Everyday it seems like we hear about another social media widget, mobile application or online video offering. It might be refreshing for brand marketers to know that a new, non-digital medium has surfaced and its effectiveness is being proven by such brands as Unilever, State Farm, Gatorade and Verizon Wireless.
Apparel Media Group (AMG) has created an advertising platform that has the ability to reach millions of consumers who opt in, based on their interests and passions, to receive branded tangible products and, most interestingly, become brand ambassadors of those participating corporations. Brands essentially underwrite the cost of products that consumers are already purchasing in exchange for their branding to be applied to those goods. Consumers have the right to reject or accept the brand’s participation.
So far the tangible products have mainly been wearable items such as branded apparel but the AMG channel allows for delivery of a range of items. Apparel Media Group Co-CEO & Founder, Amish Tolia, defines the AMG platform as a pull based channel where consumers request brands to be physically involved in their lives rather than the norm of being pushed information via advertisements that aren’t requested and go unnoticed. Tolia discussed how AMG is making hyper-targeted local access for brands scalable and accountable for the first time. We asked Tolia to speak with a couple of AMG clients and he referred us to David Rubin, Brand Building Director, Hair US at Unilever and Jhay Davis, Digital Development Analyst at State Farm Insurance. We spoke with Rubin first.
Brandon Gutman: How did Unilever test the Apparel Media Group platform? What were the results?
David Rubin: AXE Hair used Apparel Media Group’s platform to reach our target audience through their existing groups and tell our message with how they wanted to hear it. Across seven college campuses, from mid-March to May 2011, AXE Hair sponsored male student groups by subsidizing shirts they were already going to purchase for their special events and occasions. Each group received AXE co-branded shirts, received three samples of AXE Hair styling products and a card introducing them to and incentivizing them to participate in the AXE Hair contest. As college is a major life stage for our consumer target (guys, 18-24 year old), we knew that we needed to be there with him creating cool and relevant experiences that engage him in a unique way.
Please explain how you’re scaling the initiative.
Between now until the end of the current semester (in December), AXE is running a national program with Apparel Media Group which sponsors 45,000 18-24 year-old males on 160 college campuses and targets Greek related, non-Greek related and athletic groups. Each sponsored shirt will come packaged with a QR-enabled insert card that will drive consumers to AXE viral YouTube videos.
What are the key performance metrics you’re using to measure the success of this program? How do you look at ROI?
The purpose of this program is to drive awareness, word-of-mouth conversation and trial within our key demographic. AMG’s proposition gave us the opportunity to create a measurable engagement campaign with access to college guys, a hard-to-reach audience. We considered this program a success because it increased brand affinity, product awareness and purchase intent for AXE Hair in our target market.
How do you compare this channel to traditional media and even other non-traditional options?
The AXE brand is all about creating interactions and experiences between guys and girls. Given that traditional media is primarily forced, what’s great about using non-traditional options like Apparel Media Group is that we have the opportunity to build and create experiences and conversations (a two-way dialogue) between those guys and girls. AXE Hair has engaged consumers in the mobile space before, but this is the first time the brand has explored a “social gaming” program that has the ability to bridge an offline and online experience through a mobile device.
Next we spoke with Jhay Davis who actually analyzes digital effectiveness for State Farm and focuses on the brand’s social media initiatives. State Farm utilized the AMG platform to complement and further power the activation of their State Farm Bayou Classic “Bayou or Bust” promotion.
Brandon Gutman: Facebook is clearly one of the hot marketing channels right now but it’s not a silver bullet. How did the AMG platform boost your Facebook initiative?
Jhay Davis: Since mobile and social go hand in hand, State Farm saw an opportunity to leverage the capabilities of the average consumer’s smart phone along with AMG’s platform as a way to instantly connect consumers to our Facebook promotion – no matter where our promotional road tour was at the time. We leveraged Apparel Media Group’s network to provide subsidized shirts to our target consumers which helped bridge offline social experiences to online social experiences through the smart phone.
How did the AMG vehicle teach you more about your customers?
Ease of access is everything! We learned that if you make it easy for consumers to engage with your brand at the moment you deliver the right message, they will act quickly. We were surprised at the number of consumers willing to engage on the spot. Using AMG’s metrics tools, we were able to see that engagement happening at each step during the promotion.
AMG seems to be the only player in this space so far. However, now that this medium has been validated due to major brands executing some meaningful programs, we asked Tolia if AMG is starting to see any competitors emerging? “To our knowledge, we’re not aware of any direct competitors using the same entry point to reach local groups. As technology is making local audiences easier to access in scale, we think it’s just a matter of time until we see direct competitors, but we’ve been careful to lay the foundation for a sustainable competitive advantage.”
Brandon Gutman: In addition to scaling your business at Unilever and State Farm, you’re also working directly with Gatorade and Verizon Wireless. As more brands are becoming interested in utilizing your services, how are you growing the company to support existing and new clients?
Amish Tolia: To really capture the essence of a true opt-in brand engagement and the two-way conversation that ensues between brand and consumer in the offline and online worlds, we’re working hard to enhance our program management and analytics platform. And we’re always growing our team. Our goal is to ensure that each and every new brand partner and the millions of local groups out there can have the best experience as a member of our network.
We asked Rubin his most important advice to marketers exploring the Apparel Media Group channel and he said “AXE Hair’s partnership with AMG is about adding value for our consumers. It’s important that marketers not only provide value by giving their consumers something that they want; but also provide content that adds value.”
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