Cross-Media Case Study: Mind Over Mater (and Pater)

With a clever campaign that coaches kids on the fine art of manipulation, HP hopes they'll convince their parents to buy them a "really sweet" computer

There was a time when back-to-school shopping meant new clothes, pens and pencils and a Trapper Keeper binder - at least for those of us who grew up in the 1980s. But nowadays, bigger-ticket items, including computers, are on the list, and big bucks are being spent.

"It's not quite the Christmas season," says Stephen Baker, vice president, computer industry analysis, at the NPD Group. But, he says, this year's back-to-school market still accounts for a huge percentage of sales. The National Retail Federation 2007 Consumer Intentions and Actions Back-to-School Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, revealed that families with school-age children ranging from elementary school to high school were expected to shell out $18 billion this year, with spending on electronics, including notebook computers, coming in at $4.2 billion. The NRF's 2007 Back-to-College Survey, also run by BIGresearch, found that families with college-age children were expected to spend more than $47 billion, with $12.8 billion of that figure going to electronics like notebook computers.

Given that reality, San Francisco's McCann Erickson launched an aggressive back-to-school advertising campaign for client Hewlett-Packard this summer, but instead of targeting parents, as the company's marketing had in the past, the new "Society for Parental Mind Control"-themed effort reaches out to the 13- to 18-year-olds HP wants using their computers.

"Strategically, we were going for the kids to influence the parents," McCann senior vice president and group creative director Brad Cohn says. "Creatively, the insight was, 'Wouldn't it be great if you could actually control your parents' minds?' So that's what the Society for Parental Mind Control idea was born out of."

The centerpiece of the campaign, which includes TV and print components and had HP sponsoring the Vans Warped Tour this summer, is a microsite,, through which students can find the HP computer they want, then send their parents customized mind control e-mails (think "Buy me this computer now!"), which will, hopefully, influence Mom and Dad to visit and make a purchase.

Into the Vortex
Using young people as influencers on their parents is a time-honored tradition in advertising, of course. "There has always been lots of marketing towards children or towards young adults in this way for fast food and toys, and in many cases, it is not necessarily the child who makes the final decision. But the child has input," Baker says, "and you want to be able to get in front of that child to make sure they recognize your brand."

Especially in the area of technology, where teens have a particularly strong influence, Cohn says.

Firstborn helped McCann and HP get in front of young people on the Internet, building the ParentalMindControl microsite, which features a trippy vortex. "It was the second site that we collaborated on with McCann, which has been a wonderful partner for us, bringing us in very early on in the process. This project is a good example of that," says Firstborn senior vice president and executive director Dan LaCivita.

Being involved from the inception helped to take a great concept and make it cohesive across traditional and digital platforms, LaCivita says, pointing out that the vortex Firstborn designed for the microsite is featured in the offline components of the campaign.

"When we created the vortex, everyone was pretty psyched about the way it was looking and feeling, and they were like, 'We're just going to use this for the traditional part of the campaign,' which to us is awesome," LaCivita says. "Traditionally, everything is the reverse of that. It's obviously changing now, but interactive is usually bridged off the traditional."

If we could dive into the vortex for a moment, LaCivita admits that designing it was a challenge. "It seems like such a simple thing, but we had to find a balance between how it moves, how much it moves and also the colors. It needed to be soft enough where it takes a backseat to the content of the experience, but it needed to be engaging enough where it is interesting to look at," LaCivita muses, adding "While we were creating it, everyone here had headaches from looking at it all day."

Ultimately, Firstborn was able to create a non-dizzy spell-inducing vortex - known as the Parental Manipulator -that serves as a colorful background for microsite content that includes the aforementioned e-mail tool.

The Cool Factor
Other features on the site include humorous mind control videos (one also ran as a TV commercial) that find kids getting their parents to bend to their will, screensaver downloads and a games section that was yet to be added as of press time. All of the elements reinforce the mind control message and provide entertainment value.

The teens that visit are driven there via banner ads placed on sites such as MyYearbook, MySpace and Facebook. "The first week we launched, we saw 2.7 million hits, which is pretty incredible," LaCivita says, explaining, "We worked on the site, and then running parallel with the site we had a whole separate team working on the online campaign - we probably did over 80 banner units. The budget was almost as much for the online advertising for us as was the site. It was a huge media push."

All to reach students who aren't going to purchase the product directly. "It's interesting that you're targeting a consumer who's not ultimately buying the product," LaCivita says. "You're relying on them to use a vehicle that you've created to bring in the people who are actually going to buy the product."

Parents who are e-mailed by their kids receive an e-mail that takes them to a middle site that delivers the mind control message, detailed product information and a link to

In addition to driving sales, HP's Parental Mind Control campaign also aims to change perceptions of the company. While HP's biggest competitor is Dell, Apple, in large part because of the iPod, is seen as the cool computer brand, Cohn acknowledges.

But HP is gaining ground in terms of hipness. "We tracked teen perceptions of hp before and after the campaign launched, and we had a pretty significant spike in the cool factor - a perceivable difference in the before and after," Cohn reports.

For his part, Baker points out that for all its cool appeal, Apple doesn't necessarily own the youth market. He says brands like hp and rival Dell "rate pretty well," in part due to new designs and "because not everybody is going to spend the dollars that Apple asks you to spend on a notebook."

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