Canadian street program adopted by international markets

There's nothing better than a flock of voluptuous women in Playboy Bunny outfits to grab attention on Toronto's bustling streets. But Tania Koster, creative director of Toronto-based Ground Control Marketing, hopes her Chupa Chicks can have the same head-turning impact around...

There’s nothing better than a flock of voluptuous women in Playboy Bunny outfits to grab attention on Toronto’s bustling streets. But Tania Koster, creative director of Toronto-based Ground Control Marketing, hopes her Chupa Chicks can have the same head-turning impact around the world.

The outlandishly dressed Chicks, who hand out free Chupa Chups candy at various seen-and-be-seen events – the Toronto Entertainment District Association Party, The Worldwide Short Film Festival Opening Gala, The Polo

Ball and a private Weezer show from Universal Music are on the schedule this month – will hit the party scene in up to 13 markets around the globe next year, according to Koster. In the end, it’s up to the public relations agencies in those markets to make the program fly, she says, since it requires a major commitment in time and resources. The cost of Chupa Chups’ public relations efforts in Canada, including the Chicks, runs about $200,000 a year.

The Chupa Chicks girls are regulars in Toronto and, as of this summer, Montreal. While it seems like Canada is a test market for the Chicks, Koster says that isn’t the case. But the fact that the gang bolstered brand awareness here significantly forced Chupa Chups’ head office in Spain to take notice. According to mall research conducted at the end of last year, 92% of consumers in Toronto and 50% nationwide recognized the label, even though Chupa Chups has only been available here for a little more than three years. Koster says the two-year-old Chupa Chicks program had a major influence on the results. ‘In the city [Toronto] where I had been doing these localized initiatives, brand awareness was high, so it was a big lesson for everyone to understand that [the strategy] does work.’ While in the past, the candy manufacturer has invested in subway and specialty TV advertising by its Toronto shop Harrod & Mirlin/FCB, that creative was geared at a younger teen demographic, as opposed to the image-conscious 18-to-34-year-olds the Chicks target.

When the other global markets do come on board, Ground Control Marketing will spearhead the worldwide effort, which means customizing costumes for the Chicks to don before they hit the hot spots in their respective cities. (The Chupa Chicks change their image about every three months.) According to Koster, this is not as easy as it sounds, because the overall goal is to be on the leading edge of the latest trend, and that will differ from country to country. Therefore, Chupa Chups’ agencies will gather information about what is relevant in their marketplace, both in terms of media outlets and cultural attributes, and communicate their findings to Ground Control.

‘In Canada, the market is very music-driven, while in L.A., it’s very movie-driven,’ says Koster. ‘In Tokyo, it could be sports. All this reflects on the street and what we put on the street in terms of clothing and character is very important.’

While talks on taking the Chicks global continue, Ground Control Marketing will also work towards getting them on the radar in the U.S., which is considered a separate market all on its own and not a part of Chupa Chups’ global strategy. For instance, the agency created a four-foot Plexiglas replica of the famous Playboy logo and filled it with Chupa Chups in hopes it would be their ticket to the Playboy Mansion. A photo of the coquettish gals in their latest getup – inspired by the Playboy Bunny outfit – will accompany the gift when it is delivered to Hugh Hefner later this month. ‘We want to get invited to one of his parties, because he’s very big right now,’ says Koster.

Also, in collaboration with Toronto’s Eye magazine, whose reader poll crowned shock disc jockey Howard Stern best talk show host for the third year running, Ground Control constructed a six-foot guitar out of Chupa Chups and steel. Again, a photo of the Chicks will be sent to Stern in hopes that they will get called onto the show to present him with the award.

As far as guests go, the Chupa Chicks are right up Stern’s perverted alley. However, if it happens, the visit must be well managed because there is concern that a chat with Stern could be too risqué. Koster says the experience won’t tarnish the Chupa Chicks’ image – or that of Chupa Chups itself for that matter – because they will banter with him, unlike his other quintessentially empty-headed guests. ‘It’s about going in the backdoor, and catching people’s attention. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we always aim to entertain.’

For back-to-school this year, Ground Control has created a Chupa Chicks calendar for the first time – a sort of mockery of Sports Illustrated’s calendar – where the gals will be featured, among other things, as Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman and a faux girl pop band, as well as in a bathtub filled with, you guessed it, Chupa Chups. A limited run of 500 calendars, which will be offered as a gift with purchase at various yet-to-be-determined retail partners, will keep it exclusive among trendy teens.

These efforts aim to give the brand a media hit, says Koster, but they are also extensions of the Chupa Chicks crew itself, which is starting to stand out in a crowd like Bjork in a dead-swan dress. Well, maybe not quite like that.