How Three Brands Got Smart About Social Media

At one marketing conference after another, digital marketing gurus exhort others to experiment and not be afraid of failure in social media, mobile, or elsewhere.

A cacophony of voices are chanting: Put on a good face for Facebook, chirp on Twitter, tap dance for YouTube — all without looking stupid, appearing phony, breaking the law, alienating customers, or busting the budget.

No wonder some marketing executives are paralyzed.

During the last few weeks, I’ve observed some interesting trends involving social media marketing campaigns for three brands: Samsung, Hewlett-Packard, and the Clorox Co.’s Brita water filter business. Each example shows that brands — with budgets of varying sizes — can remain authentic as they move into social media without angering consumers.

Here are the different approaches each took:

Provide a Social Value

Facebook and green marketing wouldn’t seem like good bets for Clorox Co., best known for its bleach product line. Looking at the company’s product lineup, Mark Lewis, DDB SF account planning director, said the ad agency selected its Brita water filter brand to be among the first in the Clorox product family to be featured in a social media campaign. The goals: promote a cleaner environment by reducing the use of disposable plastic water bottles and establish Brita as a brand that advances sustainability.

Last year, Brita teamed up with Nalgene, the maker of reusable water bottles, to develop a Web site, FilterforGood, that encourages visitors to pledge to reduce the use of water in disposable bottles.

In addition to providing a $5 coupon off a Brita filter system, the site includes a meter that shows the number of bottles (81,492,090) saved thanks to the pledges to date.

What’s more, DDB also helped to develop a presence for “Filter for Good” on Facebook. That project, which includes an application that tracks bottles saved, has attracted close to 700 fans, some of whom are contributing additional tips for protecting the environment on the FilterforGood wall on Facebook. The campaign also includes in-store displays featuring Brita and Nalgene products, as well as television advertising, according to Lewis.

How is Brita measuring the success of this initiative? By the positive comments, increased sales, and other measures. “I cannot give you [sales] specific numbers, but Brita is very happy with the results of the program,” Lewis said.

But no social cause is worth its salt unless it has its critics. In a Treehugger.com article titled “Brita Water Filter Ad Campaign Provokes Strong Reactions” Christine Lepisto points out that tap water in most developed nations is good enough to drink without the filters. And the copyranter blog criticized the use of “nightmarish ghouls” to spread the brand message.

Criticism, Lewis said, comes with the territory. It’s important for the business to remain authentic, keep a consistent point of view, and deliver on that message. As for copyranter’s rant, Lewis said the print ads were part of a guerrilla effort.

Providing a Utility and Having Fun

As part of its “What do you have to say?” $300 million Print 2.0 marketing campaign launched last year, Hewlett-Packard lined up alliances with singer/fashion designer Gwen Stefani, Burton Snowboards founder Jake Burton, and graphic designer Paula Scher. Customers, for instance, are invited to personalize and print out birth announcement cards designed by Stefani.

The HP campaign also included a film contest on You Tube called, “Project: Direct,” in which contest participants had to include the tagline, “What do you have to say?” The winning entry, “Lacos,” by Brazil screenwriter Adriana Falcao garnered over 900,000 views.

The Project: Direct site also invited contestants to download and personalize an iron-on t-shirt decal promoting their entry. Some 17,000 people downloaded the decal, says Daina Middleton, then global director of advertising and interactive marketing for Hewlett-Packard’s imaging and printing group.

“We entered the community and provided something relevant,” adds Middleton, who’s now an SVP at Moxie Interactive’s Sunao division managing the customer insight, marketing analytics, and emerging trends departments. HP did the same with other campaign features, such as a tool kit that enabled filmmakers design and print out their own posters.

Improving Customer Support

Consumer electronics company Samsung traveled to where its customers hang out: CNET, an online publication that offers reviews, forums, and comparative pricing for digital cameras, television sets, and more.

Louis Giagrande, senior online marketing manager at Samsung, told attendees at the Conversational Marketing Summit this week that the “Mr. Samsung” program grew out of a small idea.

Giagrande, in a follow up interview with me, said he had been visiting CNET forums for years. Once he started working for Samsung, he thought it would be useful if he could answer questions involving Samsung products, so he did on an ad hoc basis.

Later Samsung approached CNET about participating in a branded formal arrangement that launched late May. The manufacturer paid the publisher for “back-end work” to set up Mr. Samsung’s presence on the forum. It also has a one-year ad campaign on CNET that’s not tied to the forum.

Asked about his biggest challenge in developing the program, Giagrande said it involved aligning multiple departments across the company to participate. And these are departments an online marketing manager typically doesn’t have much direct contact with — including customer service and sales.

In answering questions, Mr. Samsung must strike the right balance. And that includes “getting the right answer to people in a timely manner and maintaining a very informal dialogue,” Giagrande said.

CNET established some ground rules: Samsung cannot moderate or censor comments. For its part, Samsung established internal rules: it will not discuss a competitor in the forum, nor will it make direct contact with participants outside the forum.

“Most important is to keep the integrity of the forum and not compromise that. If [the forum] is not valid to people anymore, why would we want to participate in that community?” Giagrande asked.

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