Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


At the beginning of the twenty-first century Brigham’s, Inc., well known in New England for its ice cream and restaurants, looked to expand its product line to include the kinds of chunky ice cream flavors (with products such as candy bars mixed in) made popular by Ben & Jerry’s. The first attempt was a flavor called ‘‘The Big Dig,’’ but three years passed before the company was ready for a second launch. In 2003, as part of a 90th-anniversary promotion, Brigham’s sponsored a contest to name a new flavor. The winning entry, revealed in April 2004, was ‘‘Reverse the Curse.’’ The name was a reference to the supposed curse on the Boston Red Sox baseball team, which had not won the World Series since trading the legendary Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. The campaign to introduce the new flavor operated on a modest $250,000 budget and ran from April through late October 2004. It consisted of radio spots announced by a Red Sox player, print ads, a billboard, and in-store posters. The crux of the campaign, however, was a series of promotional events, which garnered a great deal of free media because the New England region that year was fascinated more than ever by the exploits of the Red Sox and anything associated with the club. To the delight of Brigham’s, the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, and the curse was lifted. The ice cream was then renamed ‘‘Curse Reversed.’’ As a result of good fortune and strong marketing work, which was recognized by the dairy industry, Reverse the Curse became Brigham’s most successful product launch.

Brigham’s was a well-entrenched New England brand at the start of the twenty-first century. The company was known both for its chain of restaurants, which had served Brigham’s-brand ice cream for decades, and for its premium supermarket ice cream, which debuted in 1983. At its peak in the mid-1980s Brigham’s operated more than 100 restaurants, but prepacked supermarket ice cream increasingly became its main source of revenue. In addition, the E ´ lan brand of frozen yogurt was acquired to bring the company in line with the tastes of modern consumers. More importantly, Roger Theriault, appointed CEO of Brigham’s in the mid-1990s, was able to complete the turnaround and transform the company from one that was merely holding its own into one that was actually profitable.
Brigham’s best-selling flavor of ice cream—and one that was very much a New England tradition—was vanilla; it accounted for about one-third of all sales. While Brigham’s Vanilla Ice Cream remained a favorite, the marketplace since the mid-1980s had seen an influx of ice creams that came in flavors with unusual ingredients mixed in, a trend that was first popularized by the Vermont-based company Ben & Jerry’s. To stay current Brigham’s introduced Big Dig, a vanilla ice cream with brownie pieces, caramel swirls, and chocolate chunks mixed in; the name played on the nickname of Boston’s long-term Central Artery highway project. The flavor enjoyed a successful launch, but Brigham’s did not follow up with any new flavors, instead turning its attention to ice cream bars and the expansion of its geographic reach.
In fall 2003 the company was approaching its 90th birthday, and it commemorated the occasion by holding a contest to concoct and name a new ice cream flavor. A large number of entries paid tribute to the Boston Red Sox, New England’s highly popular Major League Baseball team. It was also no surprise that many of these names referred to the legendary ‘‘Curse of the Bambino’’ that supposedly afflicted the Red Sox; the team had not won a World Series championship since 1918, when, as a star pitcher and part-time slugger, Babe Ruth (George Herman Ruth, also referred to as ‘‘the Bambino’’) played a prominent role. Strapped for cash, the team sold the Babe to the New York Yankees in the winter of 1919. Ruth gave up pitching except for a rare mound appearance and proceeded to revolutionize the sport as a homerun hitter and its biggest star. While the Red Sox lapsed into mediocrity, the Yankees, which before adding Ruth had played second fiddle to the New York Giants, became the dominant team in baseball for the rest of the century. To explain their team’s fall from grace, Red Sox fans created the myth that the Boston team was cursed because of the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees, and many nourished a comforting sense of fatalism even as they cheered on their team. More than one entry to the Brigham’s contest offered the name ‘‘Reverse the Curse.’’ The company selected the best of the accompanying recipes: Brigham’s vanilla ice cream mixed with chocolatecovered peanuts (representing baseballs), caramel cups (representing bases), and swirls of Brigham’s popular fudge sauce. The selection was made in secret, and only those with a need to know were told, while a marketing campaign to launch the new flavor was developed.

Brigham’s traditional target audience was mothers aged 24 to 54, because they were the people who did most of the grocery shopping and were likely to make the decision to purchase a Brigham’s product. For the ‘‘Reverse the Curse’’ campaign the focus was broadened to include adults in general, although a baseball promotion was sure to attract the attention of children as well. Baseball in New England was followed by a wide range of people, from celebrities such as author Stephen King and actor Matt Damon to firemen and nurses. The ad agency aimed the campaign at a broad audience. The billboard that Brigham’s rented near Fenway Park (the home ballpark of the Red Sox) off the Massachusetts Turnpike was seen by all demographics, and the radio spots were played on eight stations, each with a different format that appealed to every type of listener, from classical music to sports-talk radio. Brigham’s was ultimately looking to reach anybody who liked ice cream, a market that cut across all demographics.

As a premium brand that cost more than most ice creams, Brigham’s faced direct competition from Ben & Jerry’s and Breyers, but after 90 years in business it was well entrenched in its market. Brigham’s did not directly compete with another venerable New England brand, Hood, which concentrated on selling high volumes of less-expensive ice cream. Brigham’s did, however, see Hood as an impediment to forging a link with the Red Sox. Hood had a long-standing relationship with the team, including some ownership ties. Hood was the only ice cream sold at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox played home games, and Brigham’s was prevented from advertising on the park’s huge message board. Brigham’s was not even allowed to offer samples within the severalblock pedestrian zone that surrounded the ballpark. Nevertheless, by introducing Reverse the Curse, conducting baseball-related promotions, leasing a highway billboard outside Fenway Park, and hiring one of the Red Sox players to serve as the spokesperson, Brigham’s was able to outflank Hood to reach the Red Sox audience. While the Brigham’s campaign could have been interpreted as a direct challenge to Hood, according to Brigham’s vice president of marketing, Darryln Leikauskas, the ‘‘Reverse the Curse’’ campaign took little note of the competition. ‘‘It wasn’t about them, it was about us,’’ she said in a 2006 interview.

The Boston Red Sox owner who sold baseball star Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1919, thereby earning the eternal enmity of Boston fans, was theatrical agent Harry Frazee, best known for backing the musical No, No, Nanette (1925). He supposedly sold off his star players to cover his theatrical losses.

An initial goal of the ‘‘Reverse the Curse’’ campaign was to build up interest by keeping the new flavor a secret until the campaign was launched in April 2004 with the start of the baseball season. While manufacturing plans were made to produce ‘‘Reverse the Curse,’’ Leikauskas told only a handful of people about the contest winner. Because packaging had to be ordered in January, Brigham’s had to share the secret with a Maryland vendor, but no one that far way was interested in leaking the news. Brigham’s sent samples (using generic packaging) to a variety of New England–affiliated sports and entertainment celebrities, asking for their comments in exchange for a cash donation to their favorite charity. They included actors Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, comedians Jay Leno and Denis Leary, football player Doug Flutie, and basketball player Dave Cowens. The campaign also included print ads in yearbooks produced by minor league teams in Lowell, Massachusetts, and Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Because of production deadlines, ads had to be supplied before the announcement of the new flavor. For the first editions, therefore, the ad depicted a group of the company’s ‘‘all-star’’ flavors. A blank silhouette where Reverse the Curse was to be located offered the caption ‘‘Future Hall-of-Famer.’’ The campaign elements included radio spots, print ads, a billboard, in-store posters, and promotional events. Given the limited budget of $250,000, the campaign relied heavily on the promotional events, which garnered free attention from newspapers and television. The campaign kicked off in April 2004, shortly after the start of the new baseball season. Shipments of the product were timed to begin April 27, the anniversary of Babe Ruth Day, when, in 1947, Ruth was celebrated in every baseball park in the United States and Japan. To play further on the Babe Ruth curse, Brigham’s conducted another event on May 13, making the case that ritualists often attempted to break curses on the unlucky 13th. A pair of psychic advisers who several months earlier had performed a ceremony at Fenway Park to undo the curse were enlisted to do the same at the Brigham’s ice cream plant. A public rally was held the same day at a Brigham’s Restaurant in Arlington, Massachusetts, at which a Babe Ruth impersonator appeared and offered attendees the first complimentary samples of Reverse the Curse. Next, Brigham’s held a contest that was launched on a popular morning radio show: die-hard Red Sox fans were asked to send E-mails describing what they were willing to do to help the team break the curse. The winner was a young woman, a strict vegetarian, who offered for the sake of the team to eat 86 hot dogs, representing the number of years since Boston’s last World Series triumph. She fulfilled her pledge on the afternoon of September 26, before a critical game against the Yankees at end of the season. (She was ultimately helped by family, friends, and other supporters in eating the hot dogs.) During the baseball postseason Brigham’s also hosted an elementary-school rally in Dedham, Massachusetts, which included a surprise Reverse the Curse ice cream party, an event that received a good deal of local media attention.
For the advertising portion of the campaign Brigham’s hired Boston-area Rattle Advertising. Elements included in-store signage and radio, print, and outdoor advertisements. The biggest commitment was to radio, which also included the largest expense of the campaign: hiring a Red Sox player to serve as a spokesperson. Because of the small budget Brigham’s settled on one of the team’s support players, first baseman Kevin Millar, who was nevertheless very popular with fans. He recorded a 60-second spot that was also edited into a 10-second version. It played during June, July, and August on eight area stations that offered a wide variety of formats; for instance, WMJX played soft rock, WBMX offered contemporary hits, and WCRB was a classical music station. The station that received the most ad dollars, however, was WEEI, a sports-talk radio station. In addition Millar made some promotional appearances. Print ads were limited to the yearbooks of the two minor league teams that Brigham’s had already been sponsoring. An ad also appeared on the back of a widely distributed summer guide of local events as well as within the pages of programs for the concert series at the Tweeter Center for the Performing Arts in Boston and other entertainment events. The headline of the ads read, ‘‘The Ice Cream of the Eternal Optimist.’’ The lone billboard of the campaign was leased for the month of June. In stores Brigham’s hung posters touting Reverse the Curse and featuring a nostalgic baseball scene.

With the Red Sox trailing the New York Yankees three games to zero in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series of 2004, it appeared that Boston fans would have to suffer with their curse for yet another season. Then, in a dramatic reversal of fortune, the team rebounded to win four straight games and vanquish its hated rivals; it was the first time in baseball history that a team had recovered from such a deficit. The Red Sox then won the World Series, ending the so-called curse. From the start of the ‘‘Reverse the Curse’’ campaign, Brigham’s had promised to change the name of the ice cream when the curse was lifted. It now hastily put together another contest to rename the flavor. In the meantime large stickers were applied to the in-store posters, proclaiming ‘‘Curse Reversed.’’ It also became the eventual winner, saving the company some money on redoing the signage.
In large part because of the Red Sox’s dream season, Reverse the Curse became the best product launch in Brigham’s history. For the year it ranked number five in package sales for the company, representing 6 percent of all Brigham’s sales, despite being available for less than the entire year. The Big Dig, in contrast, ranked number eight during its first full year, with 4.4 percent of sales. There was no doubt that the team’s success fed into the success of the ice cream, but the marketing campaign behind the product was also an important element. The work was recognized by the International Dairy Foods Association, which presented Brigham’s with a pair of awards: Best Overall Public Relations Campaign for the entire 90th-anniversary effort and Best Overall Mixed Media Campaign for ‘‘Reverse the Curse’’ in particular.

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