Briggs and Stratton tries Web-based viral marketing campaign

Journal Sentinel
Rick Barrett
April 3, 2009

Engine Eddie hopes to follow in the footsteps of "Elf Yourself" and other viral marketing stars.

Launched by Briggs & Stratton Co., the animated Web character delivers personalized messages with speech capability.

Users can choose from prerecorded options or type in their own message. They also can paste a picture of their face on Engine Eddie, a bobble-head character that resides on a lawn mower cutting deck.

Briggs, the world's largest manufacturer of small gasoline-powered engines, developed Engine Eddie with Milwaukee advertising agency Cramer-Krasselt and Oddcast Inc., a New York Web technology firm.

The idea was to draw attention to Briggs products in a lighthearted way and help the company connect with a younger audience.

It's similar to what OfficeMax did with its "Elf Yourself" campaign, where visitors to the Web site pasted photos of faces on the bodies of shimmying elves. That campaign drew more than 36 million visitors to the Elf Yourself microsite in only five weeks, according to OfficeMax.

Briggs has numerous Web-based marketing programs, including its Battle of the Bands contest, where the winning band will perform on the Briggs stage at this year's Summerfest.

Generally speaking, the programs are a type of viral marketing, where social networks are used to increase brand awareness.

Briggs wants to connect with Web-savvy consumers more plugged into Twitter and iPhones than gasoline engines and lawnmowers.

"We want them to know that the engine they get in power equipment matters," said Rick Zeckmeister, Briggs vice president of consumer marketing.

It took months to create Engine Eddie, and Briggs rejected many early versions of the character that's meant to be "edgy" but not offensive.

The idea came from a company brainstorming session and survived the critiques of young Briggs employees.

"We share ideas all of the time on things that may or may not work. But at the end of the day, when you put all of those ideas together, you find a good one," said Laura Timm, Briggs director of corporate communications.

Engine Eddie, now available at, can send many types of messages. The animated character also can be used to brag about your lawn - thus the lawn mower connection - or suggest that someone else's lawn needs a little help.

Soon, the Briggs corporate Web site will have a link to Engine Eddie.

Technically, the company could read every message. But that's not the intent. Rather, Briggs sees Engine Eddie as a fun tool to increase brand awareness and drive more traffic to the company Web site.

The animated character also could gather reams of marketing data for Briggs, including e-mail addresses and the number of minutes that visitors spend on the Briggs site looking at products.

That plethora of marketing data helps justify the $250,000 spent to create Engine Eddie.

"This isn't just a frivolous plaything on the Web. There are a lot of strategic potential undertones," said Dennis Garrett, assistant professor of marketing at Marquette University.

Engine Eddie is a "little odd," Garrett said, and that could fuel its popularity and help raise Briggs brand awareness.

But if it becomes a joke for the wrong reasons, it could tarnish the Briggs brand.

"Then it becomes something that's passed around and you can't kill it off," he said.

Co-developer Oddcast Inc. is a heavyweight in viral marketing and Web animation. It has created some of the Web's biggest hits, including Ford's Theme Song-a-tron, Careerbuilder's Monk- e-Mail, Tide's Talking Stain, and Volkswagen's Babymaker.

The company has received multiple Webby awards from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for its viral marketing campaigns, an Addy Award from the American Advertising Federation, and its creations have been featured on the Cable News Network, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

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