A career is often marked with those moments that serve like the proverbial watersheds, the foundation of the next phase or whatever one might call it. When one stands on the precipice before the launch of these moments — lucky enough to recognize it — then it’s a mixture of excitement, doom and energy.
As a lifelong storyteller, I delight in the journey of the story. That’s what I’ve decided to chronicle. Technically, I want to tell the story of a story; how the newest marketing campaign blossomed into what could be an innovative advertising effort with the potential for significant rewards.
“Prepare for the Impossible”
At TenCate Protective Fabrics, we’ve almost completed the first cycle of a campaign known as “Prepare for the Impossible.” Originally the campaign kicked off in April when I shared how this campaign differed — it’s product placement wrapped in original entertainment sent primarily via social media.
This effort targets people who wear flame-resistant fabrics, especially these occupations:
- Firefighters and first responders;
- Industrial safety including utility linemen, oil & gas workers and electricians; and
- Military and security professionals
TenCate Protective Fabrics provides just the textile. We are an ingredient brand in the clothing these professionals wear. While it’s an important element — lifesaving at an unexpected moment — how can I make our fabric stand out? Consider additionally that one cannot discount how buyers, specifiers and end users consider the garment brands, the fiber brands (ingredients in our fabrics) or our competition.
Agencies might get stuck in a kind of brand Neverland, looking for core values and over-analyzing SWOT tables. I spent some time hovering around and even made a few attempts, even with a soft-sell approach that the audience liked but never quite connected with the brand.
I considered when our fabrics are the most valuable — a moment we’d not prefer to think about. As a marketer, the moment when the wearer of our fabrics is in the most danger might not provide the best optics.
One of my colleagues suggested instead of likely dangers for which flame-resistant fabrics are engineered to withstand, we should consider the fantastical… think fire-breathing dragons. The brainstorming began a path down toward a legitimate idea: Make the danger so impossible that it would suspend the belief of the viewer so we could highlight the features of our fabrics.
The Impossible Demographics
The idea seemed improbable, especially for our business. Our customers are largely garment makers, so the model would seemingly be business-to-business (or B2B).
The place where this message mattered most happened to be those wearing our fabrics. Since the TenCate business model incorporates a large end-user marketing effort — even at our Dutch parent company — we needed this campaign to create the larger pull-through demand that B2B2C generates.
Unlike some larger scale businesses, our budgets don’t allow for a huge, demographically diverse advertising message. But the Marketing Team made the decision to split: The B2C ads would differ from the B2B effort.
Hockey great Wayne Gretzky said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
With the largest percentage of marketplace decision makers part of Generation X and growing, research showed one place where the maximum number would be: Social media.
The puck — in this case — would be at Facebook. The original site that ushered in the social media revolution ranked at the top, with YouTube coming in a distant second.
Prior to doing anything, I asked active-duty firefighters, working utility lineman and electricians, oil derrick roughnecks and many others in our market demographics what their entertainment preference happened to be. From a list of more than two dozen, a few emerged the favorites and scored rather positively. Among them, the 1996 movie “Independence Day” and the contemporary AMC television series “The Walking Dead” both scored in the 90+ percentile.
An idea began to take form.
“My Mind Wasn’t That Open”
An executive looked around the room after delivering the initial pitch. A couple of the folks from Super Chief (an agency just outside Chattanooga, TN) and I had just finished the presentation and we showed the concepts and a video.
“I was told to come into this meeting with an open mind,” the executive said. “My mind wasn’t that open.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d shocked an executive or two.
I’m the guy that put a black rhino, three camels and six elephants on living room carpet for three weeks live on the web and for zoo visitors to watch. And that had been a marketing and financial success.
This was a little different. Still, Super Chief had successfully executed a conceptual video, proving we could make zombies look real enough to make the campaign work.
No one said no. Plenty of reservations were raised, most of which were related to how this would be presented.
The #Prepare4Impossible campaign is broken into cycles, each of which includes a story arc broken into about six segments, each lasting about a minute. Within that piece, a moment occurs where the viewer can see a fabric and its particular benefit, characteristic or ability in a remarkable way.
Super Chief proposed we do a super slow-motion moment. I added the heads-up display, often with testing results from standards tests required for these technical textiles.
Science backs up every element.
Success & Something Else
Upon the launch in April 2015, we began dribbling out bits, memes and smaller video edits. The targeted end users largely loved it. Our Facebook Likes swelled from around 5,000 to more than 25,000.
However, mid-May hit at snag that caused a pause halfway through the first cycle of the campaign.
The campaign would resume in September 2015 — without the original momentum, but some redeveloping. Just in time for Halloween, cycle one is about to complete.
See the first six videos (all in cycle one) in a YouTube playlist here:
No matter the momentum issues, pauses or other stuff, I’m proud of the #Prepare4Impossible campaign. And cycle two, which will follow up in the coming weeks, will prove to be even more interesting. Keep an eye out for it soon.
As for a bit of the science to back up the product placement in the videos, we are in process, but here’s the first comprehensive look…