Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


With the availability of digital technology such as scanners and high-quality color printers, the ability of counterfeiters to produce excellent facsimiles of U.S. currency forced the U.S. Treasury to introduce new note designs on a more regular basis. In addition, high-tech security measures had to be developed to counteract the advances made by counterfeiters. In 2003 a new $20 bill—featuring new colors and graphics as well as anticounterfeiting devices such as watermarks and embedded security strips—was ready to be introduced to the public. Public relations firm Burson-Marsteller was hired to take charge of a marketing campaign to unveil the new twenty and create a smooth transition when the notes entered the economy. The $32 million campaign was a multipronged effort seeking to reach as many people in the United States as possible. In addition to using materials such as posters, brochures, and training videos aimed at alerting cashiers to the new security measures, ‘‘The New Color of Money’’ tried to reach a mass audience through entertainment channels, in particular television. The campaign included television spots, but it also relied on product placements, akin to the marketing of consumer goods. The new $20 bill was highlighted on television game shows as well as on prime-time dramas. It became the subject of conversations on morning news programming and of jokes by late-night comedians. The twenty also appeared on billboards, atop taxi cabs, in subway cars, and on Internet ads.
The ‘‘New Color of Money’’ campaign came to a close after the new $20 bill was formally unveiled in October 2002, accompanied by ceremonies staged across the country. The campaign achieved a great deal of recognition for the twenty with the general public. The transition was not without some bumps, however, nor did it lack critics who questioned the need to spend tax dollars on something people had no choice but to use.

The United States government had always taken steps to thwart forgery of its currency, in large measure to its experience in breaking away from the British; as part of its war effort Britain counterfeited the new Continental currency to make it worthless and wreck the economy of the fledgling republic. In about 1820, as an example of an early countermeasure, copper printing plates were replaced with steel ones because they produced uniform engravings and allowed for more complicated patterns on banknotes, thus complicating the task of counterfeiting. Nevertheless, counterfeiters continued to ply their trade, aided by the lack of a uniform currency. By the time of the Civil War some 1,600 state banks were issuing their own bills, resulting in about 7,000 varieties of notes, which made the task of determining real from fake all the more difficult. The Secret Service, today known for its role in protecting the president of the United States, was actually formed in 1865 to thwart counterfeiting. It was not until 30 years later that its agents began moonlighting as bodyguards for President Cleveland. A common way to deter counterfeiting in the twentieth century was to change the design of the notes regularly. Most countries altered patterns every 15 to 20 years, although the United States tended to wait longer. By the 1990s, however, new technology made the job of the counterfeiter much easier, forcing the U.S. government to begin changing the design of its notes on a regular basis, roughly every seven years. In 1996 new $100 notes were introduced, followed by $50 notes in 1997, $20 notes in 1998, and $5 and $10 notes in 2000. The U.S. Department of the Treasury hired publicrelations firm Burson-Marsteller in 1996 to spearhead a worldwide public education campaign to introduce the newly designed currency.
In 2002 Burson-Marsteller was hired again, this time to introduce the new colorized $20 bill, which would be followed by other denominations. The most noticeable changes to the new $20 bill were cosmetic. According to Tara Ross, a Texas attorney writing for the American Enterprise, ‘‘Peach and blue colors appear on the bill, but they are subtle. Andrew Jackson remains, but without the oval that used to surround his portrait. A blue eagle now appears to his right and a smaller eagle to his left. Several dozen little yellow [20s] appear across the back on the bill.’’ In addition to the first use since 1905 of colors beyond green and black, the new $20 bill included several new anticounterfeiting features, including colorshifting ink, so that colors changed as the note was tilted; a watermark pressed into the paper and visible from both sides when held up to the light; and a security thread (a plastic strip) embedded in the paper, that in small print spelled out the denomination of the bill.
Unlike the previous rollout of new currency, however, this time Burson-Marsteller was joined by the Hollywood talent agency William Morris Agency, which would endeavor to secure ‘‘bit parts’’ for the new $20 bill on television shows and in movies. Omnicom Group’s Davie-Brown Entertainment was also engaged to help in the marketing effort. It was all part of the $32 million ยช Joseph Sohm; Visions of America/Corbis ‘‘The New Color of Money, Safer. Smarter. More Secure’’ marketing campaign to introduce to the world the new $20 bill, which was set to begin distribution through commercial banks on October 9, 2003.

While in a sense the target audience for the ‘‘New Color of Money’’ campaign was every person in the world who was old enough to spend money, the focus of the campaign was on the United States. (A global public education effort would follow, highly important because 60 percent of U.S. currency was held overseas.) The campaign’s purpose was to ensure a smooth transition to the new $20 bill, making sure that the general public expected the change and understood that both old and new currency would be accepted. Perhaps of even more importance was making people who handled cash as part of their jobs, especially cashiers, aware of the new security measures. Richard I. Mintz, chairman of the publicaffairs division of Burson-Marsteller, told Betsy Streisand of the New York Times that the goal of the campaign was relatively simple: ‘‘We want to build awareness—then we can begin to change behavior.’’ Streisand added, ‘‘The behavior that he wants to change includes stuffing the $20 bill, the most frequently counterfeited in the United States, into a pocket or cash register before checking its authenticity by, say, holding it up to a light or feeling for the security thread.’’

The main competition for the new $20 bill was fake $20 bills. The elaborate security measures incorporated in the new note came in response to readily available digital technology—scanners, color printers, and software—that gave rise to casual forgers, such as college students colorcopying a $20 bill to fool the pizza-delivery person, and provided powerful new tools for criminal forgers. It was estimated that less than 1 percent of counterfeit notes uncovered in the United States in 1995 were digitally produced. By the time the new $20 bill was introduced, that number had ballooned to almost 40 percent. On another level the new twenty faced competition in the media, because its message had to vie with countless others for the attention of the public. It was for this reason that the William Morris Agency was hired; by placing the new note in a variety of different situations on television, the chances of reaching a mass audience were greatly increased.

Although hard currency remained highly important in the United States, at the time that the campaign ‘‘The New Color of Money’’ appeared, cash was used to make purchases less frequently than in the past. According to the Nielson Report, 25 percent of purchases made in the United States in 1990 involved cash. By 2002 that number had dropped to 19 percent. The share was expected to be just 10 percent by 2020.

The ‘‘New Color of Money’’ campaign entailed the distribution of more than 37 million items of training materials, such as brochures, posters, training videos, and CD-ROMs, geared for cash-handling workers. There was also a website,, where people could learn more about the new anticounterfeit devices. A certain amount of coverage could also be expected from the news media. But in order to cast as wide a net as possible, the campaign also included television spots, promotional events, product placements, and joint marketing efforts. In addition, the new note even became fodder for late-night comedians. David Letterman commented that it looked like it had undergone a makeover from the guys on the hit show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. It was not a surprising moment, given that representatives from the William Morris Agency had met weeks earlier with the writers for Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and other late-night programs to tell them about the new $20 bill. They did not care if the hosts poked fun at the bill, as long as they brought attention to it. Other exposure through entertainment channels included appearances on the game shows Wheel of Fortune, Pepsi Play for a Billion, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and Jeopardy. Joint marketing deals were arranged with such partners as Wal-Mart and Pepperidge Farm. The latter put a picture of the new bill on its Goldfish cracker packages. The crackers themselves were colored to match the twenties, and the company also developed a contest around the new bill, offering a trip to Washington, D.C., as a prize. Like contemporary consumer products, the $20 bill was placed in movies and television shows, including CSI: Miami, The West Wing, and Law & Order. It was even electronically superimposed on the field during college football games on ESPN and during NFL games on Monday Night Football on ABC.
The campaign employed outdoor elements. A major billboard in New York City’s Times Square was leased. Taxi toppers were procured in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Posters were put up in subways and bus shelters in such cities as Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.
‘‘The New Color of Money’’ also included a pair of television spots. In one a man withdrew money from an ATM and paused to inspect the new $20 bills that he received. While he displayed obvious pleasure in what he saw, an announcer commented, ‘‘You can see right away that things are different. We’ve added color and changed the portrait.’’ The man then bought flowers from a vendor, who was equally impressed. After noting the security features and assuring the audience that both old and new twenties were legal tender, the announcer closed with the ‘‘safer, smarter, more secure’’ tagline. In the second spot, called ‘‘Sleight of Hand,’’ a man in a music store received a new $20 bill in change after buying a CD. While the announcer listed the new features of the bill, accompanied by guitar riffs and record scratching, the man spun the bill on his finger and performed a number of other special-effects tricks, impressing the store clerk, who applauded at the end of the demonstration. A woman then stepped up to the counter and asked, ‘‘Can I get a new twenty?’’ On the day the bill began distribution, the campaign organized a number of promotional events that received widespread news coverage. It was featured on NBC’s Today Show, and cohost Katie Couric became the first New Yorker to purchase something—a cup of coffee at Dean & Deluca—with the new twenty. In Washington, D.C., the first of the new $20 bills was used by the head of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to buy stamps from a vending machine. It was a calculated choice: in the 1990s the introduction of the new $20 bill was marred by problems with the same Post Office machines, which had not been properly prepared to accept the notes. More than 30 other similar events took place in cities across the country.

The ‘‘New Color of Money’’ campaign succeeded in its core mission of garnering attention for the release of the new $20 bill. According to Burson-Marsteller, the campaign achieved an 82 percent awareness level for the twenty in the United States. The campaign also set the stage for the introduction of the new $50 note in 2004 and $10 note in 2005. But there were also problems. According to Ross of the American Enterprise, the campaign did not accomplish a smooth transition: ‘‘Several major grocery store chains received notice of the new [bills] mere weeks before they appeared on the market. As a result, self-checkout lanes across the country were not prepared to accept the new bills when they were introduced to the market.’’
Ross was one of a number of people critical of spending tax dollars on a marketing campaign for the new $20 note. She stated, ‘‘the Secret Service reported that $44.3 million in counterfeit notes were passed last year—not much compared to the cost of the marketing and all the upgrades to ATMs and other machines we now need. Rather than redesigning, marketing, and incorporating a new $20, $50, or $100 bill into our lives once every few years, it would be much cheaper and more effective to simply spend more time finding and prosecuting counterfeiters.’’ Brandweek writer Philip Van Munching was even more caustic in his observations about the campaign, maintaining, ‘‘It isn’t so much that our government thinks its constituents are stupid people; it’s that the government is apparently comprised of stupid people, who naturally assume we’re their intellectual equals—I don’t question that the new $20 bills are different, but do we need to be sold on it?’’
For its work on ‘‘The New Color of Money’’ Burson-Marsteller received advertising industry accolades. In 2004 it won top honors for Global Campaign of the Year at the PRWeek Awards, present by PRWeek, a trade publication serving the public-relations field. Moreover, the new $20 bill itself was named one of the ‘‘Best Products of 2003’’ by BusinessWeek and Fortune magazines.

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