Colgate-Palmolive has been marketing successfully to elementary schools via its Bright Smiles, Bright Futures program for 18 years. The ongoing program has become more and more interactive with an increasing presence at schools nationwide. It currently produces annual plays at schools brings in high-profile celebrities and stations mobile dental vans at schools and other locations to provide children with oral health education free screenings and dental supplies.
But even well received brands like C-P can get rolled up in the red tape at first. Often they have to jump through hoops before getting their programs underway. So what’s the secret to Colgate-Palmolive’s successful program? First and foremost it talks to the head honchos at the school systems in each market before making any moves. And secondly it makes friends with the community.
“If you want to be a true partner you’re going to have to work with different people. You don’t want to look like this big corporate machine that comes in and starts telling those people who have been doing it every day that they’re doing it wrong and your way is best,” says Dawna Michelle Fields national program manager at Colgate-Palmolive who has been heading Bright Smiles Bright Futures for 11 years. “You don’t want to change your core program but you may have to tweak it so that it fits into what the schools are doing. If you’re willing to be flexible they will see you as a valued partner in the process.”
Marketing to young children can be a sticky subject. Oftentimes companies have to walk on eggshells so as not to offend parents or child activists. The International Council of Beverages Association which represents the non-alcoholic beverage industry recently adopted voluntary guidelines on marketing to children. Last year top beverage brands like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo agreed to end a wide range of advertising and marketing of select beverages including carbonated soft drinks to children under 12. This year the guidelines may extend to sponsorships and brand presence in schools. What does this mean for event marketing? The new guidelines will likely impact sponsorships the most especially if they’re adopted by other trade organizations. Companies will have to be extra careful about how they market their product to children at say a Little League game. But for health and lifestyle brands marketing to young children can be less controversial if done right.
What else does Colgate-Palmolive do to ensure that its program is a success? Check it out:
Work from the Top Down. Getting permission from the top is the key. Each school system has its own rules and regulations so figuring those out from the get-go can save you some headaches. In most cases a company will have to sit down with members of a school system’s board of education.
The approval from the top trickles down to the schools which paves the way for marketers to go in and do their thing without any protest. In some school systems you may only have to talk to the principal. The rules vary from school system to school system so doing your homework in each new market can get you off on the right foot. On the other hand ticking off the wrong person can be the end of your scholastic marketing career in that market.
Hook Up with Area Professionals. Colgate-Palmolive recruits local dentists and hygienists to volunteer in its dental mobile vans in exchange for putting them on a referral database. When children get screened in the van they are referred to dental professionals in Colgate-Palmolive’s database according to each market. Another plus: C-P’s sales reps refer to that same list of dental professionals to make their sales calls. Children get free dental screenings dentists get patients and Colgate-Palmolive increases chances for sales by visiting dental professionals who are familiar with its brand. In one word: masterful.
Partner with the Community. In the last couple of years Colgate-Palmolive has added a retail partnership to its program. It takes its dental mobile vans to stores like Family Dollar Walmart and CVS for a day or two. It makes arrangements with the stores to park its van outside by doing coupon campaigns that drive consumers into the stores. It also partners with reputable government organizations or nonprofits like Make A Child Smile Foundation or local Rotary Clubs which give it another layer of credibility with consumers. “Sometimes you have to partner with governmental agencies in the area like the public health department or partner with businesses and the professionals ” says Fields. “They give you that third party endorsement that ‘It’s OK to be in our school system. We have checked them out and they are our partners in this process.’”
Carefully Screen Staff Members. Because it’s dealing with children Colgate-Palmolive is extra careful about whom they bring into each school. It screens and does a background check on each staff member. Then the staff is trained on the dos and don’ts of working with kids. For example the staff takes a group approach to its program. No one staffer deals with a child one-on-one. The staff is trained to work in groups which usually includes a representative from the school as well. It’s also important to pay attention to details like making sure certain photo releases are signed by parents before the programs conclude at each school. By taking such precautions a brand gains the trust of the school and parents who will eventually decide which dental brand to buy for their household.
Maintain the Same Core Staff. Not switching up core staff all the time is a solid way to build trust with the schools. “When the client isn’t available to go to the event some of our senior people can step in and make some decisions ” says Tony Dinkins president and ceo at Unlimited Events and Marketing which has handled the program for 11 years. “The key is having a ground support that is responsive to the ever-changing environment in schools ” he says.
Leverage Positive Star Power. Adding the right kind of celebrity to the marketing mix gets a brand positive p.r. and gains points with kids and parents. As part of its program Colgate-Palmolive introduces a new entertainment segment every year. Last year it added the Bright Smiles Comedy Showcase which featured an original skit performed by the LaughingStock Comedy Company with Nikki Blonsky of the movie “Hairspray” as the special host.