Sonalysts adds pizazz to Sheffield toothpaste line

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What do you get when you combine a defense contractor with a toothpaste manufacturer?

In the case of Sonalysts Inc. of Waterford and Sheffield Pharmaceuticals of New London, you get a cutting-edge marketing tool using augmented reality, also known as AR.

Executives from the two companies met in January to talk about adding some pizzazz to Sheffield's new natural toothpaste line.

"It's got a great story behind it," Sheffield president Jeff Davis said in an interview at the company's executive offices, which are housed in an 1850 Victorian building on Broad Street that once served as toothpaste innovator Dr. Washington Sheffield's New London dental offices.

Dr. Sheffield, a native of North Stonington, invented the modern form of toothpaste sold in a collapsible tube, a product that still dominates the dental hygiene market today. Sheffield Pharmaceuticals, whose original name was Sheffield Dentifrice Company and later became known locally as Sheffield Tube, was looking to brand its own products sold exclusively at CVS and some Bed, Bath & Beyond outlets and needed a way to create some buzz.

"We wanted an app that could tell the story of the company ... and the story of the product in an engaging way," Davis said.

So he approached Sonalysts, the Waterford company best known for its movie production studios (think the Supreme Court scene in Steven Spielberg's "Amistad") but whose main business involves defense training work. Davis said he was looking to deal with a local company and knew that Sonalysts had a lot of in-house talent in film and animation that could produce an experience similar to what he had seen with a winery whose 19 Crimes label had used AR technology.

After initial discussions, Sonalysts developed a six-person team that consisted of Gary Schultz, lead animator; Michael Fagan, creative director; Glenn Gartner, programmer and project manager; Eric Toriello, vice president of film and broadcast; Todd Kinniburgh, art director, and Brian Fagan, director of media development.

"They had a really great product already on the shelves at CVS and they were looking to gain exposure," Toriello said.

So the team quickly decided on using augmented reality technology, which allows people with smart phones to scan packaging that subsequently comes to life through animation and other effects in real time to tell a story.

In the case of the Sheffield products, it was decided to use the only known image of the austere-looking company founder (a picture that showed up in the company mail only three years ago) and give him a rather feisty character while cleverly animating his face. The downloadable app triggers a smart device in a manner similar to a QR code when it detects the Dr. Sheffield image on a toothpaste box.

Michael Fagan wrote about a half dozen 10- to 30-second monologues that injected a bit of comedy into the character, while also telling some of Sheffield's history.

"It's a product wrapped around entertainment," he said, describing his Dr. Sheffield character as sarcastic and self-deprecating.

Gartner worked on motion capture using the Character Innovator program, and animator Schultz split the face into various shapes to aid in the effect of having Dr. Sheffield speak.

More applications for AR

Working feverishly to meet a March deadline, the team managed to turn around the project in about two months, just in time for a big meeting Davis was holding with executives from CVS.

"CVS loved it," Brian Fagan reported.

And the Sheffield project has opened up a whole new line of work for Sonalysts, which recently re-energized its media department with the addition of the Fagan brothers, who previously had run their own local video production company called Colony.

The Sonalysts team believes its AR work for Sheffield has many different applications in the commercial world, as well as potentially in defense and even nonprofits. One of the benefits is that it can be used both to create a cool and fun experience while at the same time offering traditional functions such as deploying product coupons or providing basic information to consumers.

"This is something that is pretty unique technology," Toriello said. "This is really our focus right now."

And for Sheffield, which produces a host of over-the-counter drugs and medical-related products for the likes of Walmart, Walgreen and Kroger, Sonalysts' downloadable app offers a chance to connect with the millennial clientele it has been targeting as part of a new push to market branded Dr. Sheffield's products.

Davis noted that all of the new formulations his company has created as part of the Dr. Sheffield campaign are being done internally, and all products are manufactured by the firm's 140 employees in New London. Sheffield also does all its own creative work for labeling and the like.

"It's a nice addition to our current business," he said.

'Flavors are wonderful'

Davis noted that Sheffield is always trying to keep up with the trends. So one of the latest Dr. Sheffield's products features activated-charcoal toothpaste, which goes on black but has advanced whitening ability while absorbing stains and toxins.

The new Dr. Sheffield's formulation is based on the original recipe, said Davis, though some ingredients were changed to be able to achieve natural product certification. There is no fluoride in the toothpaste, for instance.

A lot of natural toothpastes give up something in taste or texture to receive certification, but Davis said he believes Dr. Sheffield's has achieved a good balance of both. The toothpaste retails for about $7 a tube.

"The flavors are wonderful," he said.

While Sheffield boasts a global supply chain, all the formulations — including after shaves, salves, hot wax and denture products — are manufactured in New London.

When it comes to medical-related products, said Davis, "People want a made-in-USA quality."

They also like the history behind Dr. Sheffield's brands, which were perpetuated by his son, Lucius T. Sheffield, a Harvard-educated doctor who followed his father into dentistry. In fact, it was Lucius' discerning eye during a trip to Paris when he saw artists using collapsible tubes to house their paint supplies that proved a boon to his father's business.

"There's a real story here," Davis said. "It's not made up in some marketing lab."

And what better way to get out the word than through an augmented reality version of Dr. Sheffield himself?

"We've had pretty good feedback," Davis said. "Everyone who sees it thinks it's the coolest thing."





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