Bayer Goes Viral in Web Pitch for Painkiller
HUMOROUS and offbeat are not exactly the words that leap to mind when it comes to advertising in the over-the-counter painkiller market.
But to attract a younger customer, the consumer care division of Bayer HealthCare is starting an online game today for Aleve Liquid Gels, a product that was introduced in March. By visiting a Web site, www.aleviator.com, Internet users will be able to follow a fictional storyline that leads them through a series of clues, taking them in and out of social networking sites, wikis and blogs.
For each person who clicks through to the end of the game, which takes at least a minute, Bayer will make a donation of $5 to $10 to the Conservation Fund, an environmental nonprofit group. The campaign will last a month.
The gimmick is intended to get people in the 25-to-49 age group to notice Aleve, a pain medicine that was introduced 13 years ago and is used mostly by people over 50 to relieve symptoms typically associated with aging, like arthritis and back pain.
“Aleve has become famous and is seen by older consumers as a wonderful product for arthritis,” said Jay Kolpon, vice president for marketing and new business development at Bayer HealthCare, a division of Bayer that is based in Morristown, N.J. “Liquid Gels are for a younger target and for pre-arthritic conditions, such as body pain, sports pain.”
The premise of the game is that two characters named Al and Eve (he’s a scientist, she’s an investigative reporter) have identified an online conspiracy by an organization known as P.A.I.N. (People Against Internet Networking). Game players must view video clues and visit Web sites that are supposedly under attack by this organization, thus restoring the flow of information online.
The plotline is meant as “an extended metaphor” for the pain medicine, said Fabio Gratton, co-founder of Ignite Health, a marketing company that specializes in health topics and that created the game for Bayer.
Bayer’s hope is that the campaign will go viral, meaning that people will send one another the links for the game. Mr. Gratton said that Bayer chose this approach because it seemed to be the best way to reach the intended audience “where they actually live.”
He said that more than 50 percent of the social networking audience was over 35, and that young people were not the only ones who played games online.
“You’d be surprised,” Mr. Gratton said. “The audience is there — we did our due diligence.”
The charitable donation at the end of the game is viewed as a way to get people to stick with it and to share it with one another, Mr. Kolpon said. “When you got through this kind of consumer engagement, more than 30 seconds, it is really important to have a payoff,” he said.
The “alleviator” effort is a big departure for Bayer in that it does not overtly advertise the brand. Younger consumers are said to be particularly negative about commercial messages, Mr. Gratton said.
The campaign does not even inform people that if they follow all the clues, a donation will be made to the Conservation Fund. “We wanted it to be almost a surprise,” Mr. Gratton said. “Our hope is that people will enjoy the journey and tell someone else.”
He added, “Advertising is no longer about pushing messages, but instead making a meaningful connection and letting someone decide how far they want to take it.”
Each page, however, is identified with a small blue-and-yellow pill with the message “brought to you by the makers of Aleve Liquid Gel” so as not to mislead consumers. That identification is crucial, because in the past companies have come under attack for not labeling their commercial messages.
Jez Frampton, global chief executive for Interbrand, a marketing consultant and division of the Omnicom Group, said that Bayer was clever to try to use a viral message to approach a new market. “If it works it could be a very good idea, and that’s the real question — will it work?” he said. “That all depends on how good the story is and how well it rewards the people who do it.”
In viral marketing, consumers forward items because it makes the sender appear hip or smart. One successful example was a video that Smirnoff Ice made last year called “Tea Partay,” which featured preppy-looking people singing a rap song. Mr. Frampton said the risks of such a campaign were often slight, especially since the cost is minuscule: Bayer Consumer estimated that the viral effort cost about 1 percent of its marketing budget.
“I guess the biggest risk is being seen as uncool by the very market you are trying to attract,” Mr. Frampton said.
Bayer is viewing the campaign as an experiment that it will evaluate carefully. Mr. Kolpon said the company would measure consumer engagement and awareness, as well as the donation to the Conservation Fund.
The game is a small part of the marketing program for Aleve Liquid Gels. In March, Bayer began advertising to the younger audience using its “real people” campaign by BBDO New York, a unit of the Omnicom Group. The campaign typically features middle-aged consumers who explain how they have found relief from back pain or arthritis with the painkiller, but for Liquid Gels, BBDO introduced younger people talking about pains like sports injuries.
At the moment, the viral battle against P.A.I.N. remains a small part of the Aleve Liquid Gels marketing mix, but it could be expanded.
“Again, it’s a test case, a lab experiment,” said Mr. Kolpon. “There’s no question of the importance of Web 2.0. What’s still unclear is what’s the best way for consumer products to use the Internet.”