The latest online marketing campaign from French mail order supplier JM Bruneau has been boosted by the participation of ex-tennis star Yannick Noah.
For most people living outside France, Yannick Noah is remembered as a former tennis champion and winner of the Roland-Garros tournament way back in 1983.
However, after hanging up his racket he embarked on a successful musical career – his tour last year was a sell-out – and has been heavily involved in a number of charitable causes and associations, leading him to be voted "France’s Favourite Personality" for the last two years by readers of the weekly paper Journal du Dimanche.
So it was something of a coup for JM Bruneau when Noah agreed to participate in its latest internet marketing campaign, Une Minute de Pause (A One-Minute Break), which kicked off earlier this month and runs until 20 February.
The campaign consists of 14 one-minute animated episodes revolving around a private detective agency, Vénus Détectives, as they try and solve a case given to them by Noah. The voiceover of Noah’s animated character was done by the man himself.
"Yannick Noah agreed to take part because he was interested in the environmental messages we are trying to get across in the series," explains JM Bruneau’s Director of Marketing, Ludovic Loy.
As well as the use of eco-products in the office of Vénus Detectives and references to sustainable development and Fairtrade products during the series, there is a "bonus" WWF microsite that provides further information on many topical environmental issues, again featuring Noah’s animated character.
"We are trying to sensitise our visitors to the issues rather than force ideas upon them," says Loy. "It is very much a ‘soft’ marketing campaign, using humour to get our messages across and to reinforce our market leading environmental position."
This is JM Bruneau’s third campaign featuring the characters of the Vénus Detectives agency, the first season having started in 2005 with four episodes.
The characters are also used in the company’s popular annual interactive New Year card that is emailed to customers.
"We recognised that internet provided some new and interesting ways to reach our customers, enhance the reputation of our company and develop customer loyalty," says Ludovic Loy.
Bruneau is mainly targeting existing customers, using its customer database to promote the site and strengthen its brand image, and there are no pre-defined sales-related goals to the programme.
A key factor is that JM Bruneau’s customers can relate to the Vénus Détectives characters.
"Vénus Détectives represents our own customers," explains Loy. "It is a company, like our customers, and the four characters represent the types of people you can find in a typical company."
Bruneau was also careful to give the character Martine, the boss’s assistant – and the person responsible for ordering office supplies – a positive image.
"She represents, in fact, our final customer, so she is portrayed as highly efficient, professional and ethical in her behaviour."
The series has evolved this year in a number of ways. Apart from the guest star, visitors can actually co-exist in the episodes – they can create their own avatar, or an avatar for a colleague, which is then integrated into a number of the episodes.
Bruneau is also experimenting with viral marketing techniques. The episodes can be embedded into other sites such as blogs or MySpace pages, with prizes up for grabs for the sites that generate the most links back to Bruneau’s 1mndepause site and visitors can create interactive cards to send to colleagues and friends.
"We want to test web behaviour," explains Loy. "It’s a new tool and it’s our job to understand how it works and to see if it provides an opportunity for us to promote our company."
The concept has been well received so far by Bruneau’s customers. The site attracted more than 100,000 visitors in the first week and over 5,000 of those created their own avatars.
"It’s a good start – we’ll see how it develops," states Loy.
Have a look for yourself on www.1mndepause.fr.