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THE BREATHE RIGHT STRIP: A SPORTS MARKETING CASE STUDY
Published March 8, 1995
Breathe Right, the breathing aid manufactured by CNS, Inc., has easily gained the most publicity of any new sports product during the past six months and merits serious consideration as the sleeper marketing hit of the year. First seen nationally on the proboscis of 49er Jerry Rice during a Monday Night Football broadcast, sales and interest in the product have increased dramatically. CNS, which has manufactured medical equipment since 1982, is based in Chanhassen, MN, and recorded sales of $9.9M in '94. A recent FORBES article projected '95 sales could hit $12M. THE SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY spoke to Nick Naumann, CNS's Marketing Communications Coordinator, about their success using sports as a way to sell Breathe Rights. HOW IT ALL BEGAN: Breathe Right was invented by a St. Paul man named Bruce Johnson, who was searching for something to open his nasal passages while he slept. After coming up with the Breathe Right strip, he brought it to CNS. Naumann said the emphasis on marketing through sports was planned, "but not to the extent that it has happened." While awaiting FDA approval, CNS distributed Breathe Right to local doctors and runners. Upon hearing positive reports from runners, CNS CEO Dan Cohen saw potential with other athletes, particularly in sports that utilize mouthguards. Naumann said their initial strategy was simply to send a case of strips to all 28 NFL trainers with a letter from Cohen. With no prompting, Herschel Walker, while suffering from a cold, used the strips which were given him by his trainer. Naumann explains, "Herschel tried them at night and loved the product and figured, 'Well, if it worked so well at night, let's see what happens during practice.' And then he started wearing them during games. Jerry Rice saw him wearing one and asked his trainer for some. So Herschel was the first and then it just started from there." OTHER SPORTS: Naumann reports that the strips have been a hit with hockey players as well: "It is hard to tell because they don't show up as well, but [Wayne] Gretzky wears one all the time, six of the Red Wings wear them, most of the Capitals wear them. It actually has caught on bigger in hockey than it has in football." ENDORSEMENTS: Rice is the only athlete CNS has signed thus far, but talks are underway with different athletes in different sports, beyond hockey and football. But Naumann stresses that their approach has been passive: "We had Herschel Walker ask if he could endorse it. Art Monk's agent called. We have never gone directly to an athlete and asked them to endorse the product. It is all people who like the product and use it that are asking if they can help us out." CONSUMER MARKETING: Naumann reports that sales "are up tremendously": "When we started the year in January with what we felt was enough product warehouse to last us through the end of July. We were out of that by mid-January. People pick it up in pharmacies, mass-merchandisers, and a lot of sporting goods stores are ordering it on an individual basis. We are working out distribution through sporting goods wholesalers." But while sports brings much-needed "recognition," the appeal to the average consumer is different than to the athlete. Naumann: "Jerry Rice uses it because he feels it helps him play better, but the core reason is it helps him breathe through his nose, so our advertising and promotion has been to get the person watching the game to realize it works for everyone." ON FUTURE PLANS: "We plan on using the sports angle and how it helps athletes. There is talk to come out with more of a sports product, with colors -- a limited supply of maybe black and red, or just black. It all depends on production, and right now we can barely keep up with the U.S. demand." Naumann said there has been talk of employing team logos, but again noted distribution factors. Breathe Right is an official NFL Locker Room licensed product. OVERALL: Asked if they realized how much sports could do for them, Naumann said: "We knew sports would help get recognition, but not to the extent that is has. Sports really opened up a lot of news spots that were done on the product and that helps tremendously" (THE DAILY).