New York Times highlights Mullen's work with Zappos

  • 05 Mar 2010 1:39 PM
    Message # 303308
    Deleted user
    Tireless Employees Get Their Tribute, Even if It’s in Felt and Polyester

    A campaign from Zappos features puppets, styled after actual company employees, interacting with customers.

    By STUART ELLIOTT
    Published: March 4, 2010


    A POPULAR new reality series on CBS, “Undercover Boss,” shows senior managers working incognito as everyday employees. As for employees who are not secretly C.E.O.’s, they have champions, too, in marketers that are devoting ad campaigns to workers.

    The latest marketer to join the trend is Zappos, the online retailer that was recently bought by Amazon. In a campaign scheduled to begin on Monday, Zappos will celebrate its customer service representatives, whom the company refers to as the customer loyalty team. The intent is to demonstrate to potential customers — and remind current ones — how the employees make it easy to order or return merchandise, either on Zappos.com or by calling a toll-free number.

    The campaign, by Mullen in Boston, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, has a budget estimated at $7 million. The ads reiterate themes that have appeared in previous Zappos campaigns, which include “Powered by service” and “Happy to help. 24/7.”

    There will be television commercials, print advertisements and video and display ads on Web sites, along with a presence in social media like Facebook and YouTube and on Zappos.com.

    The ads will also appear in an unusual place where Zappos is already advertising: on the bottoms of plastic bins in airport security lines, reflecting the origins of Zappos as a seller of shoes.

    The campaign is centered on the interaction during phone calls between Zappos employees and customers. The employees are represented by puppetlike characters who are based on and styled after actual Zappos workers.

    The characters, called Zappets, resemble Muppets who have been to the theater several times to see “Avenue Q.” The idea is to evoke the offbeat company culture for which Zappos has become known.

    The genesis of the campaign was in observations by Mullen executives who, while competing last year in a review for the Zappos account, visited the company’s headquarters in Henderson, Nev., to spend time with the customer service representatives.

    “We sat with them, and we had headphones on, and we listened to the calls and heard how much of the company’s culture seeped through,” said one of those visitors, Alex Leikikh, managing partner and director for account services at Mullen.

    Another visitor, Mark Wenneker, managing partner and executive creative director at Mullen, said of the employees: “They would stay on the line for as long as you wanted to talk. They would talk about anything.”

    According to Aaron Magness, director for brand marketing and business development at Zappos, the approach reflects that “our customer loyalty team is not scripted and is not measured on time of calls.”

    “The goal is when you see the ads, in TV, print or digital, you’ll say, ‘That’s the Zappos I know,’ ” Mr. Magness said, “or, ‘That’s a company I want to do business with.’ ”

    Some of the commercials use recordings of calls made to Zappos employees, whose voices are heard in the spots. The words “Actual call with Zappos” appear onscreen. The customer service representatives were not aware that the calls were potential fodder for an ad campaign.

    The calls heard in those commercials were made by actors or Mullen employees posing as customers, asking tough questions or making unusual requests.

    For instance, in one commercial, a caller tells a customer service representative that she wants to exchange the Nike workout clothes she previously ordered for another Zappos item. The employee looks up the item and says in a neutral, unruffled voice, “That’s a nice deep fryer.”

    In another commercial, a caller tells a customer service representative that the dress she ordered the day before has already arrived but that she is “not really emotionally ready for it yet” and has hidden it in the garage under a tarpaulin.

    When the caller asks if she can return the dress, the employee says yes, then adds gently, “You will have to touch the box, though.”

    Two other commercials feature the voices of actors playing Zappos employees. In both kinds of commercials, the Zappets onscreen are modeled after actual Zappos customer service representatives. The puppets were built by Randy Cafagno and designed by Lizzi Akana and Aaron Duffy. Mr. Duffy also directed the commercials for a production company in New York, Special Guest.

    Among the other marketers with employee-centric campaigns are Exxon Mobil, Ford Motor, Lowe’s, Nationwide Insurance, Toyota Motor Sales USA and Verizon.

    In some instances, like the campaigns for Lowe’s and Nationwide, the employees are portrayed by actors. Some, like Zappos, use a mix of employees and actors. Others use only real workers.

    The review for the Zappos account, which ended in September when the company hired Mullen, was one of the strangest that Madison Avenue has witnessed recently. It began with 16 agencies, but after word leaked out about the review, “we ended up getting 190” requests to take part, Mr. Magness said.

    Of those agencies, 103 submitted material, he added, and about 20 made presentations. Mullen, which was among the 16 original participants, emerged the winner because “we felt a strong connection to Mullen,” Mr. Magness said.

    As for the scrumlike aspects of the review, Mr. Wenneker said: “The fact there were so many agencies inspired us and made us say, ‘What do we have to do to get this?’ It inspired us to go there, to Henderson.”



    Source: New York Times
    Last modified: 05 Mar 2010 1:39 PM | Deleted user

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