Cute Lexmark ad campaign praised

This week, Lexmark International will wrap up an extensive marketing campaign that has attracted attention and acclaim for a cute approach to ink costs.

The campaign features "ink monsters," aggressive little buggers made of dripping ink who like to reach into purses and steal money. The ads, appearing on television and online, promote Lexmark's newest inkjet printers, which feature a $4.99 ink cartridge that prints 500 pages.

In an industry that typically has "bland advertising," Lexmark was aiming for a cute message that "when we went on air, we would immediately hit home," said Jose Chacon, director of North America marketing for Lexmark's inkjet division.

The company's campaign came out of research that shows that "the No. 1 pain point for small businesses who use a lot of ink is the cost of that ink," spokeswoman Kathy Hillyard said. The $4.99 cartridge that is advertised can be used in Lexmark's new Platinum, Pinnacle and Prestige touch-screen all-in-one inkjets, which are aimed at small businesses and home office users, and other high-use customers.

Chacon said the company came up with three campaign concepts, and the ink monsters "was the one that had an emotional reaction to it."

Charles LeCompte, president of industry tracker Lyra Research, said he thinks the ad campaign, which ends May 1, has been effective.

"People love it," he said. "You don't see many interesting printer-industry campaigns."

LeCompte said one area of concern, though, is that the $4.99 cartridges are available only on three high-end models.

"I think if they really want it to be effective, they may have to expand the ink availability to other models downstream," he said. "I bet they're pretty reluctant to, though, because there's obviously a profitability issue if they do."

The campaign has included 15-second and 30-second television ads, primarily on cable, including CNN, Fox News, History and the USA Network. The ads have appeared to a lesser extent on the major networks, including time during the NCAA basketball tournament on CBS. The campaign, which is only in the United States, also features ads on the Web sites of publications including PC World, PC Magazine and CNET.

The company declined to disclose the overall marketing costs of the campaign.