Smart Canadian marketers tap ‘people power’ to sell beer, Band Aid and bitter medicine

“People as media” isn’t just a cool concept.

It’s a practice used today to build brand and boost sales for a variety of products — all the way from beer to bad-tasting medicine, and with astounding results.

At the recently concluded 2009 Marketing Week conference organized by the Canadian Marketing Association in Toronto, agency experts talked about hugely successful campaigns built on direct engagement with people, both offline and online.

“At the end of the day it’s about shifting from a buy media to an earn media mindset,” said Matthew Ramella, senior marketing manager, media, sponsorship and digital marketing at Labatt Breweries of Canada based in London, Ont.

That’s why at Labatt’s advertising dollars are being shifted to social media and experiential marketing, Ramella said. “That’s where we have the opportunity to recruit brand ambassadors and use them to create conversations around our products.”

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In Canada, he noted, more than 400,000 fans of Labatt beer brands are on Facebook right now.   

Apart from social media, the focus is also on offline and online integration. “It’s been a huge game changer for Labatt, and a key business driver over the past couple of years.”

Many of the firm’s marketing accomplishments, Ramella said, were driven by successfully motivating people to create free media for its brands.

“Across the world, Labatt has the most fans of any beer manufacturer. Once you have that scale, the next step is to engage those resources to create free media.”

The runaway success of the Bud Light Lime launch in Canada, last December, is proof enough this approach really works, he said.

“The launch was 100 per cent driven by social media and PR strategy,” recalled Ramella. “We came out of the gate without any traditional media — only deploying social and PR tactics.”

For instance, through a Facebook launch party the marketing team reached out to key influencers, who had already asked about bringing Bud Light Lime to Canada.

These fans were asked to start their own party groups, recruiting 300 of their friends, and friends of friends.

Through this process, he said, in just four weeks, 22,000 unique party RSVPs were created, with a chance to win a  Bud Light Lime Party, to be brought to the winner’s own home town, wherever they lived in Canada.

“This online engagement led to real offline action,” Ramella said.

While Labatt executed just one official launch party, he said many of the groups held their own Bud Light Lime launch parties in their respective cities.

Bad taste creates good buzz

Such a personalized approach is a must for brands sold principally through retail outlets, said James Fraser, partner and managing director of retail at Toronto-based marketing firm, Capital C.

“Let’s be candid – retailers don’t really care about your brand,” said Fraser. “They care about your brand’s impact on the categories they play in. That’s a subtle but significant difference.”

Bottomline: brand managers can’t create “mass experiences” meant to go into every one of the thousands of Canadian stores. “That strategy just won’t work. Retailers are asking: what’s my program? And they don’t want to see it across the road.”

He said a good example of a “small, personalized program” was Buckley’s Bad Taste Tour — which got perfectly healthy people to taste Buckley’s cough mixture at various Canadian locations.

Participants were given a spoon full of Buckley’s cough mixture to swallow and their grimacing faces captured on digital camera.

“People tasted it because they knew we were going to take their picture, put it on the Bad Taste Web site, where it could be viewed by their friends.”

He said while photos of a few hundred people were taken, site visitors numbered in the tens of thousands. “The reason they were going to the site was to see their friends make these horrible faces.”

Fraser said brand managers need to make sure the dollars they put into things like retail samples work much harder. “So let’s say 300 people taste the sample, how do you get them to talk to 3,000 others and so on. That’s the kind of thing retailers are looking for … something that can really generate a buzz.”

He said as markers move into the new world of “shopper marketing” they should understand the new order of operations – which is category, retailer, brand.  “The reverse – brand, retailer, category was the old way – and just doesn’t work anymore!”

Jingle Sells, Jingle Sells Band-Aid all the way

The principle of moving from a buy media to an earn media mindset is also exemplified by clever use of the Band-Aid jingle (stuck on me), said Chad Grenier, vice-president retail and event marketing at Irving, Texas-based Mosaic Experiential Marketing.

He said last year healthcare products manufacturer Johnson & Johnson Inc. approached his agency to help them get the jingle out to Canadians.

“Those who’ve sung it know just how catchy the jingle is and how difficult to get out of your head. Now the question was what was the best way to get Canadians singing the jingle, sharing it with friends and family, and get that amplified through social media networks.”

For starters, he said, the campaign team use scores of events, festivals and fairs to publicize the jingle.

“The main attraction was the opportunity people had to grab some great props – an inflatable guitar, or some goofy sunglasses – don them very quickly, and sing the jingle. It created a sensation.”

He said a video would also be recorded of the person singing, which was later emailed to them. “They could share with their friends and family — their own social network.”

These offline events produced a phenomenal online buzz, Grenier said.

“For every one video shared, 20 people came back to the Band-Aid Canada site – As much as 25 per cent of the traffic to this site came through Facebook. And the great thing is we didn’t do any media buy on Facebook – it was all earned.”

He said e-mail open rates exceeded expectations, and testified to high levels of audience engagement.

“We anticipated high open rates on the first e-mail with the video link with their jingle. But months later when we e-mailed them again to say we would award one person the title for the best jingle nearly 70 per cent opened and engaged with the brand again.”

Grenier said the dollars peeled out of traditional media spends for the integrated Band-Aid jingle campaign delivered results far beyond expectations.

“We generated tens of millions of new impressions, millions of event impressions, hundreds of thousands of trial experiences, and a very strong Web campaign.”

He said Johnson & Johnson, in a tough economic year, saw significant grown in sales, including double-digit sales growth on the Perfect Fit brand – a premium category, which was previously sliding.

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