The simple campaign that got the right message across in the right way, and transformed an industry.
The Mysterious S.W.
After a long morning of discussing copy, scripts and campaigns, it was finally time for a lunch break. As sandwiches and coffee were wheeled into Belron’s luxurious boardroom, I scanned through the agenda for the afternoon’s meetings.
Everyone attending was identified by their initials - except for me. I read through the memo several times, but there was no R.P. (Rob Palmer) anywhere on the page. That seemed a little odd, as the whole point of the day was to brief me - the lead writer on some upcoming campaigns.
Then I noticed something else that was odd. Although there was no R.P., there was someone identified by the initials S.W. Who was that? I looked around the room...I knew everyone by name, and no-one had the initials S.W. So I asked what seemed like a perfectly reasonable question:
“S.W? Who the heck is that?”
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I was astonished by the reaction. Everyone in the room collapsed into laughter, choking on their sandwiches and spitting coffee across the room. I was baffled.
“What’s so funny?”
The Marketing Director turned to me with a smile. “Oh, I guess you don’t know you have a nickname around here. No-one calls you Rob anymore. We just call you ‘Secret Weapon’ - because that’s what you are.”
A Creative Challenge
So how did I earn the moniker of ‘Secret Weapon?’ That story began a few years earlier, the day my family and I moved into a new house. My home office wasn’t even set up yet, and when the phone started ringing, I couldn’t find it.
After scrabbling through piles of boxes, computers and assorted junk, I found the phone and answered it just in time. The call was from a senior marketing executive at Belron.
The name meant nothing to me, but I soon discovered that the company is a global giant in the auto glass replacement business. You probably know at least one of their brands - including Safelite (USA), Autoglass (UK), Carglass (Europe) and Windshields O’Brien (Australia).
At our first meeting a few days later, I discovered that Belron had a big problem. They had a great message to get across, but were failing to communicate it successfully. A succession of award-winning copywriters and scriptwriters had been hired to do the job, and each had ended up being fired.
The company was in a hole - losing big deals that were rightfully theirs. And that’s when the CEO of another company recommended hiring me.
To understand the problem the company faced, you need to understand their business model. So let’s imagine you are driving home one day when a stone flicks up off the road and cracks your windshield.
You pull over, unable to continue driving until the windshield is replaced. Luckily, auto glass replacement is covered by your insurance company. So you call your insurer, who arranges for their auto glass contractor to come out and fix the windscreen.
Belron is one of those autoglass contractors, and their success depends on tying up big deals with major insurance companies for this kind of work. The good news is that as the biggest player in the market, Belron offers the best service. The bad news is that insurers don’t always go for the best - they go for the cheapest.
But going for the cut-price option comes with a price. In modern cars, the glass is an integral part of the car’s structure. If the car rolls over, it’s the strength of the windshield that prevents the roof from collapsing and killing everyone inside.
But what if the windshield is a cut-price replacement? If the wrong adhesives are used, or short cuts are taken during the fitting, the glass may pop out when the car rolls. This can (and does) result in the roof collapsing. Then the occupants of the vehicle are crushed to death.
That’s bad for the occupants, but it’s bad for insurers, too. There have been cases where insurance companies have been sued for hundreds of millions of dollars by grieving families.
The solution for insurers is simple. Forget the cut-price operators and do a deal with a pro company like Belron. That way, you avoid the risk of being bankrupted by legal claims. A strong message - but not an easy one to get across. Belron reps needed a powerful sales tool to help them communicate clearly with insurance company executives.
My ‘Skydiving’ Campaign
I knew that what we needed here was a metaphor that was easy to understand - a story that had impact.
After considering a whole range of options, I settled on a skydiving analogy. We created a video which told the story of two parachutists preparing for a jump.
One chooses a premium parachute which is in excellent condition and has been professionally checked. The other goes for a bargain basement parachute that has been gathering dust in a back room.
You can probably guess what happens. The first skydiver jumps, sees her parachute open correctly and lands safely. The second jumper is not so lucky. His cut-price chute fails to open and he plummets towards the rocky terrain below…
The video was mailed out to insurance executives, accompanied by a letter with the headline:
Are You Killing Your Customers?
In the safe and conservative world of insurance, the letter and the video had immediate impact. Word spread, and soon insurance execs were calling in and asking for extra copies of the video.
Of course, Belron reps were happy to deliver the video in person and open a discussion for a multi-million dollar deal.
$523 Million in Sales
The campaign ran for nine years, and only ended when a new management team changed the marketing focus. One senior executive estimated that during those nine years, the campaign was responsible for contracts, renewals and other business worth $523 million.
If I had earned a 10% royalty on those sales - or even 5% - I would have done very nicely. But in those days I had no idea such arrangements were possible. I was paid a healthy fee for my services. But I can’t help thinking I left millions of dollars on the table!
Hundreds of Lives Saved
Although I’m delighted this campaign generated over half a billion dollars in sales, that’s only half the story. Better still, I helped to save hundreds of lives along the way.
Thanks to the success of this campaign, major insurance companies around the world now recommend only high-quality auto glass replacement.
So in thousands of roll-over accidents, customers who would have died lived to drive another day. Although they will never know it, they owe their life to a copywriter who had a good idea.
I’m proud of that.
The Right Message
So that’s how I became Secret Weapon. After firing a succession of award-winning copywriters, Belron had finally found a writer who could deliver. I was the ‘secret weapon’ that allowed them to out-compete their rivals in campaign after campaign over the next few years.
I always tell clients that the key to successful marketing is to get the right message to the right people at the right time. In this case of the skydiving campaign, the client knew who the right people were, and it was definitely the right time.
The missing factor was the right message. The company knew what they wanted to say, but they had no idea how to say it. But that’s OK - because they found a secret weapon who knew exactly how to say it!
If you want to deploy a secret weapon in your marketing campaigns, schedule a call to talk things through. You will be amazed to discover how a simple consultation can lead to transformation in your business.
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