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Marketers Abuzz Over Burt’s Bees Digital Calendar Ads

  |  April 25, 2014   |  Comments

Burt's Bees' new campaign finds a home in customers' online calendars, which is uncharted territory for digital marketers. But will it be seen as helpful and entertaining, or invasive?

Personal care company Burt's Bees may have found one of the last unexploited spots to show consumers advertisements - your online calendar.

The company's newest marketing campaign, launched earlier this week, invites fans of Burt's natural skin and personal care products to receive eight different "moments" over eight weeks via online calendar notifications. The promotion is timed to coincide with the launch of Burt's Bees new Brightening skin care line, which promises to brighten users' skin in only eight weeks.

The "Invitation to Brighter Skin" campaign, released in Burt's Bees Hive email newsletter on Wednesday, will also be available on burtsbees.com/brightening starting next week. In its invitation, Burt's Bees holds out the promise of a reward for those who opt-in to the campaign, noting that users might find a Burt's Bees sample hidden in one of their moments. "Or maybe not. Or maybe probably yes."

Digital marketers profess themselves intrigued, perhaps even a bit jealous that they didn't come up with such a clever idea, which appears to be a first.

"As advertisers, we are challenged with finding space that we can own for our clients. This will define the calendar category and other brands that sell on a subscription or seasonal basis will take notice," says Adam Lutz, managing director of Proove Accountable Media, a media buying agency owned by ad agency DiMassimo Goldstein.

Bryan Maleszyk, strategy director at digital marketing agency Isobar, also expressed admiration. "It's a unique way to talk about a product that works over time, which is often a difficult topic to broach in a display ad."

The idea came right from the concept of the Brightening line, according to Chad Temples, copywriter at Baldwin&, Burt's Bees creative agency. "We thought, what else needs a little brightening up? One look at our calendars, packed wall-to-wall with meetings and meetings-about-meetings, and we had our idea. Then we just went to work figuring out the best way to bring calendars back to life over an eight-week period," he says in an email.

The idea is not wholly new, of course. Consumers have long opted in to receive goodies or discounts from their favorite brands. Many fashion and home design sites, for example, are opt-in from the start, requiring users to sacrifice their email to see the deals displayed.

And, as Deborah Hanamura, director of marketing at digital marketing agency Metia, points out, blocking out time on prospects' digital calendars is also a well-established practice in the business-to-business (B2B) space. "We've seen this sort of thing for years for B2B events and content such as webinars and conferences."

Still, for such sponsored content to be a hit with consumers, it has to strike the right tone of being helpful or entertaining, rather than invasive. Whether Burt's Bees succeeds at that with its first message, which informs the calendar's owner of a "Meeting to Discuss Your Mind-Blowing Beautimousness," and tells them to make room for an imaginary lunch, isn't yet clear.

"The idea of blocking time on someone's calendar for an imaginary lunch doesn't strike us as the most user-friendly promotion," says Hanamura.

Jay Berkman, the self-titled chief rainmaker of the JLC Group, which focuses among other things on corporate branding, tells ClickZ that some people, like himself, may resist having this last bastion of privacy invaded.

"It's like any other kind of ad that you opt in for. The privacy genie is out of the bottle and for the rest of your life you will get junk mail from somebody," he quips.

(Burt's Bees for its part claims that consumers will only get the notices for eight weeks and not beyond that.)

In spite of that critique, Berkman sees the online calendar applications as a perfect fit for a company offering a service that is part of a daily regimen, such as an exercise program that reminds you to get up from your desk and do stretches. "More organized types," such as his wife, "may well embrace it," he notes.

Burt's Bees itself will be watching carefully to see the reaction, for which it says it is too early on in the campaign to give any indications. "We're eager to see how consumers interact with this new form of branded content," says Melissa Sowry, social media manager at Burt's Bees, in an email statement.

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Mary Lisbeth  D'Amico

Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.

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