Case Study: Directing Marketing, SAP, and Six-Legged Creatures

When asked about the projects I’m most proud of, there´s one I remember with special affection due to its greatness, in terms of its difficulty, competitiveness, and reward.

Working for a marketing agency in Madrid, we contested with several major agencies to get the Direct Marketing account for the multinational SAP.

Not only was this a big account (over a million dollars), the target audience was a select group of CEOs with high-level incomes – the crème de la crème. The objective was to communicate the benefits of using mySAP SCM in all of a company’s organizational processes.

For this project, there were two big challenges. One was the fact that what SAP offers is hard to intuitively explain to most people. But an even greater challenge was the budget. When it comes to people who have money, it costs money just to reach them, and I had a whopping 10 US dollars in budget per audience member. 

Not enough to buy my way in on its own, but as usual, creativity was my best ally.

My proposal focused on creating a small gift, accompanied by a messaging triptych that explained the operation of the SAP system. People enjoy receiving unexpected gifts, and pairing that pleasant experience with a marketing message can make a real impression for a business.

But adding shipping costs to the gift itself and any ancillary assets, I needed something inexpensive, and yet memorable and thoughtful.

Fortunately for me, at that same time, I was reading an article on how NASA studied ant colonies in hopes of improving data transfer, because ants never suffered traffic jams, and ant colonies are models of structure and organization.

Eureka!! It came to me that I could use them as a metaphor for how SAP software operated, without minimal explanation as people already associate ants and their colonies with organizational efficiency and fluidity.

But, ants?

It seemed a little crazy at first to me, like all truly original ideas do. But if done right, the surprise could really get the audience’s attention, which would make it easier to explain, convince, and ultimately persuade.

So I proposed a formicarium (ant farm), including a queen ant, with a methacrylate tube with a transparent plastic ‘accordion’ to separate the different spaces, and a lid at the top and a wooden base at the bottom, allowing easy viewing of the development of the colony and its incredible organization.

The ants on their own separate their spaces, including nursery, pantry, living room, and cemetery. This colony could be maintained with a few drops of water soaked into a small cotton ball at the bottom, and a few grains of birdseed.

With some searching, I got suppliers for the queen ants, suppliers for the ant farms, and I even had some money left over, so I was able to make a support brochure to explain the product and the ant care process.

The process of determining the feasibility of this crazy idea was a lot of fun, as was seeing how ant colonies develop in an office setting, including how people react to them (they’re quite attracted). 

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But perhaps best of all, we had a living breathing marketing display that could sit on the target audience’s desk, and constantly reinforce a message that would be rather dry to explain using words, numbers, and pictures.

And it worked. We landed the account. Not only were we all thrilled, I still remember one of the agency executives hugging and kissing me in -celebration. It was also particularly satisfying given the prestigious names we had competing with us, such as WPP, Publicis, IPG, and Omnicom.

Looking back, I think the lesson to be learned is that creativity doesn’t have to be expensive, or look expensive and that the creative should be fun and interesting. And even if the subject matter is dry, a creative mind can put flesh on its bones and give it life. 

Also, the creative mind works best when it’s learning, no matter the subject. 

And most of all, don’t fear the crazy.


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