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Taking it to the Streets

Here are seven hot case studies showing how brands have used promotional products to get up close and personal with consumers.

If you were visiting Chicago last summer and you thought you saw a giant owl, don’t blame the beers you had at Wrigley Field during the Cubs game. You likely saw Ollie, the TripAdvisor mascot. The owl and a TripAdvisor street team targeted tourists in five major U.S. cities between July 20 and August 19 with the goal of raising awareness about its Web site.

To make sure tourists didn?t forget what they saw (or think that they were hallucinating), the brand gave out a suitcase full of promotional products, including luggage tags, T-shirts, hats and bags. ?The goal was to have tourists and locals wear or use TripAdvisor-branded merchandise and be walking billboards for the brand,? says Sarah Welch, senior director, brand and customer marketing for TripAdvisor, Atlanta. It worked.

In the era of media fragmentation (meaning people just don’t watch as many TV commercials as they used to), marketers are looking more and more to one-to-one marketing tactics. As a result, street teams are getting a longer look from brands large (Verizon) and small (Shoshanna?s Matches dating service).

Street teams are a recent marketing phenomenon: the practice of having a small army of brand ambassadors blanket a city or event. That generally entails people in a consistent uniform and brand message and often involves a giveaway such as logoed merchandise, postcards or a free product sample.

?Integrating a consumer-facing team to establish a face-to-face relationship between your brand and target consumers can be a quantifiable lead-generation tool,? says Robb Hecht, an integrated brand marketing communications strategist based in New York. ?Typically, street teams employ incentives in order for passersby to interact with them. The goal is to place your brand collateral into the hands of targeted consumers directly, with the hope of developing an intimate and immediate relationship.?

In terms of the TripAdvisor effort, targeted visitors and locals also received 31,250 city maps customized for each market. The maps offered activities for visitors to do and places to see, as prioritized by the wealth of user-generated content on, thus giving recipients an introduction to the brand.

?The tour helped us drive brand awareness with logoed merchandise, [it introduced] Ollie to the world and promoted our new TripAdvisor traveler network via a sweepstakes,? says Welch. The sweepstakes dangled a trip a year for 10 years if consumers created a traveler network on TripAdvisor.

?None of this is surprising or particularly new. What is new is that it is growing fast and being used more by more marketers,? says Michal Ann Strahilevitz, Ph.D., Nagel T. Miner Research Chaired Professor, Golden Gate University Marketing Department, in San Francisco. ?It’s more a growth story than a new tactic. It is definitely gaining more momentum.?

With that in mind, here are seven other examples of what brands are doing to promote themselves using street teams, and why it works for them:

1. Random acts of kindness by Downtown Cincinnati Inc.

The holidays weren?t about giving, they were about receiving for those strolling through downtown Cincinnati. Workers and visitors alike were greeted by Santa-hat-wearing street teams who handed out 2,000 presents. The program was created by Downtown Cincinnati Inc., an organization in charge of promoting the region, and the gifts were donated by local businesses. The haul included items like tickets to museums as well as logoed insulated coffee mugs from local architecture firm FHRC and hats from the NFL?s Bengals.

?We gift-wrapped the items, and the street team, wearing Santa hats and carrying Santa bags, walked through various areas of downtown to wish people a happy holiday,? says Jack Reau of Game Day Communications, in Cincinnati. ?They also encouraged people to celebrate the holiday?s downtown. It was very well-received.?

Street teams are gaining in popularity because people ?can touch and feel the product in a safe environment, such as an event, on their own terms,? says Reau. ?We aren’t pushy, we?re enthusiastic and outgoing, and work to attract people to our booths and sampling efforts.?

2. L.A. Auto Show domination has a lot of things. For example, the number-one online automotive marketplace in the country has more than 13 million unique visitors monthly. It also has more than 3 million cars listed for sale. What it doesn’t have is a full-time show staff to attend the 50-plus auto shows that happen yearly. Instead, regularly hires and trains street teams to give the firm a memorable presence.

Auto shows are especially important for the brand, ?because we don’t have stores,? says Christina Moore, sponsorship manager for, Atlanta. ?We don’t often have the opportunity to get in front of our consumer and engage them. Most of the times they’re sitting in their pajamas looking at cars online.? Its street teams ?put a face to our brand,? she says.

At the L.A. Auto Show in November, there were 10 staff members on hand to cover 12-hour shifts during the 10-day show. Before the event, they went through ?a rigorous three-hour process to make sure they bleed,? Moore says. This included understanding the brand message and what wanted to accomplish at the show.

Decked out in logoed green, purple and, of course, orange uniforms, the team members handed out more than 10,000 car-shaped stress balls and 5,000 USB bracelets. They also gave out scads of game pieces that drove people to the site for a chance to win $25,000 toward the purchase of a car. The teams also invited attendees to the booth to take part in a game show. The winner of a quick round of the Scene-It DVD game received a $50 logoed debit card.

3. Shoshanna?s Matches says have a mint

Shoshanna Rikon, owner of the Jewish singles dating service Shoshanna?s Matches, knows a good fit when she sees one. For her, it was a street team, 2,500 heart-shaped mint boxes and the Israel Day Parade in New York City last May. In addition to having a float, which carried a couple that met and were married as a result of the service, Rikon hired 20 people to hand out the plastic boxes that carried the Web address as well as the slogan, ?Our only real competition is mom.?

?It’s another way of giving out a business card, but it’s a gift too,? she says. ?It’s like subliminal advertising. They can keep it and think, ?Maybe I should use it or give it to a niece, nephew, sister or brother.??

4. Oxygen Plus finds the essential element to reach moms

There are lots of different kinds of moms in this world. When Oxygen Plus wanted to target them with its street team, it divided them into four different groups: overachievers, supermoms, athletes and partiers. For example, partiers were found at nightclubs, while overachievers were found taking finals at the University of Minnesota, as well as at malls, children?s stores and community centers.

?We needed to reach very targeted markets in hopes of driving traffic to,? says Phil Mero of Vincia Marketing Group in Excelsior, MN. ?There was an immediate and substantial lift in new user visits as a result of our street team programming. Residually, sales leads were generated from our activity in the field as well.?

Each group received 2,000 items: athletes received wristbands, supermoms received make-up bags, partiers got glow sticks and overachievers were given day planners.

?By really understanding your target market, you?re showing them that you get them, ensuring a deeper emotional connection,? says Mero. ?That’s what we?re trying to deliver, strong lasting impressions that net enduring emotional connections.?

5. New Era uses street teams to get a head (or two)

New Era, maker of baseball caps and other athletic wear, recruits ?Fit Team? members to live and breathe the brand. In both the United States and the United Kingdom, the teams were originally recruited to support the launch of its flagship stores, but because of their usefulness, the brand found many other places to utilize them, like at concerts and during street events.

Recently, the team supported an in-store photo shoot in conjunction with an ?Are You a Part of The New Era? marketing campaign. Teams handed out information about the event and even went a bit further to drive people into the store; they showed off their break dancing, freestyle basketball and skateboarding skills outside the Foot Locker locations in London, Manchester, Berlin, Munich and Paris while the event was going on. Of course, they also handed out logoed measuring tapes for consumers interested in buying a new cap.

6. Say hello to my little friend ? premiums

When Vivendi Universal launched the Scarface video game, it realized it had one potential problem. It was targeting a demographic (18- to 24-year-olds) that wasn’t born when the movie came out (1983). To combat this, the Cashmere Agency identified 100 on-air radio personalities, hip-hop artists, online media editors and other tastemakers and trendsetters who each received Premium Scarface Packages. ?Our street teams ensured delivery of Scarface packages to these individuals,? says Rona Mercado, vice president of marketing for the Cashmere Agency in Inglewood, CA. Each package contained a Scarface-branded humidor, advance copy of the game and the Scarface movie on DVD.

This resulted in on-air radio mentions, mentions on social networking platforms and e-mail newsletter blasts.

7. Verizon dials up free breakfast

Verizon wants people to know its FiOS fiber optic service is the fastest way to surf the Web. The problem is, many people don’t know what FiOS is or that they can even receive the cutting-edge service. To educate apartment dwellers in New York, once their apartment building is wired, Verizon delegates street teams to hand out “breakfasts on the go.” This includes Verizon FiOS-branded breakfast bags with juice and muffins.

Additionally, Verizon sends out teams to assist with information sessions that take place in the early evening for residents to learn about Verizon FiOS and the service that has come into their building. ?We typically distribute anywhere from 25 to 350 items on event days,? says Laurie Kessler, sales manager for Ambient Planet New York, which creates the efforts for Verizon. Branded items include a large variety of premiums, such as pens, keychains, water bottles, lunch bags, pizza cutters, measuring tapes, chip clips, mini flashlights and mousepads.

?Street teams offer a dynamic and personalized connection between the brand and the consumers,? says Kessler. ?Brand Ambassadors literally bring the brand to life.?

Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2006

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