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Marketers Salivate Over Lickable Ads

Madison Avenue thinks a tasty approach will give new life to Welch's grape juice.

Welch's is taking out full-page print ads in People magazine this month that give readers a chance to sample its grape juice by licking the ad. The front of the advertisement shows a huge bottle of the juice, while the back has a strip that peels up and off, with text that reads: "For a TASTY fact, remove & LICK."

Marketers are excited about the prospects for lickable ads, but also have to deal with the "ick" factor. Since magazines are often passed from reader to reader (think doctors' offices) there is a good chance that saliva could be left on the ad. Readers are supposed to peel off the entire sticker on the Welch's ad before licking, says First Flavor, the company that developed the technology used in the ad. If someone doesn't rip off the whole sticker, First Flavor says, the flap can't reseal, giving people an easy way to know whether the ad has already been licked.

While scent technology -- such as scratch-and-sniff ads or fragrant ink -- is commonplace in magazines, lickable ads are still in the experimental stages. CBS was one of the first companies to offer them in a marketing campaign. The network's flavor strips, which ran in copies of Rolling Stone magazine in New York and Los Angeles last fall, gave readers a taste of lime-flavored mojitos. The ad, the brainchild of Interpublic Group's Initiative, promoted the fictional rum brand that is central to the plot of the CBS series "Cane," which stars Jimmy Smits as the head of a family that owns a Florida rum business.

"We struggled with the concept," says Greg Castronuovo, senior vice president and group account director at Initiative, the media-buying firm that worked on CBS's mojito ad. "There is a lot of pass-along in magazines -- I had a little bit of aversion to it; it's a little unsanitary, perhaps."

First Flavor, the small, privately held company in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., that worked with Welch's, also did in-store marketing patches for a new flavor, dubbed Brilliant Sparkle, of Church & Dwight's Arm & Hammer Advance White toothpaste. First Flavor has been experimenting with how far it can push its technology, and has created test ads that taste like everything from cheese pizza to soy milk and children's cold medicines.

In some lickable ads, including the Welch's ad, some of the essence of the actual product is added to the strip, while in others, the strip is made up of unrelated flavors, both natural and artificial. Creating savory flavors such as pepperoni pizza is particularly tricky. "It's difficult for the consumer to get the feeling that they are tasting the product," says Jay B. Minkoff, chief executive of First Flavor.

Welch's says it suspects some folks will pass on the free taste test. "A lot of people won't lick a magazine no matter how good it tastes," says Chris Heye, Welch's marketing chief.

The company, which is owned by a cooperative of grape growers, says it went to great lengths to make sure the ad tasted good and that the ingredients used in the lickable strip met safety guidelines laid out by the Food and Drug Administration. It says it spent weeks conducting consumer taste tests and enlisted more than 50 company employees to try the lickable ad. The ad was created by WPP Group's JWT.

Print ads present a unique challenge for marketers because they don't typically have "sound or motion," the two things that tend to make ads stand out, says Paul Caine, president of Time Inc.'s Entertainment Group, which includes People magazine. Adding taste is one way to create a new way to grab reader attention, he says. People has experimented with adding sound chips to some print ads.

Welch's says the ad costs a couple hundred thousand dollars more to create than a normal national print ad because it had to pay to make the sticker plus an additional fee to People for the added production costs. The ad will appear in the Feb. 18 issue of the magazine, which has a circulation of about 3.6 million.

Getting people to use multiple senses to process ads is a good way to build a stronger connection with consumers, ad experts say. "It's hard to forget whose brand you are licking," says Lisa Haverty, a cognitive scientist who works in the marketing field.

Assuming, of course, that the consumers like what they taste. "If the taste is unpleasant or not good, the ad could flop worse than a regular ad," adds Ms. Haverty.


Suzanne Vranica, The Wall Street Journal. February 13, 2008

Copyright © 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.. All rights reserved.