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case study
Event-Marketing Heroics
Craftsman, Sears Holdings Corp.'s popular tool brand, stages a heroic product launch, and garners more than 70 million media impressions in the process. By Claire Walling
ome situations call for cautious marketing maneuvers, lest a rash move tarnish a company's polished reputation. But when a company is in dire financial straits, measures of heroic proportions (and with commensurate risk) are often necessary. As it was entering 2012, Sears Holdings Corp. fell into that latter category.

Same-store sales, a measure of individual stores' year-over-year revenues, had been tumbling for years, and in 2011, the former retail giant logged an operating loss of $1.4 billion. Yet despite that grim outlook, its popular brands – Craftsman tools, DieHard automotive batteries, and Kenmore appliances – have maintained their status as household names independent of the store's iconic blue logo. The Sears brand may have been stuck in an age where consumers dog-eared pages in its catalogs and then mailed in their orders, but Craftsman and its other popular private labels had evolved and built legacies of their own.

The red Craftsman logo first appeared on store shelves – and in the pages of Sears' fabled catalogs – in 1927. Since then, the brand has garnered numerous accolades, including being named readers' favorite hand-tool and lawn-mower brand by Popular Mechanics magazine in 2010.

Craftsman's illustrious legacy, coupled with the floundering state of Sears department stores, prompted its parent company to seek out unique ways to promote the popular tool label. Much like building a raft as the mother ship is taking on water by the gallon, Sears began to create a long-term strategy to leverage the strength of Craftsman, and at the same time further develop its autonomous brand identity. That strategy not only included striking a deal with Ace Hardware Corp. in 2010 to begin selling its tools under the roofs of Ace's more than 4,600 stores, but would also incorporate a series of trade shows and events aimed at attracting massive media attention to the brand.

Open Season
Craftsman launched a yearlong campaign to detach itself from Sears Holdings Corp.

To kick off the year, Craftsman launched its AssureLink garage-door opener at the International Consumer Electronics Show.

The focal point of the tool brand's outdoor exhibit was a replica of a two-car garage.
Staffers demonstrated the AssureLink system by raising and lowering the doors via smart-phone.

Craftsman paired the tech-driven product
demo with an extensive display of its tools and
storage solutions.
Stunt Artist
Generating media buzz is a bit more complicated than emailing out a few press releases. And Craftsman knew that from its previous marketing ventures. "We are always thinking of ways to get the kind of coverage and exposure that is going to be meaningful and generate a significant return on investment." says Darryl Ricca, marketing manager for Craftsman and Kenmore brands at Sears.

Furthermore, the company hoped to attract a younger generation to its brand, and extend its marketing reach beyond the baby boomers whose garages and homes were already packed with the eponymous tools. To accomplish this, Craftsman had tried – and found success in – a variety of marketing maneuvers that went far outside the scope of usual store-brand tactics.

In August 2010, Craftsman celebrated the opening of a storefront dubbed the Craftsman Experience. The one-off venue, located in downtown Chicago, hosts demos, DIY workshops, and video tutorials. And in 2011, the brand launched an interactive online reality show called "Screw*d," which chronicled the journey of a fledgling handyman who was sent off into the wild with little more than some Craftsman tools and an Internet connection. These previous endeavors taught Craftsman some important lessons about getting creative with its marketing, interacting with end users, and generating media buzz – lessons that would come in handy for future campaigns.

Though the Craftsman Experience store and "Screw*d" show were impressive stunts, both paled in comparison to its 2012 feats. To kick off the year, Craftsman launched two products at shows far outside its traditional trade show calendar. Up first was the launch of AssureLink garage-door openers at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in early January. While its outdoor exhibit-turned-garage was chock-full of tools, Craftsman made it clear that it belonged at a tech-savvy show like CES by continuously raising and lowering the exhibit's two bay doors using a smartphone.

Less than a week later, the brand headed to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where it launched the CTX lawn tractor.

"We came up with idea of launching it at the Detroit auto show primarily because a lot of the features the tractor offered are the same kinds of features you might find in a performance or luxury automobile," Ricca says. Craftsman was a new player at both events, but it was able to draw a clear

Greener Pastures
Less than a week after CES, Craftsman headed to the International Auto Show in Detroit.

Prior to the auto show, Craftsman had always
launched its tractors at landscaping-industry events.
Craftsman decided to launch its
CTX lawn tractor at the auto show because the piece of equipment has many of the features found in luxury cars.

Because the trade show floor
was reserved exclusively for
automobile companies,
Craftsman positioned its booth in the convention-center lobby.
connection between the new products and the shows they were unveiled at – and more importantly, attract media attention with unique exhibits at shows you wouldn't expect a tool label to attend.

After those back-to-back product launches, Craftsman took a breather from its media spree, but it wasn't finished yet. The brand's events campaign resurfaced in August 2012, this time for a two-part volunteer event called House United, which brought delegates from the Democratic and Republican national conventions together to build a modular home. The event gave Craftsman even more media visibility coupled with some feel-good vibes; plus, it produced a home for an Army veteran in need.

Holy Marketing, Batman
Having set the tone with the success of its two product launches earlier in the year, Craftsman needed to come up with an equally buzz-worthy campaign to promote its newest tool: the Bolt-On. The high-tech power-tool system is compatible with 10 different attachments, and capable of tasks as varied as pumping up a car tire and drilling into a brick wall. But finding an appropriate launch venue for a tool that can do it all is no easy task.

"With all these different attachments, we were thinking, 'How do we want to launch this?'" Ricca says. "Somehow in the course of brainstorming, people noted that it was sort of like Batman's utility belt, which had all of these different attachments." That revelation prompted Craftsman to think about appealing to geek culture for the launch of the Bolt-On. Ultimately, with the help of Minneapolis-based Star Exhibits & Environments, Craftsman decided to attend a show so far out of its industry – and comfort zone – that it is practically in another galaxy: the New York Comic Con (NYCC).

The East Coast sister show to the legendary Comic-Con International: San Diego, NYCC only began in 2006, with a mere 25,000 attendees. But more recent editions had attracted more than 100,000 people to New York's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Both conventions draw 16- to 34-year-old super fans of everything from comic books and graphic novels to popular television shows and movies. For that reason, the events have become media magnets, making them attractive to consumer brands.

Build a Better Brand
Craftsman's House United event capitalized on the media frenzy surrounding the 2012 Democratic and Republican national conventions.

Volunteers from red and blue states came together to build a home for someone in need.

Ty Pennington, star of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," made
an appearance.

Half of a modular home was constructed in Florida by delegates of the Republican National Convention, while the other half was built in North Carolina by Democratic National Convention delegates.
The completed home was eventually donated to a U.S. Army veteran.

The timing of NYCC would be on Craftsman's side – the show's mid-October date would allow the Bolt-On to hit shelves of Sears stores nationwide just in time for the holiday hoopla. If all went as planned, the hype surrounding the new tool would peak in November, just as the shopping season was kicking into high gear. The challenge would be convincing attendees that it belonged alongside indie comic-book artists and action-figure peddlers. Traditionalist Comic Con attendees have accepted the infiltration of movies and TV shows. But how would they react to Craftsman?

Luckily, Craftsman wouldn't be the only brand "geeking out" at NYCC. Chevrolet, a division of General Motors Co., for one, was a marquee sponsor of the show. But the carmaker possessed an item that NYCC attendees would drool over: the Camaro from Michael Bay's "Transformers" films. Craftsman's offering to the comic-book crowd, however, would be a bit more difficult to determine.

The solution would ultimately come through a unique partnership with DC Comics, a Warner Bros. Entertainment company. Craftsman contracted with DC Comics to create a branded comic book called "Craftsman Bolt-On System Saves the Justice League." The content-marketing piece would include fans' favorite members of the Justice League – Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash among them – alongside a new character, the Technician, created specifically for Craftsman.

At first blush, avid comic-book fans might think it was blasphemous to introduce a brand's character into the cohesive Justice League. But with a little mind contortion, Craftsman's plotline wasn't that preposterous. After all, someone needs to inflate the tires on the Batmobile and overhaul Flash's treadmill. And since every good superhero has a trusty sidekick, the Technician's sidekick would be the Bolt-On. By crafting a promotion that would convince attendees it understood comic culture, and planting references to its product within the book's pages, Craftsman hoped to tell NYCC – and everyone exposed to the resulting media coverage – about its newest offering.

Tool Time
NYCC would be anything but a typical trade show, and Craftsman knew its pre-show promotions would need to be anything but typical as well. To tease attendees about its presence, Craftsman invited fans to help shape the comic's plot. Via social-media channels, the brand invited followers to a microsite created specifically for NYCC, where they could vote for and comment on a variety of proposed story lines. To incentivize participation, all contributors were entered into a drawing for a highly sought-after prize: The winner would receive a private tour of DC Comics' studios in New York.

The creative contest and its unique prize would capture attendees' attention leading up to NYCC, but what about when they entered the sensory-assaulting exhibit hall? To accomplish that, Craftsman hung six eye-catching 5-by-16-foot banners above its exhibit. Each banner depicted a different frame lifted straight from the comic book's colorful pages. When attendees made their way to the booth, they could pick up a copy of the limited edition comic book and have the author, Joshua Williamson, sign it.

But the unique giveaway wouldn't be the only element drawing attendees to Craftsman's 20-by-30-foot booth. Visitors could observe an expert woodworker as he constructed a scale model of the Hall of Justice, the fictional world headquarters of the Justice League. The scale model, constructed out of craft plywood and using only the Bolt-On, measured 30 inches wide, 21 inches high, and 26 inches deep. It was completed on the first day of the show and then remained on display in the exhibit for the duration of NYCC. The miniature architectural feat drew a crowd to the exhibit and proved true Craftsman's claims about the Bolt-On's versatility.

Comic-Book Buzz
New York Comic Con featured the introduction of Craftsman's Bolt-On and the Technician.

New York Comic Con featured the introduction of Craftsman's Bolt-On and the Technician.

The Bolt-On is 10 power tools in one, and inspired the creation of a Craftsman-branded comic-book character named the Technician.
The Technician scored his own comic book, wherein he fixed the equipment and tools of other superheroes.

The comic-book approach struck the perfect chord with
the show's fan boys and fan girls.

Despite all of the other interactive elements, the Bolt-On itself took center stage in Craftsman's exhibit. Each of its 10 attachments were prominently displayed along a central counter in the exhibit, which gave attendees an at-a-glance view of the tool's various capabilities. If they preferred to test the Bolt-On's prowess for themselves, booth visitors could slip on a pair of safety glasses and test drive the tool's attachments by drilling, sawing, and shaping the available materials. Rather than completing a set activity, attendees were free to experiment with the Bolt-On as they wished while staffers stood nearby to explain the features of each attachment and assist people with the tool's operation.

Craftsman didn't leave out attendees who weren't particularly handy either. Staff invited interested booth visitors – many of whom were decked out in costumes resembling their favorite comic-book characters – to pose for photos on a customized Orange County Chopper. Branded with the Craftsman logo, the crimson motorcycle featured components made of Craftsman tools, including struts made from wrenches and spinners made from circular-saw blades. The bike was positioned in front of a green screen, and attendees could pick one of three scenes from the customized comic as the image's background. After the show, they could visit www.craftsmancomic.com or the company's Facebook page and retrieve their images. That extra step didn't just create another touchpoint with attendees for Craftsman; it also helped extend conversations that started on the show floor beyond the confines of NYCC.

The Technician Saves Craftsman
By exhibiting at a trade show outside its industry and crafting a spot-on campaign that appealed to the comic-book aficionados that attend NYCC, Craftsman experienced a much-needed boost in brand awareness. The tool brand not only got to show off its new Bolt-On to the thousands of attendees who visited its exhibit, but it also attracted a throng of media members covering the event. Its presence at the show generated coverage in a variety of publications, including Forbes and USA Today, which Ricca says represents an invaluable marketing coup.

While a hard sell certainly wasn't Craftsman's intention, Mike Seeman, director of client engagement at Star Exhibits & Environments, says that many attendees expressed interest in purchasing the Bolt-On on site after their experience in the exhibit. But the real marketing magic happened off the show floor. After NYCC, Craftsman focused its follow-up efforts on two areas: monitoring social-media chatter and tracking the number of media mentions. By doing so, it was able to gauge the size of its second-hand audience – those who were exposed to traditional or social-media coverage about Craftsman's presence at NYCC, but weren't actually there. Craftsman's heroic antics publicized the launch of the Bolt-On far wider than if it had simply ran some TV ads and sent out a press release. In fact, the brand estimates that the resulting press coverage generated more than 70 million media impressions, which is gigantic when compared to NYCC's total attendance of 116,000 people.

The success of Craftsman's exhibit at NYCC, as well as the rest of its 2012 event-marketing exploits, won't lessen the blow of bleak stock reports, or keep Sears from boarding up some of its stores. But its event campaign did plenty to strengthen the tool label's brand equity. With a few tools and some unsung heroics, the Technician saved the Justice League. And with some marketing courage, Craftsman was able to perform an equally incredible task, and buoy its brand with a creative product launch.

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