If you've taken the subway, been to an airport or passed by a few billboards lately, you've probably noticed Dentyne's latest ad campaign, which launched mid-August of this year. It's hard to miss.
Attractive, twenty-something couples canoodling -- on the grass, out of taxis, exchanging minty kisses (and fresh breath). Friends locked in tight embrace or comfortably piled on a small couch, like a close-knit litter of puppies. Captions that incorporate online phraseology: The Original Voicemail (power down, pucker up, make face time), The Original Instant Message (hang up, listen close, make face time), Friend Request Accepted (close browser, open arms, make facetime), Send and Receive (log off, latch on, make face time.)
Make Face Time
The message is simple and strong: make time for the real world; make time to disconnect. Turn off your computers, shut down your cell phones and make the time to meet people in person.
"People are spending more and more time online, and less and less time face to face, together," says Craig Marcus, an executive creative director at McCann Erickson who orchestrated the campaign. "We're not saying technology is bad. It's great, but there are still some things it lacks -- it can't replicate what happens when people are in front of each other. Certain things can't happen online through social networking… All we're saying is be with other people."
In brainstorming, Marcus explains, his team automatically drifted towards using technology as the cultural backdrop against which to create the campaign for Dentyne. "Everyone immediately went to that place. Technology was the obvious thing to push against. But we realized quickly that we were kidding ourselves. We weren't being truthful. Bashing technology would just annoy people more than it would make them feel right."
Truth is something that Marcus brought up several times in his interview with Fast Company – to him a campaign that isn't based squarely on what's genuine, is setting itself up to fail. "We look for what's going on in the world that we can talk about and that's meaningful. It's important to understand that advertising is not a one-way communication anymore. People have more control than ever before. We don't have a captive audience. At the core of everything it's important to respect that and always look for something that's truthful. I can't boil it down to a science. I look at something as a human being and just say yes that works. But I won't stretch the truth of what a brand is."
So We Get the Tech Talk -- But Where Does the Gum Factor In?
McCann Erickson's Dentyne team correctly honed in on technology and new media being all that's hot right now. But what's the connection between gum and technology?
Gum, according to Marcus, makes those close, special moments that technology is cutting into, just a little bit better. "Gum's something you pop in your mouth to make those moments more special. There's nothing worse than talking to someone with coffee breath. Gum makes kissing better, conversation better, it wakes us up a little bit, refreshes our mouths."
We had a cultural insight about how technology sometimes provides barriers to people being together face to face. The moments where you would want a piece of gum aren’t happening as much with technology there," he says.
Dentyne's sales have suffered recently. Mintel, a market research firm, reports that between 2005 and 2007 sales of Dentyne Ice were down 9%, while those of Dentyne Fire were down 26%. " We needed to keep the brand fresh," explains Josette Barenholtz, marketing director for Dentyne. "From a business perspective it was time for Dentyne to evolve itself."
It's true that the brand is interpreting the world or using a trend to suit its own specific needs and Marcus in fact admits, "Sometimes it's about just reorganizing the world around the message you're trying to portray." But they've done it well. While gum is a competitive market and although it's too soon for any measurable results, it looks like Dentyne has been able to achieve relevance, within the larger context of what is perhaps the most pronounced cultural phenomena affecting youth (its target market) today.
The image the campaign is trying to convey: optimism, honestly, free spiritedness and youth, attractiveness (but not beauty). "I'd say it's more about a moment than a look though," qualifies Marcus. "It's about feeling like you're actually in those places with those people."
The brand's core message is a legitimate one, and they've made sure it's in your face. They have television ads, print ads, a "make face time" website, and are planning on a couple of short films they hope will go viral. The print ads are all displayed outdoors in busy locations: "We wanted the work to show up where people are face to face," explains Barenholtz.
Particularly tricky, explains Marcus, was creating a website for Dentyne. Apart from the fact that, as he puts it, "nobody in their right minds wants to go to a website for a gum," offering technology to promote a campaign that revolves around asking people to step away form technology, presented a challenge.
McCann Erickson's solution: to log you off the website down after 3 minutes. Apart from featuring Dentyne's products and its ads, the site also offers quirky, fun services all geared to making people connect in person. There's a "facetime request", which allows you to send a note to someone else requesting to Barenholtz make facetime. There's a map for people's areas that claims to show the best places to make facetime (although when I entered my own zip code nothing shows up.) There's also something called the "Smiley Chamber of Doom" where you can watch emoticons being put to death, were you so inclined.
The campaign, which is running across the US, and in Canada, retains the functional breath freshening element that previous campaigns adopted, but differs in the clear challenge it presents to technology, and the broadening of the relationships addressed to encompass those outside the boy-girl connection.