Killer Instinct

By Brent Schmidt
Agency: Quarry Integrated Communications
Client: Cyanamid Canada
Category: 2001

Overview The launch of the VIPER herbicide brand is the story of how uncovering elemental human truths allowed for breakthrough advertising that changed the rules. The insight I gained through planning inspired the creative team and the client to take risks that had never been attempted in the category. These calculated risks turned into unprecedented marketplace success.

Background Cyanamid Canada was the leader in the Canadian soybean herbicide market with greater than 50% share. Monsanto, a fierce competitor, had recently introduced the genetically engineered Roundup Ready technology and was preparing to take over the Canadian market. In the U.S., Monsanto had gutted Cyanamid's business in two years and was planning to repeat the attack north of the border.

What was needed and why Ready. Aim. Brand! Cyanamid Canada had huge expectations and extremely tight timelines. The company wanted to launch a product that had been sitting on the shelf for many years as the new savior of its soybean herbicide business. Initial research revealed that the intended target audience found the technical merits of VIPER to be only marginally better than what farmers were currently using. I knew the product would not achieve the company's goals on technical strengths alone. The new brand had to become a major player literally overnight in order to protect Cyanamid's high market share. In other words, the VIPER launch had to be significant enough to steer soybean growers towards Cyanamid's offer and block the adoption of the highly appealing Roundup Ready brand.

What I discovered through planning From the outset, my hypothesis was that even though past research and conventional wisdom dictated that farmers' decisions were mostly right-brained, logic-based and practical, I believed the herbicide purchase decision must be driven by deeper underlying emotions that we could tap into.

I received the assignment in the summer when farmers were not available for traditional focus group research as they were outside in their fields. My \"research\" consisted of chatting with farmers around the kitchen table, walking fields with them and \"kicking tires\" at 6 am as they mixed products together to control the weeds that were infesting their soybean fields. In getting to know the customer as well as I could I discovered an interesting dichotomy. On one hand farmers were nurturing the land and producing food for the world. On the other they were spraying poisons in the environment to kill weeds. The justification in their minds was that weeds kill profits and must be eliminated.

Rather than taking farmers out of their element I was gathering insight in their workplace. Riding along with farmers during their long hours on the tractor I would ask questions such as \"What do you enjoy most about spraying for weeds?\" and \"What gets you up at five a.m. to do this job?\" I discovered that weed control was a highly emotional experience. I heard comments such as \"I love to watch these weeds die!\" or \"When I'm spraying weeds I feel like a fighter pilot taking down the enemy.\" A personification of the weeds was taking place. They became the enemy and the herbicide and equipment the farmer used were the weapons. The enjoyment farmers derived from killing weeds became their unspoken secret, something they would deny in public (and had denied in focus groups). As both crop nurturers and weed killers, farmers were living out their dark sides. From this research the proposition \"Express your dark side\" was crafted.

The launch results The VIPER launch was hailed as the most successful new product introduction in the Canadian crop protection industry in the past 10 years. VIPER upset Monsantoâ??s plans for Roundup Ready, which increased Canadian market share only 3% to reach 12% share; in the U.S. meanwhile Roundup Ready had jumped from 25% to over 50% in two years.

Something magical happened in the way it all fell into place. From the insight came a highly compelling proposition, which fit with the powerful brand name. The name spawned the snake imagery that became the focal point of the brand introduction. The striking logo and ominous character that the creative team developed was integrated into all communications including the packaging which beat consumer packaging giants like Nabisco, Kraft and Kellogg's at an annual package design competition. It wasn't merely great work for the category; it was great work. We had parents phoning us complaining that the VIPER radio ads were scaring their children. We had customers wrapping 11 foot pythons around their necks at launch events for photo opportunities. Our competitors who expected us to play by the rules didn't see VIPER coming and were bitten by the snake.

VIPER was rapidly adopted by 20% of customers and reached a record breaking 11% overall market share in the first year. Awareness levels almost doubled the company's goals, reaching 23% unaided and 87% aided after only three months of launch activity. In a category where customers are skeptical of new products, we had many farmers change their entire farm over to VIPER, an unheard of practice with a new herbicide. Word of mouth was our biggest ally in building a foundation of trust. Recognizing a desire among farmers to share information, we introduced a VIPER customer club. Top farmers tested out the product months prior to launch and shared their learning with other VIPER users. It created a sense of brand ownership. These influential brand advocates were responsible for spreading the power of the brand months before we launched.

The introduction of VIPER was about breaking rules. In a market where advertisers were afraid of using the word \"kill\" we urged the customers to \"Get the Killer Instinct\" and they loved it. We steered away from the traditional, technical sell and launched VIPER purely on emotion, something our competitors would never have dreamed would work. A month after we launched VIPER, a new customer summed it up perfectly: \"I needed to have some of that VIPER. I didn't even know why or what it was all about, I just had to try it.\"