Campaign: Sharpie markers

Annie Whitmore reports on a roadshow that invited consumers to scrawl on a white plastic figure as a way of introducing them to a popular US pen range.

Sharpie has been a favoured writing brand in the US for many years, with an 80% share of the market. As part of maker Sanford's integrated global strategy, a nationwide experiential campaign launched the brand in the UK this summer.

"Sharpie is the celebrity autograph marker of choice in America," says Sanford UK brand manager Jemma Montuschi. "It was the right time to launch it in Britain and to build on the success based on the strength of the brand."

The range comes in 12 colours and features a variety of nibs that deliver free-flowing, fast-drying inks on to virtually any surface. The main task facing agency Carbon Marketing was to change the general perception in this country that marker pens are purely functional. Its client services director, Scott Desborough, says: "Experiential marketing was essential to communicate the key benefits of the brand and separate Sharpie from other brands by being more creative than traditional marketing."

Potential consumers were encouraged to express themselves creatively with the pens. Consequently, the campaign centred on a roadshow from June to August. Each location was close to a potential point of purchase and there were no target market constraints. The idea was to take the public away from the traditional pop-up roadshow stand and change it into something very interactive.

Although Sanford worked with its PR agency to gain publicity before each event, the project was more about self-discovery on the day and the use of subtle, less intrusive marketing. The roadshow kicked off in London's Soho Square and used Buddy - a white 7ft glass-fibre figure based on a popular Japanese comic - as its theme.

The figure became a blank canvas on which people could 'write out loud' and express themselves in any way they wished.

Political comments

At each venue, visitors were invited to use the Sharpie product at their leisure. Consumers expressed themselves in a variety of ways, from drawing pictures, doodles and signatures to making political comments and writing poetry.

"It's important to make it fun and interactive," says Montuschi. "Putting the brand directly into the hands of the end-user means you have a captivated audience for a limited amount of time."

To increase awareness and demonstrate the markers' capabilities, the Buddy figure was made up of various surfaces, ranging from rough, sandy or wood grain to smooth and shiny. "The public started to understand that Sharpie markers can write over pretty much any surface", says Desborough. "For each show Buddy started off white. By the end of the day he was covered in writing and designs and so there was a fusion of people's thoughts, ideas and colours - and Buddy came to life".

After promotional staff handed out coupons offering 50p off the product price, every store selling Sharpie within the vicinity of the campaign sold out. "Feedback reports have been very positive," says Montuschi. "This has been a very successful 360-degree marketing campaign. Spontaneous brand awareness has risen as well as sales."

Pre-launch, Sharpie markers arrived in UK shops in January, followed by traditional PR and TV adverts in March. In May, miniature Buddys fashioned into Sharpie holders were sent to directors of creative agencies who were invited to personalise their Buddy.

Carbon Marketing also launched a campaign website with an experiential element incorporated, to deliver online brand experiences for potential Sharpie customers. The site provided a virtual Buddy that people were invited to decorate using digital Sharpie markers and themed templates. They were then encouraged to send their bespoke artwork via email to a friend.

Desborough says: "This created the same experience as face-to-face marketing, only doing it digitally as a form of self-expression. By interacting with Buddy and building a character for yourself, you are opting to interact with the brand."

Carbon Marketing recorded hits across the world which in future could form the basis of a more viral-based campaign.

THE ROADSHOW'S DESTINATIONS
- Soho Square, London, 21 June
- Bluewater, Kent, 23-24 June
- The Centre MK, Milton Keynes, 30 June - 1 July
- Arndale, Manchester, 7-8 July
- Broadmead, Bristol, 14 July
- St. David's Centre, Cardiff, 15 July
- Churchill Square, Brighton, 21-22 July
- Bullring, Birmingham, 28-29 July
- Metro Centre, Gateshead, 3 August
- Buchanan Galleries, Glasgow, 5 August
- Leeds Central Square, 10 August
- Meadow Hall, Sheffield, 11 August
- Oracle Shopping Centre, Reading, 18-19 August


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