In the summer of 1994, 3M introduced a breakthrough technology able to give traditional cellulose sponges new germ-resistant properties. 3M dubbed the new value-added sponges O-Cel-O StayFresh to reflect the fact that they resisted the unpleasant odors associated with germ growth.
Resisting odors was the benefit most readily apparent to consumers and, therefore, became the focus of the advertising campaign. However, the most significant benefit was the product's ability to reduce consumers' risk of foodborne illness by killing bacteria like E. coli and salmonella in the sponge. Padilla Speer Beardsley counseled the client that the public relations campaign could effectively communicate this more complex, yet compelling, message.
Using an innovative publicity strategy that simultaneously educated consumers about the problem of germs in sponges and 3M's innovative solution, PSB helped make the O-Cel-O StayFresh introduction an enormous success, leading to a 15 percent increase in market share in the first six months.
PSB began by identifying and engaging a recognized germ-expert, Dr. Charles Gerba, who conducted independent tests of the germ-killing power of O-Cel-O StayFresh sponges and provided secondary research documenting that ordinary sponges and dishrags are the primary culprits in the growth and spread of germs in the kitchen. This information was mailed to reporters across the country, along with tips for reducing the spread of germs in the kitchen, traditional product background and an invitation to interview Dr. Gerba. This strategy generated a first wave of publicity as O-Cel-O StayFresh sponges first hit store shelves.
The second publicity phase centered on the International Housewares Show in Chicago. Working with Dr. Gerba and Opinion Research Corporation, PSB conducted a national opinion survey to uncover consumer misperceptions about germs and to underscore the need for 3M's new germ-killing sponge. Survey results were released at the show and mailed to key reporters not attending the show. Dr. Gerba was available by telephone to discuss survey results.
PSB also worked with Dr. Gerba's lab to collect and test 500 sponges and dishrags from the Chicago area. The results of those tests - which revealed that 20 percent of Chicago dishrags contained salmonella bacteria - where outlined in a media advisory which was faxed to Chicago media outlets two days prior to the show.
The campaign has so far reached more than 167 million people with an average of 85 percent of key messages through stories on "CBS This Morning," CNN "On the Menu," NBC "Dateline," Parade Magazine, Business Week, McCall's, The Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Sun-Times, and many other print and broadcast media. Market share for the O-Cel-O brand increased by 15 percent during the first six months.