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In the latest example of a trend that is becoming increasingly popular on Madison Avenue, heated air will descend from the roofs of 10 bus shelters in Chicago, courtesy of the Stove Top brand of stuffing sold by Kraft Foods. From Tuesday through the end of this month, Kraft is arranging for the company that builds and maintains the bus shelters, JCDecaux North America, to heat them, trying to bring to life the warm feeling that consumers get when they eat stuffing, according to Kraft. Such “experiential marketing” is intended to entice consumers to experience products or brands tangibly rather than bombard them with pitches. It is a response to the growing ability of consumers to ignore or avoid traditional advertising, thanks to technology like digital video recorders. Experiential marketing is also an acknowledgment that products and brands must offer alternatives to the interruptive model of peddling that has been the mainstay of advertising for more than a half-century, which disrupts what consumers want to watch, read or hear. “Stove Top as a brand has a great equity in the area of warmth,” said Ellen Thompson, brand manager for Stove Top at Kraft Foods in Glenview, Ill. “This is an opportunity to expand into a multisensory experience.” The 10 heated shelters, primarily in downtown Chicago locations like Michigan Avenue and State Street, will have posters that read: “Cold, provided by winter. Warmth, provided by Stove Top.” The posters will also appear on 40 other bus shelters that will not have heated roofs. During the first three weeks of December, Kraft plans to give samples of a new variety of Stove Top, called Quick Cups, to commuters and passers-by at half of the heated shelters. “People don’t always think of Stove Top for an everyday meal,” said Jamie Mattikow, vice president for marketing in the grocery division at Kraft. “In these hard times, when people are eating more at home,” he added, there is “a great opportunity to introduce our brands to people in a new way.”
JCDecaux North America, a unit of the global outdoor-advertising specialist JCDecaux, says these will be its first bus shelter heaters in the United States. The company has installed them in other countries for other advertisers’ campaigns. Those sponsored by British Gas included simulated fireplaces. “Advertisers are looking for new and unique ways of reaching, and reaching out to, consumers,” said Jean-Luc Decaux, co-chief executive at JCDecaux North America in New York, adding that it costs “a few thousand dollars” to equip each shelter with heat. “It’s like a metal plate that provides almost waves of heat,” Mr. Decaux said of the equipment, which his company recently tested in Chicago. “If you step underneath the shelter, you probably won’t see it — but you can feel it.” The campaign, which is estimated to cost Kraft more than $100,000, is a collaboration of JCDecaux North America; the Stove Top media agency, MediaVest, part of the Starcom MediaVest Group division of the Publicis Groupe; and the Stove Top creative agency, Draft FCB, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies. The fourth quarter, when marketers are striving mightily to stimulate sales as the year ends, typically brings a wide variety of experiential marketing tactics. For example, Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest advertiser, is sponsoring a couple of projects this month in New York. One is what has become an annual sponsorship of restrooms in Times Square, on behalf of brands like Charmin toilet paper. The other initiative is new, a so-called pop-up store in Midtown, BrandSaver Live, named after Procter’s BrandSaver coupon inserts in Sunday newspapers. At the store, consumers can sample products, receive coupons and even be made over with P.& G. beauty and hair care brands. Other pop-up stores — the term comes from their temporary existence — have been operated by marketers as disparate as Meow Mix cat food, the Suave hair care line sold by Unilever, the United States Potato Board and Wired magazine. Other brands wooing consumers with experiential efforts during the holidays in New York and other major markets include the ABC Family cable channel, Burger King, Jameson Irish whiskey, Memorex audio products, Rémy Martin Cognac and TD Bank.
The biggest risk with experiential marketing is that consumers will deem it an annoying gimmick, which could harm attempts to improve perceptions of brands or products. There is a precedent. In December 2006, the California Milk Processor Board worked with the CBS Outdoor division of CBS to introduce scent strips on bus shelters in San Francisco. The strips, which smelled like chocolate chip cookies, were an effort to bring to life the experience of desiring a glass of milk for dunking cookies. The campaign was abruptly ended after an outcry that the scent was inappropriate in public places and could set off allergic reactions. Mr. Mattikow of Kraft, reminded of the cookie fiasco, said, “We are confident consumers will enjoy” the heated bus shelters. Mr. Decaux had this response: “The reaction of the public was quite surprising. All it was, was the smell of a nice cookie.” Still, Mr. Decaux said, “You always have to be careful not to upset the balance between having a presence and being too intrusive.” Referring to the Stove Top shelters, he added, “I don’t think anyone will find it’s too intrusive.” Perhaps. After all, some like it hot, particularly on a December day in Chicago.