts say Americans are exposed to hundreds of advertising messages each day. To cut through the noise, companies are constantly coming up with new and creative marketing strategies, hoping to make their products or brands memorable. As mainstream media reveal new and sometimes dubious stealth marketing schemes, you may start to wonder if that nice couple who asked you to take their picture in front of the Empire State Building or that attractive woman who asked you for a light was actually hired by an electronics or tobacco company.

There are countless ways for companies to promote themselves and their products that are creative and unconventional—and they aren’t all ethically questionable. The water industry offers some interesting examples of innovative marketing strategies, both as advertisers and as a medium for other industries.

Around the Water Cooler

AquaCell Media, a subsidiary of AquaCell Technologies, Inc., offers companies a unique medium with its out-of-home advertising program, dubbed “coolertising.” AquaCell provides establishments such as pharmacies with free water coolers and sells advertising on the band of the cooler’s 5-gal bottle. Advertisers have included CBS and Unilever, and participating stores have included Rite Aid and Duane Reade Pharmacies.

Pharmacies are an ideal location for coolertising, according to AquaCell Technologies President Karen Laustsen. The idea, she told Media Life, is that consumers will look at the advertisements while they wait for prescriptions, and after the pharmacist fills them, many will actually use a free cup of water to take their medication.

Not only does coolertising help promote the companies who advertise on the coolers, but it also has attracted a lot of media attention for AquaCell in various print and online trade and consumer publications, such as BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes.com, to name a few.

In the Movies

Siemens Water Technologies similarly promoted its brand by publicizing a unique and interesting service. Last December, the company announced its involvement with the production of the newest Harry Potter movie. Siemens had supplied equipment and support to treat the water used in the lake scenes in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” The company also supplied equipment for the movie “Titanic” and the upcoming “Casino Royale” Bond movie, according to Barry Humphries, leisure sales manager at Wallace & Tiernan, a Siemens Water Technologies Co.

Companies have been promoting their products and brands by associating with the glamorous movie business for decades with product placement, in which the company usually pays to have its products used or viewed in films. Siemens, however, took a varying approach by publicizing its involvement in film production.

While Siemens does promote its film projects, Allison Zuccaro, senior public relations writer for USFilter said, “We see it more as simply fulfilling client requests and inquiries rather than a deliberate advertising strategy.” According to Humphries, so far, media coverage has been disappointing. “Our media exposure has been limited in the markets we serve.” Humphries said. Zucarro, however, noted that the Harry Potter press release was picked up in a few American and Canadian journals.

Connecting to a Cause

Another innovative way companies can market themselves is by creating and publicizing a relationship with a nonprofit organization or cause. American Express provides the classic example of how cause marketing allows companies to help themselves by helping others. In the 1980s, the company pledged to donate a penny to the restoration of the Statue of Liberty for every transaction made with an American Express credit card. The company raised $1.7 million for the cause, while use of American Express cards increased by 28%, and new American Express customers increased by 17% (www.causemarketingforum.com).

Choosing an appropriate cause or nonprofit is a vital aspect of cause marketing. When trying to appeal to the general public, companies should think twice about associating with controversial issues. Ideally, the cause should relate to their industries and products. The water industry has a perfect opportunity to utilize this strategy because there are so many nonprofits and causes associated with water, such as conservation and safe drinking water.

Golden State Water Co. (GSWC), for example, hosted a Water Awareness Celebration in conjunction with California’s Water Awareness Month in May, created by the California Water Awareness Campaign and proclaimed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The public utility company, a subsidiary of American States Water Co., organized a free community event featuring food, music, and prizes such as t-shirts designed by GSWC employees and their families. The event also featured games such as the “Edible Aquifer,” in which attendees learned about the layers of an aquifer by creating one with lemon-lime soda, ice cream, ice and sprinkles. In addition, community members learned where their drinking water comes from, how their water is monitored and tested, why conservation is important and how they can become good stewards of the environment.

According to Rebecca Long, GSWC community and customer relations administrator, the event was a success with approximately 1,500 attendees. In addition, the event attracted pre-coverage in the Mid Valley News, Water & Wastes Digest, and Brown and Caldwell’s California Water News.

In a similar effort, Water-Right, Inc., a manufacturer of water treatment solutions, hosted Water Day to kick off the American Water Works Association’s National Drinking Water Week in May. The Appleton, Wis.-based company invited community members to their facility to enjoy free RO water, food grilled by two local radio personalities (who also did live broadcasts), children’s activities, prizes and water testing. In addition, water professionals, such as a specialist from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, were available to talk with community members about their drinking water.

“It was a bit like a second grand opening in that we primarily wanted to create more awareness of our presence in the community—especially as a reputable resource for help or information,” said Stephanie Tsoris, Water-Right marketing director.

Advertising for the event included radio station spots, local newspaper inserts, press releases sent to local media and direct-mail postcards sent to zip codes known to have problem water and to homes built within the last seven years, according to Tsoris.

“We were lucky to get some television interviews both before and on the day of the event,” Tsoris said. “In all of our advertising efforts, we encouraged people to bring a home water sample to have tested by our staff at no charge, specifically for hardness, pH levels, total dissolved solids and iron.”

The event drew 250 to 300 people, many of whom brought water samples from home to be tested. Water Day exceeded expectations, and Water-Right plans to make it an annual event.

“Surprisingly, we did sell a couple of pieces of equipment the day of the show—even though it wasn’t our intent,” Tsoris said. “The real intent was to create awareness of [our] new facility and to promote quality drinking water. Many appointments have been set for further prospective buyers.”

Off the Beaten Path

Sometimes it’s not the most expensive, but the most creative marketing that will cut through the noise to get people’s attention—and boost revenues. Although, it’s not enough just to have a wacky idea; you should think about your particular product and market.

Water, used for leisure and refreshment and to stay alive, provides a great concept base to come up with something off the beaten path. Whether it’s connecting to a social cause, daily activity or entertainment venue, water industry professionsals have a unique angle available to them to utilize creative and unconventional marketing.

About the author

Amy Osgood is assistant editor for Water Quality Products. She can be reached at 847.391.1025, or by e-mail at [email protected].