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Exclusive: Mead builds on past success with its latest back-to-school campaign

The 4th of July has come and gone and even though summer isn’t close to being over yet, it might start to feel that way as students (and parents) all over are bombarded with an onslaught of back-to-school campaigns.

One of the biggest players in the school supplies category is Mead, whose Five Star line of notebooks, binders, and backpacks has unveiled its back-to-school campaign featuring a familiar face – Cinco the dog, who has starred in the brand’s spots for the past four years.

This year's campaign features two TV spots - Dog POV and Master & Student - as well as a number of online videos that feature Cinco going on adventures with a GoPro on his head.

Since 2012, the brand has played off of the ‘dog ate my homework’ cliché with a campaign called ‘Cinco vs. Five Star.’ In the ads, Cinco is featured in a number of situations as he attempts but fails to destroy Five Star’s notebooks and binders. The spots end with the tagline ‘Built strong to last long,’ promoting the durability of the brand’s products.

The campaign, created by agency Epsilon, has seen enormous success since launching four years ago. Kelli Widdifield, vice president of US marketing at Mead’s parent company Acco Brands, told The Drum: “From a sales perspective, we’ve watched our point of sale go through the roof.” She also said the brand has taken share from both non-branded and private label brands in the school supplies space.

According to the company, last year’s installment resulted in both a rise in unaided awareness for the brand as well as strengthening of rational and emotional attributes. Last year, Mead spent $1.92mn on measured media, according to Kantar Media. In 2012 Mead spent $1.23mn and in 2013 it spent $1.58mn.

Widdifield said that the ‘Cinco vs. Five Star’ campaign was not initially meant to be a multi-year campaign.

“When we first launched that campaign, we hadn’t planned it as a continuity campaign,” she said, “but we saw such tremendous growth in our business that first year so we stayed at it.” She said the campaign’s focus on product durability and strength has played a key role in helping the company increase its sales.

Before Cinco came along, the brand was rolling out a new campaign every year but was not experiencing the growth it is seeing today.

“For a lot of years we did a brand new campaign every year and frankly we saw that it was not as productive. We had actually been in a state of decline for a few years there,” said Widdifield.

She said the brand had softened its position a bit at the time, focusing more on student achievement and general lifestyle themes rather than the products themselves. After disappointing results, the idea for the dog ate my homework campaign was born and Five Star has no immediate plans to change it.

“The challenge has been keeping it fresh but clearly that has been working for us. I know we’re working on 2016 already and I fully expect that Cinco will return next year,” Widdifield said.

Angie Diederich, creative director at Epsilon, told The Drum that keeping the campaign relatable to its target of 13-21 year olds, particularly 16-year-olds, is something the agency highly focuses on every year since it’s a small target whose interaction changes so much year over year.

“One challenge that anyone has when they have a campaign that has gone on for years is keeping it fresh, fun and related to the specific target,” she said. “If we’re talking about the 16-year-old target, they’re not watching TV commercials as much. They’re interacting more online.”

That’s why in addition to the TV spots this year, the agency has created six other videos featuring Cinco going on adventures that will live on their own microsite and will run across the brand’s social media accounts. To match the theme of the dog point-of-view ad, where Cinco has a video camera attached to his head while he tries to ruin a notebook, viewers who watch the videos will have the chance to win a GoPro camera, spending money, and one of six adventure packages such as ‘Ziplining’ or ‘Swim with Dolphins.’ Mead is asking the winner to capture his or her adventure and submit it to further engagement with its consumers.

“It will be really interesting to see how the engagement has improved this year over last year because we know that video is really what people are stopping to watch when they’re online,” Diederich said. She said that by latching onto a trend and choosing to engage students with GoPro, the company can leverage some of the same sorts of technologies that its target is already using.

Widdifield said that Mead does a lot of consumer insight work regarding actions, tactics, and strategies for marketing and that the idea of giving away a GoPro really resonated with students, both male and female.

“A lot of our students do go on vacations but honestly Five Star resonates very strongly with all different levels of socioeconomic bakckgrounds,” she said. “So the idea that you could win the trip of a lifetime and GoPro, both things that can be very aspirational, really matter to a lot of kids.”

John Immesoete, chief creative officer at Epsilon, told The Drum one of the things the agency is proud of is how the campaign keeps growing and working.

“One of the things that we’re really proud of about this is not just how well it works but the fact that what started out as one TV commercial is now working all over the place,” he said. “When you play it properly it seems like it works a bit better every year. Just when you think maybe that has to be it for the dog, it does come back.”

Epsilon has been working with Mead for more than ten years, and Five Star is its biggest piece of business from Mead.

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