December 13, 2010

Philips Mounts Assault on Dead Batteries

Stuart Elliot  /  New York Times

One of the best lines in "Auntie Mame" was an insult aimed at a society girl who was accused of having "the I.Q. of a dead flashlight battery." Flashlights are not discussed much these days, but dead batteries certainly are –- at least those found in cellphones.

The difficulties encountered by phone owners to insure that their batteries are charged are the subject of a humorous campaign for a new product, the ChargeOn line of wire-free portable chargers sold by thePhilips Consumer Lifestyle division of Royal Philips Electronics.

The campaign, now under way, is centered on a microsite named for a make-believe malady that, Philips promises, ChargeOn will cure: "dead battery anxiety." Although the condition is not real, according to the fine print on the home page of the microsite, the campaign pretends otherwise.

"Don't let it drain you," visitors to the Web site are warned. "Together, we can beat this!"

The campaign, which also has a presence in social media like Facebook and Twitter, is the brainchild of Slant Media in Charleston, S.C. Slant began working for Philips after Philips acquired a Slant client, Digital Lifestyle Outfitters, the maker of accessories for devices like iPhones and iPods.

The budget for the campaign is estimated at $250,000 through the end of the year. Plans call for an investment of $1 million for 2011.

The campaign is a hybrid of two types of pitches that are increasingly popular among marketers. One type is the parody of pharmaceutical commercials, spoofing their downbeat litany of woeful symptoms, perky claims of quick cures –- and lengthy cautions of side effects.

The other type is the campaign that uses a microsite infused with catchy, colorful –- and sometimes, controversial –- content to draw attention in a crowded, cluttered marketplace.

Philips is well-known for such "viral" campaigns, having sponsored one of the most successful, the "Shave everywhere" Web initiative for the Philips Norelco Bodygroom shaver.

"We've done some irreverent things," says Kit Hughes, creative director at the Charleston office of Philips Consumer Lifestyle, so the company was amenable to a campaign that focuses on a tongue-in-cheek syndrome and the "almost prescriptive product to help cure it."

"The original pitch was from another agency to do a concept of 'battery dying anxiety,' " Mr. Hughes recalls, which would have been centered on a spokesman for an imaginary foundation that was seeking ways to treat the problem.

"It wasn't hitting the mark," he says. "It was just too much." So Philips turned to Slant, which reworked the concept into "dead battery anxiety" and jettisoned the more elaborate elements.

That is in keeping with the Philips brand philosophy of "Sense and simplicity," says Shannon Doyle, senior marketing manager for MP3 and mobile phone accessories at the Stamford, Conn., office of Philips Consumer Lifestyle.

The category in which ChargeOn competes "is growing by leaps and bounds," Ms. Doyle says. Rivals include Powermat and products sold under the Duracell and Energizer brands.

Research found that consumers "worry about power" constantly, she adds, as their increasingly sophisticated phones become "mini-computers" and keep "draining batteries."

The campaign speaks to "the anxiety we all have," Ms. Doyle says, and does so "where the consumers are," because they are using their phones to visit Web sites and go on Facebook and Twitter.

Her colleague, Nico Riggio, who is vice president for accessories and audio-video media in North America at Philips Consumer Lifestyle in Stamford, echoes Ms. Doyle.

"We want to put this campaign in the online world," Mr. Riggio says, because "we don't think our consumers are looking at" traditional media like television and print.

"We love the campaign," he adds. "The proposition is right for the consumer." He recounts how he has already heard people saying, "'I had D.B.A. last night.' "

The top half of the home page of is dominated by a cheeky quiz that asks, "Do you have D.B.A.?"

The first question, accompanied a photograph of a business traveler on his hands and knees, asks: "When in an airport terminal you: head straight for the cinnamon bun stand, pull out a book and start reading, dearch the perimeter for empty outlets with ninjalike precision."

The second question, illustrated with a photo of a frustrated woman behind the wheel of a car, asks: "When waiting in the carpool line: you listen to NPR, freshen up your make-up, frantically tear through your purse looking for your phone charger so you can do some online shopping."

The third question, accompanied by a photo of a bride tussling with a man in a fountain, asks: "When at a wedding or other special event, you: keep a tissue handy in case you cry, get there an hour early for front-row seats, slip out to the lobby to charge your phone."

The results of the quiz are always that the quiz-taker is "in total denial" about succumbing to D.B.A. and is advised to "get treatment before it's too late." The treatment is, of course, ChargeOn, which offers attachable battery packs, bases to charge the back-up batteries wire-free and kits that are composed of a base and a battery pack.

Another section of the microsite presents a look at the "faces of D.B.A.," profiling victims like the "queen of snark," who "lives to text about the stupidity of tragically uncool people"; "Mr. Sensitive," who drained the battery of his iPhone downloading recipes while pretending to his girlfriend that he could cook; and the "mattress violator," who downloaded directions as he fled from officers chasing him because he, yes, tore the tag off his mattress.

There are other victims, too, including the "plug hawk," a variation on the business traveler shown with the first question of the quiz, and the "soccer rocker mom," who lost out on a bid for Kiss tickets because her battery died.

There is also a section of the microsite with video clips purporting to show real-life examples of the affliction. The titles include "Capturing Baby's First Steps ... Almost," "Dead Battery Sneaks Up on Woman" and "Fashionista Freaks Out."

The goal of the campaign is to send up "the absurdity" of what people do when their batteries stop working, says Christopher Cecil, founder and creative director at Slant, and at the same time sympathize with "what they suffer."

"We play up the point we can all relate to: 'What do you do when your battery is about to die?' " he adds.

The campaign is classic "problem/solution" advertising, Mr. Cecil says, dressed up in the garb of the drug ads that "everyone is so bombarded with."

"Even though it's a joke," he says of dead battery anxiety, "there's a hint of truth to it."

Mr. Cecil praises Philips for being "a big corporation willing to go out on a limb and so something humorous and edgy online" with campaigns like those for ChargeOn and Bodygroom.

"Entertainment is mixed in," he says, but not to the point where consumers will not "take the product seriously."

"Humor is a great way to entertain and engage," Mr. Cecil says. "If you take a step back and look at our connection to these devices, it's funny."

"When a company pokes fun at itself, people appreciate it," he adds.

The campaign also includes a Fully Charged sweepstakes that is giving away ChargeOn products, TV sets, headphones, iPod docks and clock radios. The grand prize is a Honda CR-Z Sport Hybrid.

In addition to the microsite, ChargeOn is being promoted with events, contests and radio commercials, Ms. Doyle says, adding that they running in four markets –- Dallas, Oklahoma City, St. Louis and Tampa, Fla. –- and are to expand starting in January to other large cities.

And ChargeOn is sponsoring articles on Mashable, under a rubric of the Business Travel Series; they can also be read on Yahoo.

Mr. Riggio describes how Philips intends to take the campaign "to a full rollout" in the first quarter of the new year, with "more radio and more online advertising."