Legend has it that when Coco Chanel was preparing to launch her No. 5 fragrance in 1921, she instructed employees to spray the perfume throughout her boutique in Paris. The scent made an immediate impression on the Parisian elite, and Chanel No. 5 went on to become a global phenomenon. While couture and solid-state memory drives may be worlds apart, consumers' sense of smell is as powerful in the silicon era as it was nearly a century ago.
Understanding the power of scent prompted Micron Technology Inc. to think outside the box when it came time to plan for its exhibit at VMworld 2014, an annual trade show focusing on cloud infrastructure and business mobility hosted by VMware Inc., a provider of cloud and virtualization software and services. Micron, a 38-year-old memory and storage technology manufacturer based in Boise, ID, had a long history of participating at trade shows, but VMworld was a recent addition to its exhibiting roster.
Booth visitors were presented with a bacon passport that was stamped after they completed each of three product demos. When the card was filled, attendees were presented with a scented T-shirt.
After occupying a small booth space in 2011 and 2012, the company upgraded to a 20-by-30-foot exhibit in 2013, which resulted in a proportional increase in leads. But Matt Wokas,
Micron's head of event marketing, knew his company had to increase in-booth traffic and boost brand awareness to compete with its sizable competitors, namely Samsung Electronics America Inc., Intel Corp., and Toshiba Corp., all of which enjoyed considerable name recognition.
Wokas believed the most effective way for Micron to attract attendees to its booth to learn about its latest advancements in solid-state memory drives would be a unique giveaway that would leave a lasting impression. VMworld exhibitors often use classic trade show gimmicks – e.g., magicians and "infotainers" – to lure attendees, and Wokas had employed an in-booth sketch artist, branded pens, and similar promos at previous shows, which yielded lackluster results. So the challenge laid in gifting something that would resonate with Micron's target audience of system managers while capitalizing on the powerful, fragrant allure Coco Chanel so strategically used to her advantage. Wokas' solution: bacon.
Making it Sizzle
It's not a secret that bacon has been basking in the culinary and cultural spotlight for years. Americans consume, on average, 17.9 pounds of the salty stuff per year, according to the National Pork Board. Companies have released everything from pork-scented sunscreen to bacon-flavored vodka, and chefs are finding countless ways to add the cured meat to every part of their menus. Having attended many enterprise software events, Wokas was well aware that the information technology community was not immune to the trend and had scores of enthusiastic bacon lovers in its ranks.
At previous IT trade shows, Wokas had witnessed exhibitors offering bacon-themed wristbands, temporary tattoos, and other giveaways. Intel and Cisco Systems Inc. had even gone so far as to host vBacon, an annual off-site, food-focused customer appreciation event at VMworld. And Wokas knew that software companies using Spiceworks.com, a networking website for the IT community, to recruit beta testers for their newest programs often received a larger response when they offered a bacon-centric incentive, say a six-month Bacon of the Month Club membership, as opposed to a more traditional technological token.
The bacon scent was
applied as a clear overlay
on top of the white
Seeking to capitalize on the popularity of the meaty treat, Wokas and his team sought a novel way to incorporate bacon into Micron's 2014 booth. "Initially we wanted to cook bacon in our exhibit and hand out samples, because we thought the resulting scent would be a mouthwatering, irresistible draw. But when we looked into it, we realized we couldn't set up our own griddle, and catering costs would have been prohibitive," he says. Wokas then considered giving attendees bacon-flavored candy bars and other themed tchotchkes, but he remained fixated on the idea of incorporating bacon's iconic aroma into Micron's VMworld campaign.
Wokas's belief was not without merit. An aggregate of studies shows that scent plays an important, albeit invisible, role in consumers' perception of a brand and their willingness to spend. While sight and hearing are wired to the left – i.e., logical – side of the brain, the sense of smell is processed in the right brain's limbic system, which triggers emotions. As such, companies ranging from Hugo Boss AG and Macy's Inc. to The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. LLC have capitalized on this and use signature aromas to "brand" their locations.
With an in-booth frying station off the table, Wokas scoured the Internet for a scent-focused alternative. Several Google searches later, he stumbled upon DuraScent, a company that manufacturers dozens of fragrances that can be infused into a wide range of products. And, as luck would have it, one of those fragrances was a bacon scent that could be silkscreened onto fabrics. A light bulb went off in Wokas's head: What if Micron offered attendees a bacon-scented T-shirt?
After a few inquiries, Wokas was connected to NDesigns, a Fayetteville, TN-based screen printer and embroiderer that uses DuraScent aromas in its inks. (In fact, bacon is the third most popular of the 24 scents NDesigns offers, outranked only by chocolate and vanilla.) Seeing as how VMworld 2014 was to be held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, and there were no DuraScent distributors west of the Mississippi, Wokas was confident he had a winning idea for a unique giveaway that would draw attendees to Micron's booth like pigs to the feeding trough. Convincing his superiors to sign off on the idea, however, would prove to be more of a challenge.
"They thought it was the stupidest idea they'd ever heard of," Wokas says. Thankfully, a systems engineer – a key member of Micron's target audience – happened to be in the meeting and voiced his support, so management begrudgingly gave the go-ahead and approved a meager budget of $5,000.
The bacon scent elicited
delighted reactions from
attendees, many of whom
opted to immediately don
the T-shirts on the trade
"I wasn't sure that the concept fit our corporate image and direction," says Allen Holmes, vice president of marketing for Micron at the time. "But I came around to believing the risk was low in regards to the potential brand-building benefits." It was now up to Wokas to deliver sow-sized results on a wee-little-piggy-sized budget.
After receiving management's blessing, Wokas fleshed out the details of the promotion. Knowing that Micron's booth would feature three demonstrations highlighting the company's advances in flash-memory storage area networks (SANs) using VMware's software, Wokas thought up a "bacon passport" that attendees would be given soon after arriving at the booth. The passports would be stamped when attendees participated in each of the demos, and T-shirts would be presented to visitors who completed all three. He also came up with the promotion's tagline: "Micron: The Bacon of VMware."
The task of designing the T-shirts, bacon passports, and related in-booth signage fell to Liz King, Micron's senior graphic designer. Going off of Wokas's instructions to keep the promotion fun and playful, King researched T-shirt trends and settled on a design inspired by classic American diners. (Scent would be added as a clear overlay on top of the colored ink.) The white, 8-inch-wide screen print, which was applied to a chestnut-colored shirt, featured two images of skewered strips of bacon, another strip on a spatula, the promo's tagline, and the kicker "Everything is better with bacon."
King knew it was critical to not allow the bacon theme to overwhelm Micron's booth. "We didn't want to be too over the top with it," King says. "We wanted to provoke conversations and have a little fun, but not detract from the seriousness of the products at the show, which really needed to be the focus." So the promotion's collateral was limited to two graphic placards: an 8-by-10-inch teaser reading "Everything is better with bacon. Ask me why." and a 15-by-24-inch sign outlining the details of the giveaway.
In addition to receiving
the T-shirts, attendees
could enter a drawing
for a Bacon of the Month
Both the sign and the roughly 5-by-8-inch bacon passport featured a stock image of a bearded and tattooed model wearing King's T-shirt design – a personage that is a marked departure from the typical VMworld attendee. "Engineers are not usually guys with tattoos and long beards, but this guy was kind of a character," King says. "It was a fun way to play off a look that was grittier than our usual show attendee and give the promotion a little hipness." King also opted for a red and black color scheme to further help the promotion's modestly sized signage stand out amid Micron's signature blue and green palette.
Three weeks before the show, Wokas turned to Twitter to promote the giveaway, which, in addition to a 5-by-7-inch ad in the show program, was the sole tactic for generating buzz. "At the time, we were still nervous and didn't know whether it was a dumb idea, or if it would be a huge hit," says Wokas of the decision to eschew direct mailers and email blasts. So with feelings of excitement and apprehension, the Micron team headed to San Francisco to see if bacon does indeed make everything better.
Meat and Greet
Some 20,000 attendees and more than 275 exhibitors filled San Francisco's Moscone Center for the five-day VMworld 2014 exhibition. Those passing by Micron's 20-by-30-foot booth were greeted by a staffer near the aisle who was holding one of the scented T-shirts. Micron reps were encouraged to spark conversations by asking "Do you like bacon?" which, per Wokas's familiarity with the IT community, most often yielded an enthusiastic affirmation. Staffers then explained that just as bacon makes everything taste better, Micron's memory hardware can help a company run better.
Micron's promo was so popular staffers distributed all 450 T-shirts midway through the five-day show.
Staffers told attendees that if they participated in all three of Micron's product demos, they would be given a bacon-scented shirt. Then they gave visitors a bacon passport and ushered them to one of the demo stations, which comprised two PowerPoint presentations and a live database running VMware virtual SAN. A dedicated staffer at each station stamped the passports after each session and presented attendees with their T-shirt when the card was filled.
"Initially people didn't believe us when we said the T-shirts smelled like bacon," Wokas says. "But once they got closer and took a whiff, the delight on their faces was a sure sign we had a hit on our hands." In addition to walking away with a unique, "scent-sational" giveaway, attendees could enter a drawing for a six-month membership to the Bacon of the Month Club – or, for the less meat-inclined, a 128MB Micron solid-state drive.
Word quickly spread about the company's bacon-scented smash, both on the show floor and on social media, with attendees proudly posting photos of themselves holding their new T-shirts on Twitter and Instagram. Meanwhile, Wokas continued to generate online buzz. "VMworld does a good job with its Twitter promotions," Wokas says. "Besides the standard show hashtags, there's also one called 'VM Three Word,' where exhibitors and attendees are encouraged to describe the event experiences, exhibits, etc. in only three words. So we tweeted pictures of the shirts with the caption 'Smells like bacon #VMworldthreeword' and really got things going that way."
Bringing Home the Bacon
Despite management's reservations – and Wokas's own trepidation – Micron's aroma-fueled promo proved to be more popular than barbecue at a picnic, so much so that staffers handed out all 450 scented T-shirts a little over halfway through the five-day show. Even though some attendees left the booth empty-handed, Wokas's idea yielded considerable results. The event netted 432 leads, an increase of 48 percent over the previous year. Attendee dwell times averaged 10 minutes and 32 seconds, shattering the goal of more than five minutes. And the number of social-media impressions, which was practically zip in 2013, spiked to more than 31,000.
Micron Technology Inc. had almost no
social-media presence at VMworld 2013.
But thanks to the company's shrewd use
of the show's hashtags and attendees'
enthusiasm for the bacon-scented T-shirts,
Micron garnered more than 31,000 Twitter
impressions at VMworld 2014.
Impressive metrics aside, Wokas was especially pleased with how the T-shirts resonated with attendees. "Many people actually put the shirts on right away and wore them on the show floor," Wokas says. "It was great to get people coming back to the booth just to talk to you because of a giveaway. I've never experienced that before."
Micron's promotion made a similar impression on Sizzle Awards judges, who praised the company's keen understanding of its target audience. "Micron was extremely creative in capitalizing on the bacon craze and appealing to attendees' interests," one judge said. "The results show the low-budget strategy paid huge dividends."
Through its success, Micron demonstrated that knowing your target market is essential to executing a successful giveaway program, and that remarkable results can be achieved on a budget of any size. But also, it proved that whether the topic is IT hardware or Sunday breakfast, everything is better with bacon. E
Micron Technology Inc.'s bacon-scented
T-shirt giveaway aided the company in
generating 432 leads at VMworld 2014,
an impressive 48-percent increase over
the previous year.