Common Cold, Uncommon Marketing

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You know that feeling right before you get a cold; that little tickle in your throat, that tightness behind your eyes, the telltale stuffiness in your nose. You tell yourself you're not getting sick...it's OK. You'll just hit the sack early, chug lots of OJ, wear two pairs of socks to bed. The delusion lasts until your alarm goes off the next morning—and you have a full-blown cold, which may look something like this guy. -------------------------------------->

He's no Snuggle Bear and that's on purpose. He's the Cold Monster, “pre-cold” remedy relief brand Zicam's sort of spokes-monster (though he doesn't have much to say other than big gross, snotty sneezes); the monster version of a cold personified. Zicam claims to clinically reduce the duration of a cold when taken within the first 24 hours of feeling that first coldly little twinge.

As the current cold season kicked into gear, Zicam teamed up with digital creative agency Primacy to relaunch its website and commence an integrated campaign that includes mobile, social, print, and TV spots. From a storytelling point of view, Zicam isn't departing from its core brand promise, says M'lou Arnett, CEO of Matrixx Initiatives, the company that makes and markets Zicam. The goal here, she says, is to more engagingly bring that promise to life.

“I don't know how you feel when you have a full-blown cold, but I don't feel great at all; I have red, watery eyes, a runny nose perhaps, and I'm constantly reaching for the tissues,” Arnett says. “The Cold Monster is a wonderful representation of what a cold looks like and feels like.”

The crown jewel of the new website is Monster Tracker, a tool that allows visitors to gauge by Zip Code which areas in the U.S. are most at risk for a concentration of colds, from “normal” to “very high.” The revamped tracker is powered by FAN data, as in the “Flu Advisory Network,” a monitoring agency currently owned by IMS Health that uses an algorithm to determine the actual and projected incidence of colds in certain regions. [I checked the incidence for my own zip code yesterday and the readout was: “Very high: More than 16% of people in your area are affected by respiratory illness.” Stay away from Long Island City.)

The tracker is also a key feature of Zicam's mobile site, especially useful in-store, says Lino Ribolla, executive creative director at Primacy.

Mobile is definitely something we kept in mind when we developed the site,” says Ribolla. “All the product information is available on the mobile site, so you can make the decision right there about which Zicam is right for you when you're at the point-of-sale.”

In the campaign cross-hairs demographics-wise is a key consumer the brand calls the “proactive avoider”—a digitally savvy person, often an active head of household and usually employed outside the home, that simply doesn't have the time to be sick. It's a crowd most easily reached via social, says Arnett, mother of four and self-described proactive avoider.

“Proactive avoiders are very engaged—and it's not just a case of needing ‘me time,'” says Arnett. “Through our Facebook and Twitter the focus is more on sharing things she might find interesting for managing life, like ideas for Halloween costumes, back-to-school time tips, things to help her in her life in general. It's a conversation; very much like reaching out to friends.”

Though there was some mixed feedback from consumers on the Cold Monster himself—one YouTube commenter called him, “snotty but relatable,” while another exclaimed, “dis is nasty”—Arnett says that's exactly the kind of response the brand's looking for.

“It needs to be something that elicits a reaction,” she says. “The Cold Monster is not warm and cuddly.”

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