t's no secret that Las Vegas is the ultimate party-vacation destination. Gambling, boozing, and the world's flashiest nightclubs annually draw more than 40 million tourists. Filled with intoxicated vacationers, Las Vegas also plays host to a large number of business travelers, and as such, the city is one of the top U.S. destinations for conventions across numerous business sectors.
Las Vegas' trade show roster includes the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the biggest exhibiting extravaganza in the industry. Each January, companies descend upon Sin City to showcase the latest innovations in technological wizardry to an audience that now exceeds 150,000 visitors. VCRs, high-definition TVs, and driverless car technology have all seen their debut at CES since the inaugural convention in 1967.
But when the show opened on Jan. 7, 2014, one of the bigger surprises wasn't a new smartphone or TV; it was a display from a company that sells one of the oldest, nontech products around – paper. With a highly creative concept, Hammermill Papers, a brand of the Memphis, TN-based International Paper Co., stuck its foot in the door of the electronics exhibiting world for the first time to land a big blow in the paper industry's fight against the decline of paper sales.
Hammermill to the Rescue!
According to a 2014 article by The Washington Post, consumer demand for paper products has dropped nearly 5 percent annually since 2009. A large contributor to that hasty dip is the continued proliferation of e-readers, tablets, and various other handheld electronic devices replacing paper as the preferred means for information consumption.
"We've been analyzing the impacts of mobile devices on paper decline for a number of years," says Hammermill brand manager Tracy Burke. "One of the key things we found is that people still want to print information or pictures from mobile devices, but many people don't know that they can. Others have mobile printing apps that are limited in functionality, and apps with premium printing capabilities often come with a hefty price tag." That insight sparked Hammermill to develop plans to launch a free, best-in-class mobile-printing app to get the message to an increasingly electronic world that printing is still available and easy, and that paper's not dead.
Hammermill has a history of innovation – it was the first company to market laser-printer paper in the mid-1980s – but a mobile-print app was a big step beyond the brand's comfort zone. To address that, Hammermill collaborated with a third-party vendor in early 2013 to develop the technology blueprint for the app, eventually named Print Hammermill. While that collaboration helped ensure Hammermill would deliver a functionally sound product, the company faced an equal challenge in spreading the word about the new app and availability of mobile-device printing to a population outside its standard Rolodex of paper pushers.
"With this project, our main goal from the beginning was to drive awareness of the fact that you can print from your mobile device," Burke says. "Our hope was that by doing so, we could lessen the decline of paper use caused by mobile devices."
Realizing that launching the product at one of the company's routine paper-industry conferences would be like preaching to the choir and wouldn't help achieve that goal, Burke and the Hammermill team scoured the exhibiting landscape for the perfect venue and quickly found a clear standout: CES 2014. "We knew that the show's audience consists of technology-industry insiders that love to blog, talk, and share," Burke says. "That seemed like the perfect audience to help drive awareness of a mobile-device printing app."
All About Location
Faced with the daunting challenge of exhibiting for the first time at an enormous conference outside its industry, Hammermill enlisted the help of Albuquerque, NMâ?"based creative agency McKee Wallwork and Co. LLC to cook up a buzz-worthy booth concept to get attendees chattering at the show and send downloads of the Print Hammermill app into overdrive. "CES is a crazy show with thousands of people, all chomping at the bit to see the latest in technology gadgets," says David Ortega,
associate creative director for McKee. "You've got companies that are household names spending millions of dollars on huge booths." Since Hammermill was offering the app for free and exhibiting at CES without the potential to generate traditional sales leads, that concept had to come with a reasonable price tag.
As if the challenge of going toe to toe with industry titans – like a budgetary David battling a technologically superior Goliath – wasn't enough, Hammermill had another hurdle to clear. While most of the CES action takes place inside the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Hammermill booth was positioned a two-mile cab ride away at the Sands Expo Convention Center, attached to The Venetian Las Vegas. "We knew we couldn't compete with heavyweight exhibitors from a technology or budget perspective," Ortega says. "And since our booth wasn't even located in the more heavily trafficked LVCC, we needed a big idea to create a large impact."
That big idea came from something simple: the show's Las Vegas location. "We decided to build a theme and a visitor experience around the Vegas lifestyle, and give a wink to what happens off the show floor," Ortega says. "While it's all business inside CES, the reality is that when you walk outside, it's still Vegas." Playing upon the city's massively successful "What Happens Here, Stays Here" tourism marketing campaign, Hammermill's display would allow attendees to "shred the evidence" of any nighttime Vegas debauchery by downloading the Print Hammermill app, printing their party pics and texts via an in-booth wireless printer, and shredding the paper.
"As a traditional paper company exhibiting at a show geared toward electronics and technology, we knew we needed to do something that was highly creative and very different than what we usually do to grab attention, and we felt this would be the perfect concept for the venue," Burke says.
Working with a smaller budget than other exhibitors, Hammermill kept pre-event promotions to a minimum, hoping its unique concept would create enough word of mouth and social-media buzz to drive booth traffic during the four-day convention. Pre-show marketing included a modest media release through the show's centralized online press hub to tease the booth concept. The one-page, electronic flier encouraged attendees to "go nuts, make some memories" and introduced Print Hammermill as a convenient app to wirelessly print those memories from a mobile device. Giving a hint to booth activities, flier text indicated that "if any of those memories aren't suitable for sharing," visitors could stop by the Hammermill booth to "get rid of them." The teaser also included links to more detailed information on the app, download locations on the Apple App Store and Google Play, the company's booth number and location, and options to follow Print Hammermill on Facebook and Twitter.
Pre-event promotion complete, Burke and the team booked their tickets to Vegas, holding their breath to see if the unusual in-booth activity would be enough to attract attendees.
What Happens in Vegas Gets Shredded
As crowds began to swell at CES, the quirky exhibit, designed and fabricated by The Rogers Co., drew visitor interest. The clean, all-white 20-by-20-foot booth attendees saw when they walked the aisles included a pile of more than a ton of shredded paper mounded on the floor and a 16-foot-high rear wall with signage telling visitors this was the place to "destroy every trace of last night." Flatscreen TVs mounted on both sides of the rear wall looped information on the Print Hammermill app and were positioned between slogans reading "download the app" and "print your conscience clean."
To create a vibe that captured the energy of the Las Vegas nightclub scene, Hammermill pumped dance music throughout the booth and came prepared with a quintessentially Vegas accessory: beautiful women. McKee outfitted four models in shredded-paper dresses, armed them with talking points, and deployed them as glamorous tour guides to direct the visitor experience. As attendees approached the booth, the models greeted them with a simple question: "What did you do last night?" That got visitors talking and helped focus the discussion on fun instead of sales, increasing their willingness to participate in the amusing in-booth activities that were to follow. Drawing in visitors through conversation, the models then guided them through those activities, which consisted of connecting to Hammermill's in-booth Wi-Fi, downloading the Print Hammermill app, and printing out pictures using the booth's wireless printer.
Once printed, attendees handed over their incriminating party pics to an emcee Hammermill hired to man the exhibit festivities. Poking fun at the pictures to create a comical atmosphere while other visitors looked on, he then stamped them with a red "Evidence" disclaimer and ceremoniously ran them through a shredder at the center of the booth, adding to the growing pile of sliced-up sins on the exhibit floor.
Among the sea of visitors swarming the Hammermill booth to partake in the party was a host of technology bloggers, drawn in by the unique concept and a chance for photo opportunities with the models. "We hit Twitter and Facebook heavily during the show," says Hammermill IT project manager Reed Evans. "When bloggers would come by and tweet about the booth, we would retweet them on our handle to keep the buzz going." The heavy dose of social media quickly paid dividends. "On the first day alone, we had over a million media impressions, and we were the only booth to be retweeted by the CES convention Twitter feed for each of the first three days of the show," Ortega says. On day one of the event, @intlCES tweeted "The Print Hammermill booth at The Venetian has some unique ways they are promoting downloading their app," using the #CES2014 hashtag and attaching a photo of a paper-dress-clad staffer standing in front of the exhibit.
The booth even added value for visitors not willing to print out their Vegas secrets. "One of my favorite moments of CES 2014 occurred on the last day of the show," Ortega says. "A flustered-looking gentleman was walking by with his rolling luggage, and as he dropped by the booth and found we were offering this app, he asked if he could print his boarding pass. Of course we were happy to help him do that, and he was very grateful as he zipped off to the airport."
Downloading the Results
Following the convention, Hammermill assessed the results of its risky, risqué exhibit. Despite a nationwide press release announcing the availability of the Print Hammermill app in late December 2013, it had only garnered 1,000 downloads prior to the show. Over the course of the four-day event, that number skyrocketed to more than 10,000. "CES really set the trajectory for a successful launch," Burke says. "And thanks to the resulting exposure, the average daily download number increased throughout 2014, with very positive reviews from app users. Print Hammermill is now in the 100,000 to 500,000 download bucket for Android app users." What's more, the app has garnered a 4.5-star rating on iTunes.
In addition to providing needed life support for print, the phenomenal success of the app has afforded opportunities for Hammermill to increase brand awareness and market its traditional paper products as well. "Our company website doesn't even come close to the traffic we see within the Print Hammermill app," Evans says. "So we are currently leveraging that traffic to help people get familiar with our paper products via messaging within the app itself."
Although the company won't offer the app indefinitely, it's a great first step toward revitalizing paper in an electronic world. After all, some memories belong in a picture frame, not a phone. For everything else, there's always a paper shredder.