An RTB Love Story: Energy Shot Upstart Gets Retail Blast From Display-Only Campaign

If you are an all-natural energy shot product, there is a steep wall for you to climb at retail called 5-Hour. The heavily promoted kick-start liquid in the red and yellow mini-bottle owns about 80% of the market. So when Scott Salik, VP of Media at new rival BAZI, was looking to digital media to make the most of his small budget, he knew the core concern. "No one had ever heard of us. We needed impressions, impressions, impressions."

In the past, ad nets and real-time buying solutions were associated most with direct marketing efforts. And while BAZI also has an online store to which it wanted to drive traffic, the energy shots have gotten into 7-Eleven and Sports Authority. "The key is to make people see you on the shelf," says Salik.

Earlier this year BAZI worked with agency Recrue Media and the real-time bidding engine from OpenX to craft a digital-only drive that was aimed primarily at driving product recognition and ultimately retail sales. In creating a targeting strategy, Recrue went into the plan knowing that 5-Hour already owned TV and cable advertising and had a lock on certain consumer segments. "Going up against them was foolish," says Steven Bogue, Principal, Recure Media. "We had to identify where they are not."

They focused on several key targets outside of 5-Hour's usual reach, including active women who were health-conscious and in the 24- to 45-year-old range, busy and relatively upscale ($75,000 household income and up). "We determined there would be low-hanging fruit of people who want a better alternative," says Bogue. They also target outdoor enthusiasts, bikers, runners, marathoners and skier, banking on the idea that this group needed energy but also valued natural ingredients. And finally there was a mass reach to grab a lot of inexpensive inventory in the general demographics of the product to raise awareness. Visually, the product has the advantage of a bright red bottle and simple four-letter brand name to aid visibility and memorability.

While there were some direct buys made to sports enthusiast sites, much of the buy was left to the real-time-bidding system across about 300 sites. They optimized along the way by managing frequency. When some site performed especially well, Recrue might pull back and give the audience a breather so as not to saturate and burn them out on the message.

On the perennial bugaboo of transparency, Bogue admits that especially at the beginning it was not what they wanted. "We were buying a lot of remnant inventory, so the transparency wasn't as good." Ads the campaign went on and they saw what was performing and increased their buys the visibility into the destinations improved.

Salik says that part of the value in working the RTB system was the quick feedback they were getting about which audiences really were responsive to the new product. "One of the things we noticed is that it wasn't the traditional energy shot market. We have seen it trending to healthier and older than the original 18- to 34-year-olds."

"We got surprising pops in wrestling, among amateur wrestlers and people who were into serious body performance," says Bogue.

But the bottom line was retail. Apparently, the display-only strategy had a demonstrable effect on brand recognition and retail sales. "We saw an increase in reorders from distribution centers in the areas where we saw the most [online] activity," says Salik. A pleasant surprise was that the new subscribers targeted and delivered by the display campaign proved to be the most interested. Compared to the rest of their mailing list, these new acquisitions tended to stay on the mailing list longer and had higher open rates on the messages delivered.

According to OpenX, the campaign also showed brand lift in the number of branded searches it was seeing. And on the direct sales end, the campaign also drove a 450% increase in Internet sales in just six months.

As a branding vehicle, RTB proved itself to BAZI. But there were a number of ancillary benefits. "We were able to do a lot more on a very little budget," says Salik. "That is what amazed me. I can't emphasize enough the amount we could do on a very limited budget." But at the same time the campaign raised the visibility of the product among all audiences, so that the small firm is being received better by the investment community, which has also seen the ads.

Bogue says that one of the benefits of working in the real-time bidding system is the discovery of new sites. The campaign was pushing about 145 million impressions across hundreds of destinations. "We had the ability to test very cleanly 30 or 40 sites to see how they perform and explore and increase bids."

And so, BAZI is a big believer in the emerging ecosystem of ad targeting and real-time bidding. The company plans to make use of the platform in September to help introduce the reformulation of the energy shot.

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