Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


The pink Energizer Bunny first marched across American television screens in 1989 to advertise the Eveready Battery Company’s Energizer batteries. Eight years later Eveready Battery (which eventually became Energizer Holdings, Inc.) was America’s second-largest battery manufacturer, behind Duracell, Inc. After the Energizer Bunny’s debut proved highly successful, Eveready continued to spin off similar campaigns throughout the early 1990s. One television spot began as a hemorrhoid-cream commercial but was soon interrupted by the marching Energizer Bunny. The voice-over message never varied, with the announcer proclaiming, ‘‘Energizer batteries. They keep going and going and going . . .’’ In 1997 Eveready and its longtime ad agency, TBWA\Chiat\Day, struggled to develop fresh Energizer Bunny campaigns. That year, in an attempt to revitalize the bunny’s image and replace Duracell as the industry leader, Eveready introduced its ‘‘Bunny Chasers’’ television campaign, which borrowed the storyline from the previous summer’s blockbuster tornado thriller Twister.
‘‘Bunny Chasers’’ started in summer 1997, when Twister was released on video. TBWA\Chiat\Day created the campaign’s seven TV spots with Eveready’s $50 million advertising budget. The campaign featured teams of young, obsessed scientists who chased the Energizer Bunny much like meteorologists chased tornadoes in the movie. The spots were filmed to resemble documentaries: handheld cameras were used, and the dialogue was ad-libbed. At various bunny ‘‘sightings’’ the actors stepped outside of their ‘‘Bunny Chaser’’ van for staged interviews with director Phil Morrison. The campaign ended in late 1997, but campaigns featuring the Energizer Bunny continued for several more years. Ad Track, USA Today’s consumer poll about ad campaigns, revealed that audiences enjoyed ‘‘Bunny Chasers’’ but felt that the commercials were ineffective. Although ad analysts offered slight praise to the campaign for presenting the Energizer Bunny in a new format, ad publications such as Advertising Age’s Creativity criticized TBWA\Chiat\Day for not retiring the Energizer Bunny earlier. The overall sales growth for the company in 1997 was less than the sales growth for the overall battery industry.

The battery market in the United States had traditionally been a fairly quiet category in terms of advertising. But the proliferation of household appliances, toys, pocket calculators, handheld computers, audio players, and other electronic devices that required batteries had steadily boosted sales into the $2 billion range. By the mid- 1980s the field was highly competitive, with the major players being Duracell and Eveready, although Rayovac held on to approximately 10 percent of the market. It was at this point that Eveready and its Energizer brand of alkaline batteries launched the campaign that would create a lasting impact on the battery business and on American popular culture as well.
Created by the Los Angeles-based ad agency Chiat/ Day (before its mid-1990s merger with TBWA and at the peak of its decadelong creative preeminence in the advertising industry), the campaign tapped into a widespread public weariness with cliche´d advertising forms. Adopting as its mascot the most innocent-seeming of icons, a decidedly low-tech pink toy bunny, the campaign used wicked irony to infiltrate a wide range of insufferable commercials on the way to gaining the awareness of its target market. The spots worked by creating faux advertising that was just close enough to the real thing to provide a genuine sense of surprise—and in many cases, relief—when the actors droning on about hemorrhoid cream or some other numbingly familiar product were interrupted and thrown into confusion by the mute but energetic rabbit. Energizer’s ‘‘going and going’’ tagline quickly became part of the national vocabulary. Having hit a winner with the campaign, Eveready and its agency stuck with it, creating successive versions of the bunny’s adventures that worked ever harder to avoid becoming parodies of themselves. Advertisers typically did not use the same advertising theme for eight years, but Eveready believed that the Energizer Bunny was still viable.

Because nearly everyone used portable devices requiring power—be they flashlights, radios, or handheld computers—the market for alkaline batteries was all but universal. Thus, category advertising attempted to be broad in its scope and appeal. Use among multiperson households was strong, given the prevalence of batterypowered toys and small appliances such as clocks and radios. That Duracell’s Copper Top advertising often featured an animated family of battery-using toys illustrated the point. Even so, the market was directed toward men in general, who tended to be the predominant users of gadgets, and toward young men in particular, who were especially drawn to portable music systems, computer devices, camcorders, and other ‘‘high-drain’’ devices. In addition, the market was subject to a strong seasonal spike around the Christmas holidays, when the national spasm of gift spending created a strong demand for batteries to power millions of toys and other items. An estimated 40 percent of battery sales were connected to end-of-the-year gift giving, and this important market segment clearly centered on the parents who tossed a pack or two of batteries into the shopping cart along with the latest power-gobbling supertoy. Eveready’s ‘‘Bunny Chasers’’ campaign, however, took as its primary target young men, the so-called Generation Xers who had grown up with television, knew its advertising inside and out, and had become immune to its tired tropes. The one thing this ultrahip cohort would respond to was irony, and ‘‘Bunny Chasers’’ had that in spades.

The big three in the battery industry were Duracell, owned by Gillette; Eveready, a Ralston-Purina company; and Rayovac, which had been acquired by the Thomas H. Lee Company, a Boston investment house. The three were vying for a market valued by Information Services at $2 billion a year. Of that, an estimated 60 percent was made up of the disposable alkaline batteries commonly used in toys and household appliances. The remainder included nonalkaline and rechargeable batteries. Although, as tested by Consumer Reports, there was little actual difference in performance among the various brands of alkaline batteries, both of the leaders maintained that their own tests demonstrated real, even dramatic advantages in longevity.
When it came to marketing, the competition between Duracell and Eveready for the number one position was especially fierce, with Duracell’s Copper Top traditionally edging out Eveready’s Energizer. According to estimates from Merrill Lynch, Duracell recorded $800 million in sales in 1996, while Eveready followed closely with $701 million. Meanwhile, number three Rayovac reported a distant $211 million. Beginning in 1992 Rayovac had put most of its efforts into rechargeable batteries, but in 1997 the company threatened to stir the competitive soup when it signed superendorser Michael Jordan to help promote its newly redesigned Maximum alkaline batteries.
In terms of advertising budgets, Competitive Media Reporting pegged Eveready’s 1996 Energizer budget at $65.6 million, while Duracell, running a campaign that featured computer-animated, battery-powered toy characters, spent $60.7 million. With its new Michael Jordan campaign, Rayovac was expected to spend $25 million in 1997. The competition between Duracell and Eveready was waged both on and off the advertising field. Duracell’s longtime claim that ‘‘No other battery lasts longer’’ was openly challenged after Eveready introduced its new High Drain battery, designed for devices like camcorders and minidisc players that required more power. Energizer demanded that the television networks stop running Duracell’s advertising unless the company changed the commercials.

Like any company hoping to extend a successful advertising campaign, Eveready, along with agency TBWA\Chiat\Day, faced the challenge of topping its previous efforts. In its eight-year run Energizer had become so well known in pop culture that any new incarnation would be watched very closely, both by a public that had established its own emotional bond to the bunny and by the advertising industry, some of whose members had long tired of the award-winning concept. Yet Eveready was strongly committed to its spokesrabbit. Observed Mark Larsen, the company’s newly hired category manager of communications for Energizer, ‘‘We really wanted to dial it up and connect back with the consumer even stronger.’’ To make that connection, Larsen and the TBWA\Chiat\Day creative team linked the Energizer Bunny with the 1996 movie Twister to create a campaign with Eveready’s $50 million annual advertising budget.
One of the previous summer’s special-effects extravaganzas, Twister chronicled a group of tornado-chasing scientists who, because of their obsession with the violent storms, kept going and going no matter the hardship or danger. As it happened, the obsessed scientists also fit right into the product’s target profile. They were young males who used battery-operated gadgets. The agency knew, however, that their target consumers were mediawise and would respond best to irony and humor, and so the campaign was created as a deadpan parody of what had been a rather straightforward adventure movie. The obsession of the bunny chasers matched the endurance of the battery-driven bunny. The spots, shot in a documentary style—even to the point of having the actors ad-lib their lines—were classic image advertising, as the campaign had always been. No product was shown, only an attitude and the single benefit of longevity. Commercial director Phil Morrison was hired to direct the ‘‘Bunny Chasers’’ campaign in part because he was known for his humorous style. In creating a documentary look and feel for the spots, he loaded his actors—chosen for their nonglamorous looks and ability to improvise—into an equipment-laden van and then drove through the countryside. At various ‘‘sightings,’’ the whole crew would pile out, and Morrison would ‘‘interview’’ them. This technique yielded the very first installment of the seven-spot campaign, a teaser called ‘‘Woodchuck’’ in which the team located its quarry only to discover that it was not the bunny at all but a woodchuck. The woodchuck line was the spontaneous invention of one of the actors who had decided on his own that the first sighting should be a false alarm.

USA Today’s Ad Track poll indicated that, as one more installment of the overall Energizer Bunny campaign, ‘‘Bunny Chasers’’ was popular among audiences but nevertheless lacked effectiveness. Adweek named the commercial ‘‘Woodchuck’’ a Best Spot in 1997. Other critics attacked TBWA\Chiat\Day for overusing the Energizer Bunny and for not inventing something entirely new for Eveready. In the December 1, 1998, issue of Advertising Age’s Creativity, the agency’s creative director, Clay Williams, explained his reluctance to replace the Energizer Bunny: ‘‘It’s hard to turn your back and move away from a campaign that has as much equity as this one.’’
In addition to disappointing the advertising critics, ‘‘Bunny Chasers’’ did little to help Eveready outperform its competition. Although Eveready’s profits were up 3.3 percent in the second quarter of 1997, they lagged behind rival Duracell’s 7.3 percent growth during the same period. Moreover, Eveready trailed the overall industry, which recorded a 4.2 percent gain during the quarter. Retailers, too, saw little direct impact from the advertising. Said Michael Polzin of Walgreens, the nation’s largest drugstore chain, ‘‘We can’t really recognize how the brand advertising affects that particular brand’s sales. It does heighten awareness, however, among consumers that they need batteries, and so it helps our battery sales overall.’’
Nevertheless, the company was pleased with its 1997 skirmish in the battery wars, however substantial or insubstantial its impact on sales turned out to be. Said Eveready’s Larsen, ‘‘The bunny is and always will be’’ a part of American culture. Although ‘‘Bunny Chasers’’ ended in 1997, the use of the bunny continued the next year for an Energizer campaign with a pit-stop theme.
Actors playing mechanics in the commercials inserted new Energizer batteries into turbocharged, high-speed bunnies. Despite the fact that Eveready’s sales fell even
further behind Duracell in the late 1990s, in the months leading up to the November 2000 election Eveready revived its earlier strategy of using fake commercials, releasing spots in which the Energizer Bunny humorously interrupted TV promotions for the fictitious politician Bob Fremgen.

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