A Product With Devotees Tries to Widen Its Niche
By GREGORY SCHMIDT - New York Times
THE Pelican brand of protective cases for electronics is well known, but only among users in fields like the oil industry, the military and aerospace. For years, the company’s primary form of marketing consisted of expos and trade publications.
When the company decided it was time to expand its product line to reach a broader consumer base, executives realized they would have to overhaul their strategy.
Part of the challenge was to draw customers to the new line, called Pelican ProGear, without alienating the company’s core consumer base, which had been loyal for years.
“We’re not moving away at all from our traditional markets,” Lyndon Faulkner, the company’s president and chief executive, said. “We are building on top of that new muscles for the consumer market.”
Those muscles include some firsts for the company, like magazine ads, television commercials and endorsements. But those endorsements did not come from Hollywood celebrities or famous athletes. To keep the campaign authentic, Pelican hired three experts in their fields: Jeb Corliss, a sky diver and BASE jumper; Alexandra Cousteau, an environmental advocate and granddaughter of the famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau; and Craig Sawyer, a combat instructor and former member of the Navy SEALs.
“If we were to have more of a showy personality, the authenticity just wouldn’t be there,” said Nathan B. Winstanley, president of Winstanley Partners, an ad agency in Lenox, Mass., that Pelican hired for the campaign. “When you see Jeb Corliss climbing a cliff with a backpack on, that’s real. That’s what he does.”
It was important for the ProGear line, which includes backpacks and cases for laptops and smartphones, to stay true to the Pelican brand’s reputation for quality and for the ad campaign to reflect that, Mr. Faulkner said. “We are not bringing out fashion statement products,” he said. “There is no Louis Vuitton or Hello Kitty version.”
Social networking is central to the campaign, so the company built a presence on Facebook and YouTube, said Sharon Ward, director of public and media relations at Pelican. “We are talking up the ProGear line, hosting contests, asking for feedback, posting photos,” she said.
The company also hired Jagged Peak, a Web firm in Tampa, Fla., to develop an e-commerce Web site for the ProGear products, which Pelican uses as a communication nexus for blogging and tweeting about the line. When the three adventurers use the products while exploring in real life, the hope is that it will send consumers to the Web site to learn more.
Pelican spent about $5 million on the campaign, far exceeding its typical $1.5 million annual ad budget. The company widened its digital and print presence to include popular magazines like Men’s Journal, Wired and Field & Stream, and commercials are being broadcast on Discovery, Travel and History, among other channels.
“We have tried to surround the brand with as many touch points as possible,” Mr. Winstanley said. “It’s really a great combination of traditional media and digital media that allows the brand to become quickly known and quickly successful.”
Pelican products were already sold at specialty stores like REI, and to gain more retail partners, Pelican also bulked up its presence with in-store racks to display the products. But more important, Mr. Winstanley said, was letting retailers know how extensive the marketing campaign would be, which meant less work for store owners in educating potential buyers.
“When you support this type of brand with media surround, retailers are much more willing to take a chance with a brand they have not seen before,” he said.
With the expanded Web presence, Pelican executives will be able to have quicker assess to results from the ad campaign. In the past, they would have to wait months to get feedback from sales representatives about whether a campaign was working. Now, each time a commercial is broadcast on TV, traffic at the ProGear Web site increases significantly.
“It is interesting to watch the spike in activity” corresponding with the advertisements, Mr. Faulkner said, adding that the commercials were “definitely driving people to the Web site.”
With the feedback, the company can tell what works and what doesn’t work. It intends to use the information when it begins similar campaigns in other countries, including Australia, Britain, Canada, France and Germany.
“It’s gratifying because you get this instantaneous feedback,” he added. “That’s the power of the Internet and television.”