“Just the name of the product, Mr Sketch! Just thinking about it makes you smile,” he says now. Last year, Caputo and his ad agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, were put in charge of the first advertising campaign for Mr. Sketch scented markers in more than two decades. Last Tuesday, the second phase of the campaign — this interactive Web site — was introduced.
The beloved smelly marker brand is owned by Newell Rubbermaid, the company that makes Sharpies, highlighters and Paper Mate pens. Those products have stayed in the public conscious, but their fragrant relative Mr. Sketch has mostly been thought of as a product of childhoods past, Caputo said.
You might expect the new ads to remind you of that time — the blue boxes, the thick strokes, the smell of grape or cotton candy following you to recess on your marker-stained hands. Instead, the campaign is nostalgia-free.
“Nostalgia is unique to people who experienced the marker,” Caputo said. “We didn’t want to assume that people know what they are.”
So rather than a Mr. Sketch re-launch (the product never went off the shelves, anyway) they went for a re-introduction.
The star of their approach is the flatulence of a blueberry.
In a 30-second TV spot that aired before the 2014-2015 school year, kids were shown the grand Mr. Sketch factory, a colorful Wonka-inspired laboratory. Sitting on a chair much too big for its size, a tiny fruit lets out a tiny toot.
The smell travels through tubes and finds the fat tip of a blue marker, bestowing the smelliness that makes Mr. Sketch unique.
The new Mr. Sketch Web site is an interactive version of that factory where kids can make music out of the fruits’ toots.
Newell Rubbermaid is just one of many companies trying to take childhood products of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, add in technology and sell them to nostalgic parents to give to their own kids. Much of the effort comes in app form: Furby, Tomogatchi, the Easy-Bake Oven and Mr. Potato Head are all playable on your phone or tablet.
In November, Mad Libs launched a new version of its app in attempts to give users more than just its paper product on a screen.
“We also knew we had to appeal to a new generation of users with generally shorter attention spans,” said Lauren Kushner at Kettle, the agency that designed the Mad Libs app. The result is a game of interactive fill in the blank, where players win badges, swipe to navigate, ask for hints and share the stories they create on social media.
“Hello Kitty and ‘Family Guy’ Mad Libs apps are already available in the App Store, with WWE Mad Libs coming soon,” Kushner said.
By counting downloads and page views, agencies such as Kettle and Bartle Bogle Hegarty can watch to see whether their transformations are working. For Caputo, that has been the joy of making people remember Mr. Sketch markers. He recently saw a video from Vine in which a young girl sees the tooting blueberry commercial and erupts into a fit of giggles. Even though the commercial is a new way to tell kids about Mr. Sketch, watching her joy brings back the nostalgia all the same.
“There’s that little bit of emotional involvement you have with something that brings back memories,” he said. “We can’t help it.”