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Sharp Corp.

Sharp Corp.

22-22 Nagaike-cho
Abeno-ku
Osaka, 545-8522
Japan
Telephone: 81 6 66211221
Fax: 81 6 66271759
Web site: www.sharp.co.jp

MORE TO SEE CAMPAIGN

OVERVIEW

Japanese electronics company Sharp Corp. had experienced limited success in television manufacturing and was a lackluster brand in the United States until a change in leadership in the late 1990s resulted in the company focusing on liquid crystal display (LCD) technology, in which it had been a leader for more than 25 years. In 2001 Sharp introduced the Aquos line of flat-panel LCD TVs. To improve brand perception in the United States and drive sales globally, the company, with ad agency Wieden & Kennedy, launched the "More to See" campaign in September 2004.

Not only did the campaign consist of television, print, and Internet components, it was integrated with an "alternate reality game" sweepstakes called "Legend of the Sacred Urns." Consumers were invited to solve a mystery: the location of the urns hidden by a game fanatic. The television spots and print ads were teases, urging the audience to visit a network of websites to unearth clues and learn more about the Aquos line of flat-panel TVs along the way.

The "More to See" campaign, which ran through the holiday season of 2004, won a Clio Award in 2005 and was also instrumental in increasing brand awareness for Sharp in the United States and in improving Aquos sales around the world. But the mystery element proved frustrating to many consumers and in some ways overshadowed the brand itself. Sharp elected in subsequent campaigns to return to a more traditional marketing approach.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

For many years Sharp was an also-ran in television manufacturing, limited because it did not produce the most important component, the cathode-ray tube (CRT). "Forced to cobble together parts bought from competitors," wrote Jim Frederick in a Time International article. "Sharp was essentially an assembler, cranking out televisions that were always a little too expensive and too poorly engineered to attract many customers." But Sharp was a pioneer in liquid crystal display (LCD) technology, which it introduced in 1973 as part of a mass-produced calculator. The technology was later used in computer monitors, handheld computers, portable game systems, and wireless phones. In 1987 the company offered it first flat-panel LCD televisions, but it did not make a commitment to the technology until Katsuhiko Machida took over as president of Sharp in 1998. The former head of Sharp's television unit, Machida concentrated the company's resources on a new LCD television design called Aquos, introduced in January 2001. It was priced lower than Sharp's earlier LCD TVs and was the first to be sold by big-box retailers (large, warehouse-type stores) such as Best Buy.

Sharp quickly established itself as the leader in the LCD TV category and increased its U.S. sales in 2002 with the "Be Sharp" brand campaign, which included in-store displays and print advertisements. Despite Sharp's status, however, Sony was, according to marketing surveys, the only LCD TV brand that American consumers could name. In fact, Sony, the longtime leader in overall television sales, was slower than the competition to embrace LCD and plasma technologies. It was clear that Sharp needed to improve its image in the U.S. market, but it was also facing a global challenge from both major and small electronic companies and even from computer makers Dell and Gateway, all eager to grab market share in the fast-growing LCD TV sector.

Sharp looked for a new agency to create a global marketing campaign that would both promote the Aquos line of LCD televisions and protect its leading position. To satisfy the increasing demand for larger televisions, Sharp planned to introduce a 45-inch Aquos, which would be the largest LCD TV on the market at the time. Moreover, the company wanted to improve the perception of its brand in the key U.S. market, where Sharp was perceived as a value brand rather than a high-end one (as it was considered elsewhere in the world). Rather than turning to the large Japanese agencies it had worked with in the past, in January 2004 Sharp looked to the United States, and without conducting a review it hired advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy. Although it was an independent firm based in Portland, Oregon, Wieden & Kennedy was well positioned to launch a global effort because it maintained operations in New York, London, Amsterdam, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Nine months after winning the Sharp account the agency was ready to unveil the "More to See" campaign.

TARGET MARKET

In general the "More to See" campaign was geared toward the mass market in hopes of educating people about the benefits of LCD technology. Given that the new 45-inch set cost $10,000, however, the campaign targeted affluent consumers between the ages of 25 and 54. Within this group the marketers tried to appeal to sports fans, who had proven over the years that they were willing to pay top dollar for televisions offering a more vivid experience of sporting events; to entertainment "junkies," who liked the experience of watching movies and other television fare on a large set; to design aesthetes, who would appreciate the sleek look of the Aquos models; and to technology aficionados, who would not only be interested in the advanced LCD technology used in the Aquos sets but also would be attracted to the interactive aspect of the "More to See" campaign.

COMPETITION

Sharp faced competition on any number of fronts. LCD TVs still competed with CRT-based products, although as consumers increasingly opted for wide-screen high-definition TVs, the size and weight of CRT televisions became problematic. A 40-inch widescreen CRT TV could easily weigh more than 300 pounds and measure 26 inches deep. Rear-projection TVs, another type of television, were thinner and lighter than CRT TVs but were still much heavier and thicker than comparable LCD models. But rear-projection TVs challenged LCD TVs because they were much cheaper and provided good quality. Offering even more competition were flat-panel plasma TVs, which could be made in larger sizes than LCD TVs. Plasma technology had its drawbacks, however: it was buggy, subject to "burn in" (the creation of a ghost image if a graphic, such as a network logo, remained on the screen for too long a period of time), and the picture had a tendency to degrade more quickly than with televisions employing other technologies.

In the LCD sector itself, Sharp was not lacking in rivals. There were computer manufacturers Dell and Gateway in the United States, Dutch giant Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics of South Korea, and Japanese companies Hitachi, Sony, and Toshiba. In addition Sharp had not been as willing as the competition to spend on advertising; the company tended to emphasize product development over brand building. The "More to See" campaign was a first step in shifting that focus while warding off the advances of Sharp's many rivals.

TECHNICALLY SPEAKING

The Aquos line of flat-panel televisions relied on liquid crystal display (LCD) technology. Behind an LCD screen was a light, and the liquid crystal cells on the display either allowed the light to pass through or blocked it to form an image on the screen. LCD's greatest rival in flat-panel TVs was plasma technology, which worked much the same way as neon lighting. Plasma screens consisted of rows of pixels, each of which contained xenon and neon gases and were capable of shining red, green, or blue (the basic elements of color television), depending on the electric charge delivered to it.

MARKETING STRATEGY

The premise of the "More to See" theme was that, just as television was the most powerful storytelling device (with perhaps a tip of the hat to cinema), Sharp's Aquos product line offered the most advanced televisions, providing viewers with a more vivid experience through its superior color, detail, and sound. One of the campaign's five television spots showed people—a mother dressing her daughter, a man cooking, an audience at a movie theater—going about their lives with their eyes closed. Finally a woman opened her eyes in an art museum in front of Victor Meirelles's painting Battle of Guararapes. A voice-over then said, "The Sharp Aquos liquid crystal television. Suddenly there's more to see." Some critics took exception to the underlying concept. Writing in Brandweek, Barry Janoff commented, "Taking the spot's premise literally means to imply that people can't really see or appreciate their lives unless television is there to help them. And, more so, they won't truly value their own lives unless they trade in their ordinary TVs for an Aquos. Of course, Sharp can't tell people to get out and enjoy life by turning off their TVs."

The message of "More to See" may have been simplistic and even illogical, but the method by which the centerpiece of the campaign was delivered was as innovative as Sharp's LCD technology. The campaign was more than multifaceted; it was in many ways an example of interactive fiction, using the different elements—television spots, print ads, websites, and an "alternate reality game" contest—to engage the audience and keep it involved in the campaign for months on end. Such an approach was intended to counteract the resistance that consumers had built up to 30-second commercials after years of being bombarded by them, not to mention the ability of digital-video-recorder owners to skip over commercials. The pioneering effort in this type of promotion was the independent film The Blair Witch Project, which created a buzz by dropping hints in the media that the film was a student documentary project that went horribly awry. The curious were led to the producer's website, and a large number of people began to debate among themselves whether the "found footage" of the student filmmakers was real or fake. When the low-budget film opened, it became the surprise hit of the summer of 1999, generating an impressive $150 million in domestic box-office sales.

Sharp engaged the services of the Blair Witch producers, Haxan Films, to help create the mystery story around which the "More to See" marketing campaign and contest would revolve. The resulting tale was called "Legend of the Sacred Urns," and consumers were invited to solve the mystery of where an eccentric millionaire had hidden three prized urns. The three television commercials that developed the storyline—"The Key," "The Pool," and "The Tooth"—weaved a "cinematic mystery," in the words of Shoot magazine's Bill Dunlap, "set in a country estate, involving a beautiful woman, an older man in a swimming pool and a careless driver in a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia." Marcus Robinson, writing for Boards Magazine, offered his own summary of the setup: "A guy, Peter Lindeman, is swimming in the pool of his big French chateau, and his babe girlfriend wanders out on the road to meet her lover. Unfortunately, he's massaging a toothache and had his eyes on the rearview, which forces him to swerve to avoid hitting her. He ends up launching his red sports car into the pool."

All three spots showed the same incident from a different point of view. In "The Pool," for example, a woman from a bedroom window watched Lindeman swimming in the pool when a car suddenly flew through the air and landed in the water. A Sharp television was then shown, and on its screen viewers were directed to the campaign's website, Moretosee.com. The site provided audio and visual clues, and featured blogs, purportedly written by the three characters engaged in the hunt for the three mystery urns. Chat rooms were also available for people to ponder the mystery together. Once viewers were at the website, they had to opportunity to learn more about LCD technology and Sharp's Aquos line of televisions. Participants were also directed to other websites to uncover clues. The spots were directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, whose credits included Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line, and Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control.

The television spots began airing in September 2004 and were shown on a variety of network and cable programming, including ABC's Monday Night Football and CBS's 60 Minutes. The "More to See" campaign also included print ads, executed by Wieden & Kennedy's Amsterdam office, that also attempted to drive people to the website. After starting in the United States, "More to See" was rolled out to 18 other countries. In an ancillary component of the campaign, Sharp opened a storefront in New York City, where consumers could experience the Aquos product line and where further clues were made available. The campaign ran for four months, through the critical holiday season, with bits of the mystery parceled out over time. In the end, Ken Floss of Ohio solved the puzzle and won the grand prize, an Aquos television and other home theater equipment.

OUTCOME

"More to See" was successful in a number of ways. Advertising awareness in the United States increased from 30 percent to 57 percent, according to market-research surveys conducted by Sharp. The advertising industry also recognized the campaign's creativity; it won a Bronze in the Television/Cinema category of the prestigious Clio Awards in 2005. The contest was also successful in that it attracted more than one million website visitors over a four-month period, but the marketers were disappointed because it failed to engage all segments of the target audience. Bob Scaglione, senior vice president of marketing for Sharp, told Mae Anderson of Adweek, "We really focused on the technogeek portion and alienated the other three [target markets] to some extent." He added, "Along the way, I think we confused a lot of people."

In a follow-up campaign launched in 2005 Sharp elected to go with a more traditional approach, relying on television spots and print ads without the extra elements. "You run the risk of alienating consumers with a more creative campaign," Scaglione explained. "We think the complexity of the creative last time may have overpowered the brand message."

FURTHER READING

Anderson, Mae. "The Age of Engagement." Adweek, August 22, 2005, p. 18.

―――――――. "Tall Tales." Adweek, October 11, 2004, p. 28.

Dunlap, Bill. "Errol Morris: Reel Life." Shoot, March 25, 2005, p. 27.

Dvorak, Phred. "Sharp Pursues Big-Screen Ambitions." Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2005, p. B10.

Frederick, Jim. "A Sharper Focus." Time International (Asia ed.), May 9, 2005, p. 36.

Janoff, Barry. "What You Really See Is What You Should Get." Brandweek, October 4, 2004, p. 34.

Oser, Kris. "Sharp Touts TV in Net Mystery Adver-Blog." Advertising Age, November 1, 2004, p. 54.

―――――――. "Web Wizards Take the Lead in Creative Process." Advertising Age, December 6, 2004.

Parry, Caroline. "Turning Viewers On to LCD Technology." Marketing Week, September 16, 2004, p. 24.

Robinson, Marcus. "Sharp Puzzles Up Global Brain Teaser." Boards Magazine, November 1, 2004, p. 19.

Roha, Ronaleen R. "Thin Is In." Kiplinger's Personal Finance, September 2004, p. 92.

Sampey, Kathleen. "Sharp Hands Aquos Work to Wieden." Adweek, January 21, 2004.

"Sharp Rolls Out Global Branding Campaign." Wireless News, September 10, 2004.

Vranica, Suzanne. "Sharp Aims to Enhance Aquos Brand." Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2004, p. B3.

                                                 Ed Dinger

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