Sanford, L.P.

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Sanford, L.P.

2707 Butterfield Road
Oakbrook, Illinois 60523
Telephone: (708) 547-6650
Fax: (708) 547-6719
Web site:



Sanford, L.P., a fixture among ink companies since the mid-nineteenth century, introduced the Sharpie permanent marker in 1964. In subsequent decades the Fine Point black Sharpie became the world's most popular permanent marker, and the Sharpie brand experienced sustained growth at the expense of its competitors. With market dominance assured in the near term, Sharpie began looking for further brand growth via the introduction of new tip designs and ink colors. By 2002, however, the brand was still almost exclusively associated with its most successful product, the black Sharpie Fine Point. Sanford enlisted the New York office of ad agency McCann-Erickson Worldwide to helm a 2003 marketing campaign intended to spur sales of the other Sharpie lines and position the overall brand for sustained market growth.

The campaign, called "Write Out Loud," leveraged an initial budget of $7 million in the attempt to build a brand to which consumers could become emotionally attached, thereby driving sales of newer Sharpie models. McCann-Erickson's messaging strategy was built on the notion that, since marks made with a Sharpie were permanent, those who used the product were making a bold statement that was the equivalent of "writing out loud." One TV spot, for instance, showed a young husband preparing to record over a videotape marked "Our Wedding" in metallic silver Sharpie ink. While looking at the silver print, the husband saw an image of his wife's face and imagined her saying, "Don't even think about it." Point-of-sale tie-ins supported the media portion of the campaign, as did a series of promotions benefiting educational organizations in various American cities. The campaign began in June 2003.

During the campaign's 2003 run sales of Sharpie varieties that were showcased in the TV spots—the Chisel Tip, Fine Point Color, and Metallic lines—increased substantially. Sales of all Sharpie products likewise ballooned, helping the brand reach its sales goals for the entire year several months ahead of schedule. The campaign was extended in 2004 to pitch another new Sharpie line, a retractable-tip version of the marker that could be used with one hand, and in 2005 the "Write Out Loud" concept was once again reprised behind the new Sharpie Mini product, a smaller version of the standard marker.


In 1857 Frederick W. Redington and William H. Sanford, Jr., started the Sanford Manufacturing Company, a maker of ink and glue based in Worcester, Massachusetts. The company relocated to Chicago in the following decade and continued to grow through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It managed to expand even during the Great Depression, thanks primarily to the quality of its products and its distribution network. Early Sanford marketing included a Norman Rockwell print with copy reading, "It's lucky for you, child, your Gran'dad wrote this will with Sanford's Ink!" Renamed the Sanford Ink Company in 1940, the company moved its headquarters in 1947 to the suburban Chicago location that it would occupy for the rest of the century and beyond. The company moved into the emerging permanent-marker field in the 1960s, introducing the world's first pen-style permanent marker, the Sharpie. Among the initial marketing on behalf of the new product were celebrity endorsements by talk-show hosts Jack Parr and Johnny Carson. In subsequent decades the Sharpie Fine Point black marker became America's most popular permanent marker and the brand's iconic product.

In the 1970s and 1980s Sanford introduced Sharpie Extra Fine Point and Ultra Fine Point markers, and in the 1990s the company began to offer its range of Sharpie models in a variety of different colors. Although the brand grew during the 1990s, partly as a result of the growth of the memorabilia industry—virtually all sports and celebrity autographs were signed using Sharpies—sales of the new Sharpie colors and models did not meet expectations. The number of Sharpie colors and models continued to increase through the early 2000s, but the brand remained almost entirely connected, in consumers' minds, with the stalwart Fine Point black model. To push the full range of the brand's products, Sharpie used its largest marketing campaign to date, a 2002 integrated effort tagged "How Do You Use Your Sharpie?" A TV spot used man-on-the-street testimonials meant to demonstrate the multiple important uses to which various Sharpie markers were put. Though the campaign reinforced consumers' positive opinions of Sharpie's functionality, it did little to build emotional resonance around the brand.


Because Sharpie users did not fit into any specific demographic group or groups, McCann-Erickson targeted a diverse market with "Write Out Loud." Though the disparate ways in which Sharpies were used would seem to complicate the brand's messaging tactics, McCann-Erickson found, through qualitative research, that individual Sharpie users were united by their desire to leave a permanent impression. When using a Sharpie, as opposed to a pencil or pen, the consumer wanted whatever he or she was writing to attract attention. This insight was translated into the idea that those who used Sharpies were bold and assertive—and into a target market unified by a mindset rather than a cultural or generational identity.

McCann-Erickson dubbed this target market "Impression Makers" and described them, in a 2004 EFFIE Award entry brief, in the following way: "['Impression Makers'] wanted to impose their will on their environment. They wanted to express themselves strongly with confidence and creativity and leave an imprint on their world (and every surface in that world). And they wanted a specific marker for a specific job that would allow them to leave that imprint and make that impact." By speaking to such qualities as boldness of personality and creativity despite the obviously down-to-earth nature of the product being marketed, McCann-Erickson hoped to build emotional resonance around the Sharpie brand. The agency and its client believed that an increase in the emotional ties to the Sharpie brand would boost consumers' interest in the specific new products highlighted in the campaign.


The Sharpie brand accounted for an estimated 50 percent of permanent markers sold in the United States. Competing brands included Marks-A-Lot, owned by adhesives and office-supply maker Avery Dennison, and a line of permanent markers made by Eberhard Faber, a company known primarily for its pencils. Bic, the wellknown pen company, also produced a line of Sharpie look-alike markers called "Mark-It." None of these competing brands had an advertising presence comparable to Sharpie's.


Among Sharpie's marketing efforts outside of the "Write Out Loud" campaign was its ongoing partnership with the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). In 2001 the permanent-marker brand became the sponsor of the Bristol Night Race, a nighttime NASCAR event held at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, and the race was accordingly renamed the Sharpie 500. The sponsorship deal was renewed in 2003, guaranteeing that the race would continue to be called the Sharpie 500 at least through 2008.


Budgeted at $7 million in its first year, "Write Out Loud" showcased fine-point colored and chisel-tip varieties of the Sharpie line, in addition to the new Sharpie Metallic product, which was designed to show up on dark surfaces. Though Sanford wanted to move Sharpie's brand image beyond its well-established reputation for functionality, the resulting emotional message, which focused on consumers' ability to make an imprint on the world with Sharpies, was naturally rooted in a key functional aspect of the product: the ink's boldness and permanence. Consumers, McCann-Erickson postulated, were mindful that the mark they were making with a Sharpie was permanent; therefore, their choice to make that mark was a bold and forceful one. As Greg Stoner, vice president and general manager of the Sharpie brand, announced in a press release, "If you want to make a bold statement—when you want to write out loud—you do it with a Sharpie marker." Sanford hoped that this more emotional brand positioning would drive sales of the specific advertised products, but the company also hoped that it would provide fuel for longer-term growth of the brand as a whole.

The campaign was released on June 23, 2003, with the first of three spots that aired on national network and cable TV in both 15- and 30-second versions. The initial spot, "Videotape," was also the campaign's most prominent one, showcasing the Sharpie Metallic marker by casting it in a humorous real-life situation involving a young married couple. The spot opened on a shot of a 20-something man searching in a frenzy for a blank videotape on which he could record a TV program that was about to begin. The only tape available was labeled "Our Wedding" in bold silver Sharpie Metallic ink; as it became clear that he was considering using the tape anyway, the Sharpie ink morphed onscreen into an image of his wife's face as she warned him, "Don't even think about it." The spot closed on an image of the married couple cozily watching their videotaped wedding together. The campaign's other two spots were "Party Cup," which focused on the subtleties of plastic-cup labeling, and "Moving Day," which communicated the impact that a Sharpie-labeled notice, such as "Fragile," had on professional movers. These spots showcased the fine-point colored and chisel-tip Sharpie varieties.

Point-of-purchase displays also communicated the "Write Out Loud" message, as did a series of promotional events prominently featuring Terrell Owens, a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers professional football team. Owens had become a de facto Sharpie endorser the previous season when he famously celebrated a touchdown by autographing the football he had been carrying, on the spot, with a Sharpie marker. Beginning in July 2003, after the "Write Out Loud" TV spots had begun airing, Owens participated in a program called "AUTOgraphs for Education," in which he and other professional football players visited Boys & Girls Clubs, schools, and other educational organizations, arriving in special-edition Sharpie Metallic Hummer H2 trucks to collect signatures from community members (signed using Sharpie markers, of course). Based on the number of signatures collected, Sharpie donated funds to the participating educational organization.


During the campaign's 2003 run Sharpie Chisel Tip marker sales climbed by 7.3 percent, and Fine Point Color sales increased by 18.6 percent, according to McCann-Erickson. The launch of Sharpie Metallic was considered a success as well. Overall Sharpie sales grew by 27.5 percent during the 2003 portion of the campaign, with the brand meeting its sales goals for all of 2003 by September of that year, an acceleration of sales that Sanford attributed to the new campaign.

In 2004 the "Write Out Loud" campaign was extended on behalf of another new Sharpie line, Sharpie Retractable markers, which had writing tips that could be clicked into position using one hand, as with retractable pens. One TV spot focused on a mother whose baby began howling as soon as she put him down, leaving her only one hand with which to complete a time-sensitive Sharpie-labeling task. The retractable model, of course, allowed her to accomplish the task with her one free hand. The "AUTOgraphs for Education" series of promotions was continued in 2004 as well.

In 2005 Sanford and McCann-Erickson adapted the "Write Out Loud" tag to suit the launch of yet another suite of Sharpie products, the Sharpie Mini markers, which were about half the size of a standard Sharpie and thus more portable. Sanford increased the campaign budget to $10 million—a record high for the Sharpie brand—and added online and print advertisements to the continuing emphasis on television. The Mini TV spots were split into two vignettes, as in "Moon/Helmet": the first half of the spot showed an astronaut who, after landing on the moon, used a Sharpie Mini (attached to a lanyard around his neck) to sign "Doug Was Here" on the flag he planted into the moon's surface; the scene then shifted to a youth football game, where a coach drew a game-winning play on the back of the center's helmet so that the quarterback would remember how to execute it. Once again, the autograph promotion benefiting educational institutions provided grassroots support for Sharpie's mainstream marketing efforts, though the 2005 installment focused on professional golfers.


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Garfield, Bob. "Tribute to Contrarians: Selling Brand Benefits." Advertising Age, January 25, 1999.

Hein, Kenneth. "Sharpie 'Mini' Draws a Crowd." Brandweek, May 9, 2005.

Lazare, Lewis. "M&Ms Fade Out B&W to Sound of 'Color My World' Pitch." Chicago Sun-Times, March 22, 2004, p. 59.

Rhoden, William C. "The N.F.L.'s New Twist on Fun." New York Times, October 17, 2002.

"Sharpie Produces Signature Football Ad." USA Today, November 8, 2002.

Weisz, Pam. "Sanford Taps McD to Reach Kids." Brandweek, March 6, 1995.

                                                   Mark Lane

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