During the early 1990s Breathe Right nasal strips, manufactured and marketed by CNS, Inc., enjoyed a meteoric rise in sales. This success was largely attributed to the influence of certain prominent athletes, who wore the strip to enhance performance. It also succeeded to an extent as a cure for problem snorers but had difficulty breaking into the more crowded cold and allergy field. While the product gained brand recognition, it became typecast as a specialized product for star athletes. Sales peaked in the mid-1990s, as did the price of CNS stock, and the company launched several marketing efforts aimed at reaching a family audience. In particular, women were targeted because they bought most of the cold remedies in the house, and since a greater number of men than women had snoring problems, women were the ones most affected by snoring and more motivated to seek a product to curb the problem. In an attempt to appeal to married problem snorers, generally 50 years and older, CNS in 2004 introduced its ‘‘Back in the Sack’’ campaign, developed by ad agency Olson & Company. The strategy was to convince couples that Breathe Right nasal strips could ease the snoring that hurt so many relationships.
With a budget of less than $1 million, ‘‘Back in the Sack’’ was in essence a direct-response campaign. The goal was to convince consumers to request a six-night sample pack of nasal strips either by calling a toll-free telephone number or by registering at a dedicated website. CNS felt confident that if people tried the product they would become customers. The TV spots ran late at night or early in the morning, the times when the problem of snoring was most on the minds of consumers. Morning radio personalities who tried the strips to alleviate their own snoring and offered their own testimonials played a major role in the campaign, as did a print ad that ran in a Sunday newspaper coupon insert. The website also provided educational information and the chance to send a humorous Snore-O-Gram E-mail message to loved ones, urging them to give Breathe Right a chance to address their snoring problem. Despite its limited budget the ‘‘Back in the Sack’’ campaign far exceeded its goals. The response rate to the sampling effort was five times the target, while sales increased at more than twice the anticipated rate. The campaign also won a prestigious EFFIE award in 2005 and continued to drive sampling and sales for CNS.
After receiving Food and Drug Administration approval in late 1993, the Breathe Right adhesive nasal strip, used to keep nasal passages open, found a ready market not with chronic snorers but with athletes. The company that produced the product, CNS, Inc., mailed samples to National Football League trainers, people who were more likely than most to understand the biology behind the strips. The Philadelphia Eagles were the first to give the product a try, applying it to the nose of running back Herschel Walker, who at the time was suffering from a cold, before he rushed for 269 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns. Star San Francisco 49ers’ wide receiver Jerry Rice then wore the strip for a Monday Night Football game, generating national attention for the Breathe Right brand and jump-starting its marketing campaign. A wide assortment of athletes used the product, many of them providing unpaid endorsements.
Sales exploded for Breathe Right, peaking around $65 million in 1996 before beginning to slip. ‘‘The problem,’’ according to Monte Hanson, writing for Finance and Commerce Daily Newspaper, ‘‘was that the strips marketed as a product worn by professional athletes to enhance performance and by men who had snoring problems had limited consumer appeal.’’ A new president, former Pillsbury executive Marti Morfitt, was hired in March 1998 as the price of CNS stock began to plummet. He began an effort to break out Breathe Right beyond its athletic typecasting and position it as a product for the entire family, able to help people suffering from nasal congestion caused by colds or allergies. A product containing Vicks mentholated vapors as well as decorated nasal strips for kids were introduced. The 1999 ‘‘Breathe Right. All Night’’ campaign promoted the product as a way to relieve nighttime nasal congestion. One of the TV spots showed a woman using the strip to ease nasal congestion. The subsequent ‘‘On the Nose’’ campaign also attempted to target women, a market that CNS believed was untapped because it viewed Breathe Right as a product for athletes or men with snoring problems. Women were important because they were often the ones who bought the product for spouses with snoring problems and were generally the family member responsible for buying cold remedies. A major goal of the ‘‘On the Nose’’ campaign was to urge women to see Breathe Right as a product for themselves. The ‘‘On the Nose’’ campaign, launched in January 2000, succeeded in raising consumer awareness and increased sales and even won a prestigious EFFIE award for CNS and its advertising agency, Campbell Mithun, but it did little to convince women to overcome their reluctance to wear an adhesive strip over their noses. Nevertheless CNS learned over the years that if it could persuade people to try the product, there was a good chance they would buy it. According to a 2003 study, people who tried the strip were seven times more likely to purchase it. The goal of the ‘‘Back in the Sack’’ campaign, developed by Olson & Company and launched in the summer of 2004 in a number of test markets, was to get as many nasal strips on the noses of potential customers as possible.
The ‘‘Back in the Sack’’ campaign targeted married snorers, which already accounted for the bulk of Breathe Right sales, but because the budget was less than $1 million, the company could not effectively reach a wider family market. It was also a vast market, given that studies indicated more than half of U.S. households had a problem snorer. Typically, problem snorers were men who were not affected by their snoring and, thus, lacked the motivation to try Breathe Right strips. Their wives, however, were highly motivated, eager to find a product to alleviate their husbands’ snoring, to get some sleep, and, in many cases, to save their relationships. Moreover problem snoring grew worse with age, providing older women with more motivation than younger women to take action. The campaign, as a result, targeted adults 50 years and older.
As a product to relieve congestion, Breathe Right faced competition from well-established brands—the likes of Vicks, Claritin, and Benadryl—that had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to establish themselves in the marketplace. But they could not claim to eliminate or even alleviate snoring. It was this opening that CNS wanted to exploit, and once consumers had gained relief from snoring there was a good chance they would try Breathe Right for congestion. Competition in the snoring aid category was varied but limited. There were some 300 patented devices intended to solve problem snoring, as well as such homemade nostrums as sewing a sock with a tennis ball inside it to the pajama back to force the snorer to sleep on his side (because snoring grew worse from sleeping on the back). On the market consumers could find slumber sleep masks, contour pillows, an assortment of sprays and pills, as well as ‘‘Chin-Up’’ strips, which kept the mouth closed and forced a user to breathe through his nose. There were also competing nasal strips, the best known being Clear Passage, produced by giant pharmaceutical Schering-Plough. Additionally drugstore chains offered private-label nasal strips, but Breathe Right was the dominant brand in the category.
Since the introduction of Breathe Right a decade earlier, CNS had received hundreds of letters from satisfied customers offering their testimonials. A large portion of them said that Breathe Right not only alleviated a snoring problem but perhaps saved a relationship. Taking this cue, the marketers decided to focus on the emotional benefit of using Breathe Right to curb snoring: rekindling relationships and—in the language of the campaign—getting couples ‘‘back in the sack.’’
The campaign was a multifaceted, integrated effort to attract, and in some cases reattract, problem snorers. Media elements of the campaign included television, radio, newspaper, direct mail, public relations, and interactive/ online. In order to make the message resonate, especially important given the limited budget, the direct-response television spots were aired at times when the problem of snoring was most on the minds of people affected by it: overnight and early in the morning. One spot showed a tattered half of a picture of a man on a bed pillow in the shadows of the night, his snoring heard in the background. The other half of the picture, that of his wife, was shown on the other pillow, with the sound of a ticking click representing her sleeplessness. After the voice-over made the case for Breathe Right strips, able to alleviate snoring in six nights, the halves of the picture were seen reunited. The direct response of the ad came at the close with a toll-free number people could call to receive a free six-night sample pack of the product. The pack itself served an educational purpose: consumers learned that the body needed to retrain itself in order to breathe differently and to stop snoring. Moreover the consumers were developing a nightly habit of applying the strip, a habit that would carry over once they experienced results and began to purchase the product. Radio also proved effective in convincing people to request a product sample. Popular radio station morning ‘‘drive’’ personalities who themselves suffered from snoring were located. They were then given Breathe Right strips to use and, once they had success with the product, were enthusiastic in their praise of Breathe Right the next morning. The last major element in the campaign was the Sunday newspaper coupon inserts, which a large number of the target audience scoured for bargains before doing their grocery shopping. CNS ran a four-color front page ad on the SmartSource coupon inserts. All told, the campaign spent less than $500,000 on media.
The campaign’s website, GetBackInTheSack.com, also played a major role. Not only could consumers sign up online for the sample pack, but the site also provided interactive educational material that showed how the strips worked. Many of the testimonials CNS had received from couples were posted online, lending credibility to the campaign’s theme of Breathe Right saving relationships. The website also included whimsical Snore-O-Grams, E-mail messages that could be sent to loved ones to encourage them to do something about their snoring.
DESPERATION: THE MOTHER OF SOME INVENTIONS
The Breathe Right nasal strip was invented by Bruce Johnson, a man who suffered from allergies as well as a deviated septum. In his attempts to keep his nasal passages open, he resorted to such desperate measures as putting straws up his nose and even using paper clips to keep his nostrils open. His inspiration for Breathe Rights came one day when he drove past an archway at the University of Minnesota and he realized that he could pull open his nasal passages from the outside rather than from within. This insight led to his creation of an adhesive strip that could be applied over the nose.
One of the objectives of the ‘‘Back in the Sack’’ campaign was to double the response rate of prior sampling efforts, from 0.9 to 1.8 percent. A further goal was to increase sales by more than 8 percent over the same time period of the previous year. On both counts the campaign more than exceeded the target. The response rate to the sample offer was 9.12 percent, a 1,103 percent increase over the historic average and far beyond the 1.8 percent goal. This success then had an impact on sales, which grew 17 percent, a rate increase that more than doubled the campaign’s goal. What started out as a trial effort was rolled out nationwide in 2005, and investors soon took note of the campaign’s success. They bid up the price of CNS stock, which topped the $25 mark for the first time since the heady days of 1996. Then the stock would dip below the $5 mark within two years. This time, however, CNS had record revenues in fiscal 2005 to support the stock’s price.
The ‘‘Back in the Sack’’ campaign was also recognized by the advertising industry. In 2005 it won the Gold in the Health Aids/Over-the-Counter Products category of the EFFIE Awards, presented annually by the New York American Marketing Association to honor outstanding advertising campaigns.