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Kids website highlights safety, awareness of propane

June 1, 2012 By    

The black-and-white lines of the coloring book page look simple enough.

Behind those uncomplicated images, however, lies a savvy marketing strategy that could draw new and future customers and position propane marketers as safe, dependable and community-friendly businesses.

The coloring book is a recent companion to the website launched by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) in November 2010. Geared for 3- to 12-year-olds, the whimsical site features “Max,” “Kate” and a variety of animals who lead games and activities that offer important messages about propane and teach a variety of safety tips.

Visitors to the site are greeted by a friendly man, in a hat bearing the PERC logo, who says, “Hey there! Are you ready to have some fun?”

With bright, cartoon-style graphics, the site beckons children to “explore” or “play.” Choosing “explore” takes them to a dollhouse-type graphic, in which they click around to find 15 ways propane is used daily around the house. Each time a spot is correctly clicked, a pop-up box and female voice explain something relevant about propane.

Click on the dinosaur poster in the boy’s bedroom, for example, and learn that propane was formed millions of years ago from tiny sea animals and plants. Scroll over to the laundry room, and learn that propane is used to heat up the clothes dryer, “so your clothes are always soft and fluffy.”

In the “play” section, visitors can choose to play a word search, matching game, maze or connect the dots, or digitally color pages from the coloring book. Games become incrementally harder for more advanced players.

Educational tool
Designed by a consultant at PERC’s request, the site was intended as a simple, fun way to engage children in learning about propane, says Stuart Flatow, PERC’s vice president, safety and training.

“I’m really proud of it,” Flatow says. “A lot of marketers have it linked to their websites.”

Larry Dombrowski, vice president of West Dundee, Ill.-based Logica3, says he wanted the site to be easy for marketers to use at an outreach in their communities. He also wanted to promote safety without scaring children.

“If you talk propane safety and everything is ‘do not do this, do not do that,’ it scares kids and paints a negative image for the industry because it seems like our product is not safe,” Dombrowski explains.

His staff researched the Consumer Products Safety Commission and other government websites to discern what kinds of accidents and incidents kids might be having with propane, to correctly direct safety messages. To his relief, there haven’t been many incidents of kids turning on valves or playing on tanks, so the website designers stuck to advice about children not being too close to the stove or the need for parents to not leave a grill unmanned.

Dombrowski’s staff also included a variety of general safety messages and provided environmental messages that paint propane as a “greener” fossil fuel than oil and coal.

“We tried to not be over the top,” he says. “We wanted this to be an educational website and not a marketing and promotional website.”

The site isn’t only for children, though. An area developed for parents includes a home-inspection checklist complete with a “safety ranger” badge children can print out and wear while parents help them identify appliances that use propane, check the batteries in their smoke detectors and designate an emergency meeting place outside the home.

A section on the site for teachers includes five simple science experiments they may do in the classroom to teach students about the properties of propane. The site includes pdfs of word searches, coloring pages and other activities to augment their lesson.

And then there’s a whole section directed to propane marketers and advising them how they could reach out in their communities. The website includes a 20- to 30-minute lesson plan with step-by-step instructions to guide marketers through a presentation they might make in a classroom. The lesson’s stated goal is to make each student a “propane safety ranger.”

On top of that, the site gives marketers access to an online catalog with Web banners and graphics that can link to their website, content for newsletters and social media sites, and customizable files to print out large banners and posters for booths and displays.
All of the templates can be customized with the marketer’s name, then printed off in their office or at an office-supply store. “It’s not difficult for folks to customize the materials for very reasonable prices,” Dombrowski says.

Put to good use
Carrie Towne, general manager of Caywood Propane Gas in Hudson, Mich., was excited to learn about at a regional propane gas association meeting.

“When I went to the convention in Indianapolis last spring and saw it, for me it was, ‘I know exactly what I’m going to do with that,’” Towne says.

Towne used the materials to assemble booths at two local kids’ fairs last summer. She added her company’s name to the templates and took the files to a nearby office-supply store, which printed banners, stickers, bookmarks and other handouts.

At the fairs, she used one of the experiments posted on the PropaneKids website to interact with children who stopped by her booth. When they completed the activity, they got to pick out a bookmark or sticker and a piece of candy. More than 1,000 children participated in the events, she says.

“It’s a very different avenue for us – you don’t anticipate seeing a propane company at one of those [fairs],” Towne says. “But we had a very good response, and we’re planning to go again this summer.”

She also wants to take the materials into the schools in her community and do some of the science experiments in the classrooms. If you can expose the children to it when they’re in elementary school and again in middle school or high school, she reasons, they will retain those good memories when it comes time to make decisions about propane.

“Those are my future customers in 15 or 20 years,” Towne says. “They’re going to remember who came into [their] classroom, and if I send enough stuff home, maybe mom and dad will switch.” And those children, in turn, may stick with her company when they are ready to choose for themselves, she adds.

Educating this generation about propane also benefits the industry as a whole by elevating consumers’ understanding of the fuel, she explains.

Check out the lower right corner of Auxier Gas’ website ( and you’ll find a cartoon image and logo that links to the website.

Eric Sears, customer service manager at the Batavia, Ohio, retailer, says the link and materials are very easy to use. He took the materials to a local National Night Out event attended by families. He assembled a display using the Auxier Gas truck and several of the PropaneKids educational items, including one of the experiments from the site. All new-customer packets include the PropaneKids coloring book, he adds, and he hopes to introduce the materials to teachers before the next school year.

Sixth-grade science teacher Mike Vogley in Louisville, Ohio, stumbled on the website while doing a Google search to prepare for a unit on energy and sources of energy. After teaching “quick lessons” on solar, water and wind power, Vogley assigned students to choose one more energy source to research. He gave students folders with information culled from newspapers and magazines about the other energy sources, but, he says, he couldn’t find much to give them about propane.

“I tried to make sure I had good Web resources,” says Vogley, who linked the PropaneKids website to his class’s home page. Within a few weeks, 12 students had clicked on the link. “[I] felt like [the] website did an excellent job of showcasing how it worked for people at home.”

Building connections
In the 18 months since the site went live, more than 135 websites have linked to the PropaneKids website – about 110 of those links are with propane marketers. The PropaneKids website gets about 350 to 400 visitors every month, and about half of those visitors come to the site from a link on another website.

If the idea of linking to the site and customizing the material is daunting, Dombrowski says his staff will gladly walk marketers through it, at no charge. “This is pretty easy for us, but if you’ve never done it, people get intimidated,” he says.

Scott Brockelmeyer, vice president, communications and marketing for Ferrellgas, says the site is a great tool for marketers. He encourages Ferrellgas employees to take the materials with them when they speak at career days.

“It’s information that is exposing a new generation of propane users about the product,” Brockelmeyer says. “It’s exciting to me to know that we’re educating kids about how propane is used around the home.

“These are our future customers. They’re going to have a decision to make at some point about what fuel they’re going to use in their home, and this will put propane top of mind.”

Photos courtesy of the Propane Education & Research Council and Caywood Propane Gas

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