Social Marketing: Brands Pursue 'Controlled Spontaneity'

  |  May 19, 2009   |  Comments

Digital marketing executives at MillerCoors and Kraft Foods explain how their old-time brands play in a social world.

Alan Wolk, creative strategist at the Toad Stool, a digital consultancy, drools when he thinks about Oreo cookies. And it's not because he has a sweet tooth.

"It's one of the only cookie brands that has millions of [Facebook] fans," he said.

Andrew Markowitz, director, digital marketing, at Kraft Foods, said Oreo -- one of Kraft's brands -- has several million Facebook fans on several hundred Facebook fan pages. "If they want to talk about licking, twisting, dunking, or other things that people do with an Oreo, that's okay with us," he said. (His team provided more background in a follow up e-mail.)

Wolk and Markowitz joined Jackie Woodward, vice president, marketing and media services, MillerCoors, at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's social media conference on Monday during a panel called, "Controlled Spontaneity."

So can a brand make a social media campaign go viral? "It cuts both ways. There are some people who can cleverly see things, get things going and working. And there will be times things spring up unexpected -- brand sponsored or not," said Wolk, a digital consultant and blogger. "You can pull the strings behind the curtain more than the consumer realizes."

That's not necessarily so, said Markowitz. "Spontaneity is difficult to control... To a certain degree, if your voice is authentic, you can look controlled or not controlled. It depends on where you are coming from."

Bradley Kay, president, SS+K, the panel's moderator, asked the digital practitioners the value of four words in viral marketing: "Hey, pass this along."

"We're not getting paid or making money on pass [this] along," Woodward said. Other metrics, such as the amount of beer sold, are far more important.

Still, she said, social experiences online and offline are invaluable. She pointed to a YouTube video that features Miller High Life's one-second Super Bowl ad, which has more than 666,000 page views. "Those are the kinds of things that enable relevance and push brands closer to consumers," she said.

Asked about a viral campaign that caught his attention, Wolk pointed to Burger King's Whopper Sacrifice campaign that encouraged people to ditch 10 Facebook fans to get a free Whopper. "They got a ton of PR for something fairly low budget," he said.

Kraft Foods has an online and offline hit with its Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, a hot dog on wheels that goes on tour across the nation. "We have an opportunity to spread the love... Everyone stops to have a picture taken with the Wienermobile. It's a pretty impressive piece of machinery," Markowitz chuckled.

In social media, businesses must understand that not all brands are created equal -- nor are they treated the same by followers and fans. Brands considered cool and interesting, such as Apple, Nike, sports teams, and entertainment properties, have ready-made evangelists, said Wolk. Just about everyone else doesn't.

So what's a social wallflower to do? Wolk said those businesses have essentially three options: provide something of value, such as a coupon or discount; entertain consumers with content that's not a commercial, or inform consumers.

On another front, the IAB released best practices in social advertising. Guidelines call for providing consumers with clear information about delivering social ads, including disclosing what their social connections will see. "A social ad should show consumers what would be shared with their friends prior to consumers choosing to share their information, with explicit approval of the message to friends prior to usage," the IAB recommends.

What's more, the IAB recommends that social data and data disclosed by consumers should only be used for social ads within the social domain for which they have disclosed that data, provided they opted in to share it.

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Anna Maria Virzi

Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.

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