SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER 2011| PDF | Subscribe | Home

For Love & Money
Putting social media to work for packaged-goods brands.

Just as superbugs have become resistant to antibiotics, consumers have developed immunity to standard marketing approaches, rejecting them as commoditized and unappealing. Social media, by contrast, offers tantalizing new possibilities. But it’s not been all fun and games for marketers. Chasing social-media opportunities has often turned into a frustrating and fruitless endeavor; brands and their spokespeople find themselves unwanted guests at the party.

Nowhere is the frustration more acute than for those marketing consumer-packaged goods. Packaged-goods brands, created in and perfectly tuned for the mass-marketing era, are struggling to adjust to a new world that’s all about relationships and customer experience.

What is the most effective way for packaged-goods brands to approach social media? What are its real opportunities? The answer starts with a realistic and honest assessment of where a brand stands in its relationships with its customers.

The brands generally acknowledged as social- media stars — Starbucks, Nike, Zappos, and the like — have something most packaged-goods brands don’t: deep and engaging relationships with consumers.

Simply mimicking the behavior of brands that have highly engaged audiences doesn’t work; social- media applications have to be aligned with the strength of a brand’s consumer relationships. There are too many examples right now of brands assuming that their customers care about them when the reality is that most customers couldn’t care less.

It’s sad to see brands trying too hard. Of all the social-media options, Twitter is perhaps the most difficult to use effectively without a resonant relationship. Too often the absence of anything meaningful to talk about leads to vacuous tweets like “TGIF Tweeps! What flavor are you celebrating Friday’s arrival with this morning?”

There's Got to be an Angle

If you think of social media as being primarily about communication, it’s difficult to see how most packaged-goods brands can use it effectively. But if you view social media as an infrastructure supporting a wide range of activities based on connection, then more opportunities present themselves.

The spectrum extends from co-creation to entertainment, expert advice, customer service, and pure sales. Even for this wider field of options, the depth of a brand’s relationship with its consumers is still the critical consideration: The less love for a brand, the narrower its choices.

Approach 1: Recruit and Support. Although many packaged-goods brands are way down the ladder of love, some do have the strong consumer relationships that open up the whole gamut of social-media opportunities. These are the usual suspects; the brands that have worked hard over the years to build loyalty, often in categories where people like to express their individuality through their selections. Are you a Pepsi person or a Coke person?

For these lucky few brands, social media present a chance to tap into existing consumer passion and spread the love around. If you ask passionate consumers for their help, they’re likely not only to give it, but also to become even more engaged as a result.

Coca-Cola realized early on both the perils and opportunities presented by social media. When the Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment video exploded on YouTube back in 2006, Coke’s initial reaction was disapproval: The video didn’t fit the established brand image. Some 13 million views later, Coke reevaluated its stance and adopted the “fans first” policy now in place, allowing it to capitalize on the love many consumers have for the brand.

When a couple of fans from Los Angeles set up a Facebook page devoted to Coke, the company worked with them to build and improve it, rather than trying to shut it down or take it over. To date, more than 29 million people have “liked” this page, making it one of the most popular product pages on Facebook and the 11th most popular page overall.

After this early success, Coke began exploring other ways to create compelling online content. For Expedition 206, its most significant project to date, Coke recruited three “happiness ambassadors” to visit the 206 countries and territories where Coca-Cola is sold, searching for happiness and recording their findings on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. The campaign, which ended in January 2011, racked up 650 million media impressions and engaged billions of people.

Positives: Puts your loving fans to work for free and recruits others to the cause. Leverages brand love and presents the most value-added ways to use social media.

Negatives: Only works if you already have passionate consumers who are prepared to invest their time in your brand — not true for most packaged-goods brands.

Approach 2: Have Purpose. What if your brand isn’t one of the fortunate few that already enjoy the love and loyalty of consumers? One possibility is to move your brand up the relationship ladder so that social media becomes a more viable option. To this end, a growing number of companies are attempting to build purpose into their brands by associating them with good causes. It’s true that people don’t want to form a relationship with a bar of soap. But they might well be interested in protecting the environment. Or promoting self-esteem. Or helping those in need.

Procter & Gamble has launched major efforts to build purpose in all its brands. At the 2010 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard said the company has committed itself to purpose-inspired brand building.

In his words: “Consumers have a higher expectation of brands and want to know what they are doing for the world. But it has to be authentic, with a genuine desire to do it. Our brands’ individual purposes are brought to life by ideas that touch people’s hearts and get them to participate in a brand community.”

Tide is just one of the P&G brands going beyond traditional advertising to establish a stronger relationship with its consumers. The Tide Loads of Hope program provides mobile laundries — branded vans and trucks equipped with washing machines — so that those affected by natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina can have clean clothes to wear.

Positives: Aligns your brand with something larger; moves it up the relationship ladder while providing the opportunity to do good for society at the same time.

Negatives: Difficulty of building a solid, credible connection between your brand and issues consumers care about. Risk of exceeding consumers’ capacity to give a damn.

Approach 3: Entertain. Online audiences seem to have an insatiable appetite for entertainment and content, and some packaged-goods brands have tried — like Seymour with Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors — to feed this appetite. For brands lower down the relationship ladder, entertainment is the lighter version of Approach 1 (Recruit and Support), asking for less from consumers while still achieving a level of interaction.

Skittles, a pioneer in social media, continues to push the envelope with games and other entertainment to engage consumers. It has one of the highest ranked Facebook pages (more than 18 million fans), and famously turned its website ( over to teenage consumers for content. (The initial disastrous results were corrected with editorial guidance.) One recent campaign involved David Phoenix, a character who challenged fans to bury him in Skittles by clicking on the site; more than one million Skittles were poured onto him.

Positives: In tune with the medium; feeds the appetite for new content; doesn’t require a lot of existing brand engagement.

Negatives: Tough to develop quality content; consumers may enjoy the entertainment but give your brand very little attention for providing it. Impact is to assess, similar to that of sponsorship or event marketing.

Approach 4: Be Useful. Within their categories, many brands have credible expertise to share. Giving advice is a relatively comfortable way to test the social-media waters and deliver on-brand content. (As “entertainment” is the light version of “recruit and support,” so “be useful” is the lighter version of “have purpose.”) This route is particularly effective for brands that are respected and trusted by their customers.

We find Purina offering online advice for pet care and selection; Tide providing expert fabric care suggestions; Neutrogena dispensing beauty tips; and Colgate giving dental-health information.

Kraft Foods and Pampers have been particularly active in this arena. Kraft is prolific in developing content for social media, including a Facebook page (recipes, meal ideas, and the opportunity to chat with Kraft Kitchen experts), daily tips sent out via Twitter, and a library of how-to videos on YouTube. In addition to its strong social-media presence, Kraft now offers a mobile app with more than 7,000 recipes for its products, cooking videos, shopping lists, and a
store locator.

Launched in 2008, the Pampers Village website is a community forum for expectant mothers, providing a wealth of information about children from newborns to preschoolers. There are downloadable apps: “Hello Baby” gives detailed images of a typical baby’s weekly growth as well as a complete pregnancy calendar — and purposeful campaigns such as the “Little Miracle Mission,” which has supplied more than 30,000 care packages to families and babies in neonatal intensive care units. The site has a strong commercial aspect as well, with discounts, rewards, and a “buy now” link. Although the Village itself is a website, its content carries over to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Positives: Most likely to connect with the brand and build on its strengths.

Negatives: May have limited impact being seen or appreciated only by existing brand users.

Approach 5: Sell. More and more consumers are starting to shop for their groceries online. According to Nielsen, packaged-goods sales were $12 billion in 2010 and sales are increasing about 25 percent every year. Amazon is already a top-ten retail account for Pampers. As online shopping becomes more important, social media provide forward-thinking marketers with new opportunities to engage with consumers.

But what kind of engagement? It’s generally nothing fancy. What most consumers want from packaged-goods brands is — you guessed it — money off. When asked, “What do you want brands to offer you online?” Sixty-five percent of respondents to an Advertising Age survey said “coupons,” ranking the opportunity to save money much higher than customer service (42 percent) or games and entertainment (28 percent). The number of digital coupons available at major distribution sites increased by more than 33 percent last year.

But once you’ve recruited a Facebook audience, why not continue marketing to these consumers, using a social-media twist?

According to research conducted by Colloquy, childcare is the category where people rely most on advice and referrals from friends and family. Huggies took advantage of this by offering parents a two-for-one choice: either an immediate, no-strings-attached coupon for $1.50, or a $3.00 coupon to consumers who told three friends about the deal via Facebook, instant messaging, or email.

At the height of the cold season, Kimberly-Clark introduced a softer version of Kleenex tissue. Its “Softness Worth Sharing” promotion let people send product samples to friends and family by signing up at or at participating retailers. (They could also send virtual tissues to Facebook friends.) More than one million mini-boxes of tissues were distributed, increasing its share by almost four points during the campaign period.

Positives: Easy to measure impact; can drive sales; doesn’t require strong brand engagement.

Negatives: Subject to the same drawbacks as normal sales promotions: coupons risk reducing the premium value of the brand.

Approach 6: Listen and Respond. If all else seems out of reach, you should at least be online to find out what consumers are saying about your brand. Listening in on the social chatter is, in fact, often the first step in the adoption curve of social strategy for many companies. Listening eventually leads to a stronger commitment, such as incorporating social-media channels into customer service and support. If consumers are complaining, suggesting, or generating ideas, you can be there to respond.

Many providers have developed platforms allowing companies to listen to and engage with consumers across the entire social media spectrum, such as the program Radian6 built for Molson Coors. “Our goal is to be the ‘go-to brewer’ in North America, and to do that we need to demonstrate a willingness to respond quickly to consumer questions, concerns, comments and love for our brands,” explained Adam Moffat, manager of marketing and brand public relations for Molson. “We want to add value to their experience with our company and beers by being present, engaged, and human.”

As more and more shoppers go online, all sorts of opportunities will open up to interact with them, and brands will have to pick and choose which ones make the most sense. How about a social network just for packaged goods? That’s the idea behind Consmr, described by Advertising Age as the “Yelp for packaged goods.” Chobani, along with AriZona, jumped in early on this particular initiative and
will be giving Foursquare-like badges (called “flair”) to encourage users to add information and reviews
to the site.

Positives: A good first step; a valuable addition to traditional customer service.

Negatives: Nothing more than a toe in the water where social media is concerned.

Is It Worth the Effort?

Social media is far from being the only marketing activity where return-on-investment is difficult to measure. But as with any new medium, sensitivity to its effectiveness is particularly acute. Is it worth taking money from traditional, tried-and-tested marketing programs to fund social-media initiatives? Are we jumping on a bandwagon without a clear idea of what we’re doing? Will it pay off in the long run?

Social-media activity can be quantified, but may not be directly traceable to sales and the bottom line. What does a well-supported Facebook page really give you? Are those fans likely to change their purchasing habits in your favor?

And even maintaining the activity level can be an uphill battle. With a high degree of commitment and energy (measured by people liking posts or making comments), Skittles is the top packaged-goods brand on Facebook — yet less than one percent of its fans are active in any month (only 0.5 percent in May 2011). Keeping fans engaged can feel like blowing up a tire with a hole in it — a nonstop, exhausting, and ultimately fruitless activity.

Social media will always be something of a force fit for packaged-goods brands, given that it thrives on relationships and engagement these brands do not naturally command. A lucky few brands that do have the requisite amount of love have found some creative ways to take advantage of the medium, using a variety of approaches from fan pages to co-creation.

The good news is that social media also offer marketing opportunities that are less dependent on strong brand relationships and therefore more appropriate for the average packaged-goods brand. Entertainment, advice, social selling — and just listening and responding to consumers — may seem more prosaic and less ambitious than what you had in mind for social media. But they may well be more compatible with your brand and therefore stand a better chance of actually working.

MARTIN BISHOP is director of brand strategy in the San Francisco office of Landor Associates, with expertise in brand architecture and portfolio strategy, including work for Barclays, Chevron and Walmart. He can be reached at

SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER 2011| PDF | Subscribe | Home