Consumer advocacy has taken on a new importance in the digital age, as opinions expressed by consumers on social media can make or break a business. The exponential nature of social media ensures that if a digital consumer posts or tweets about his/her impressions of a company, this opinion can reach not one other person but dozens, hundreds, or even thousands, all of whom have followers of their own. Indeed, the near-instantaneousness of information dissemination through social media gives consumers enormous power in the digital world, power that forces businesses to become more transparent and accountable.
Customer care has become a strategic priority for businesses; the new focus of social engagement is to target a small percentage of “social advocates” who are most enthusiastic and vocal about the product or service instead of attempting to reach a broader general audience.
Following are three case studies that illustrate how social consumer advocacy operates in the digital age.
Case Study 1: Unilever “Marmarati”
Unilever wanted to create a digital strategy to introduce its new variety of extra-strong Marmite, a spread popular in the United Kingdom that most people either love or hate.
Unilever (1) recognized that consumers hold power, so the company (2) used the Advocates and Champions of the brand as a basis to create “buzz” about the product.
To introduce its new extra-strong variety, Unilever decided that it had to activate the customers who were already crazy about Marmite. They searched social media for anyone who seemed to have an “unhealthy obsession” with Marmite and invited a small group of these people into an elite and mysterious group called the “Marmarati,” as the focus of the brand’s digital campaign.
Unilever created the Marmarati concept with the Victorian-style, elite, Masonic-type club of yesteryear in mind, even going as far as to design the group’s story, complete with a history, traditions, crest, and even an enemies list. Unilever made the group humorously secret and complex, and invited lovers of Marmite who were most active and vocal on social media to a secret taste-testing where they were inducted into the “First Circle” of Marmarati and asked to recruit others to the cause. Unilever then rolled out the Marmarati website which accepted applications for new members, granted that they uploaded “proof of their love.” Winners were awarded a place in the highly coveted “Second Circle.”
Unilever asked for customer support and feedback throughout the campaign. Unilever gave its customers a say in many of the product decisions, including the design of the new Marmite jar and even the final taste of the product. This created buzz for Marmite and drummed up excitement for its retail launch, where the new product sold out in many places. Unilever also made its brand advocates and champions feel special through their inclusion in an elite group and invitations to events and giveaways. Unilever created a marketing campaign and successful product launch through a highly targeted integrated digital marketing strategy that did not use any paid media and cost only 20% of a typical product launch.
Unilever’s actions reflect the ascendency of the New Marketing Normal and the Digital Involvement Cycle over traditional marketing tactics. By leveraging the power of the consumer, Unilever was able to reach out to brand Champions to generate low-cost publicity for its campaign. As these super fans began spreading the word through social media, Unilever rolled out its campaign website to activate a larger group of brand Advocates.
In other words, Unilever leveraged the social consumer advocacy of its “trusted” Champions to promote its campaign more efficiently and cost-effectively than traditional marketing ever could.
- What were the core values that Unilever incorporated into the campaign that led to its success?
- Unilever’s approach to selling its new product was unique and quirky. Why did a unique campaign like this, one that might not appeal to the average consumer, work for Unilever?
- Think about the relationships Unilever fostered with its consumers. Were they organic? Long-term?
Case Study 2: The Biggest MINI Ever
MINI needed a creative way to connect with audiences and get them interested in the new MINI Countryman, the biggest MINI ever. With the release of the new Countryman, MINI wanted to emphasize the roominess of the new car without losing the “MINI” connection with its brand.
MINI (1) promoted consumer interaction (2) used digital technology to enable customers to pose and have their pictures projected onto the windows of the new MINI and (3) turned walk-bys into extended online and offline interaction with the product.
MINI decided to focus its campaign around answering the question: How many people can fit into a MINI?
The “MINI World Record” campaign encouraged consumers to fit the largest number of people they could into a single MINI Countryman car. The goal of the campaign was to promote connection and customer interaction while emphasizing to customers that the new MINI had plenty of room. The proof was in the results.
This creative campaign was made possible by digital technology. Fiberglass replicas of the new MINI were situated in eight malls across the UK. Individuals could press their faces against a pane of glass and instantly have it projected into the windows of the MINI replica as if they were inside the car. Participants were able to upload the pictures of their record attempts to their Facebook page; MINI kept track of the attempts on the company’s website and Facebook page.
MINI sold out in the UK before it was formerly launched. The results confirmed the campaign as a great success. It garnered over 250k social media shares and mentions in just 8 days. More than 10,000 people were “digitally crammed” into the new car. Most importantly, MINI managed to turn a 30 second walk-by view of the new car into a customer interaction that on average lasted 7 minutes. MINI used digital technology and social media in a creative way to attract consumers’ attention, and then turned the connection into conversion.
- Less than 10% of the participants in MINI’s World Record campaign posted the picture to their Facebook page. Does this tell us something about Facebook or how traditional interaction and digital interaction are working together in our world (or both)?
- Who did the campaign appeal to? How did MINI manage to engage consumers, even those who weren’t thinking about buying a new car?
Case Study 3: Oreo Instagram
Oreo wanted to develop a conversation with its consumers and promote positive interactions and relationships with its brand advocates.
Oreo developed a digital campaign that (1) went beyond words (2) interacted with customers, and (3) took advantage of an unexpected event to succeed in conveying brand value.
During the 2013 Super Bowl, Oreo shared a viral commercial about an argument in a library where two gentleman are whispering (of course, it’s a library) back and forth about which part of the Oreo they like best. Following the commercial, Oreo told viewers to “choose their side” on Instagram, and gave viewers the ability to share their opinions about which part of the Oreo they like best.
Within minutes of airing the commercial, Oreo became the fastest growing Instagram account in history. During the Super Bowl, Oreo had professionals on staff to interact with new followers and post Instagram photos about the game. For instance, the Super Bowl had the famous “black out” where the game was put on hold for about thirty minutes. Oreo used this to its advantage, posting “You can still dunk in the dark.”
Following the buzz of the commercial and thousands of new Instagram followers, Oreo wanted to keep the momentum going. Oreo came up with the “Cream This and Cookie This” campaign to continue the engagement with the brand’s new followers. Oreo’s followers could use the hashtags “#CookieThis” and “#CreamThis” and post various photos of objects they would like to see in cream or cookie form. Oreo hired a number of artists to transform these objects using actual Oreo cream and cookie products.
For both campaigns, Oreo went beyond words in its customer interactions, instead focusing on interesting and easily understandable visual messages through Instagram.
Oreo used Instagram to drive social interaction and engagement beyond its wildest expectations. Oreo staff worked during the Super Bowl to give new followers a feeling that they were part of the brand.
Oreo parlayed the brand’s initial success into another social campaign.
Oreo’s nimble response to both the Super bowl black out and the success of its initial campaign show how well the company was able to take advantage of the opportunities presented, leveraging social media to create buzz, develop relationships, engage its audience, and build social consumer advocacy.
- How did Oreo use Instagram to engage with its audience?
- How successful was Oreo in turning its new Instagram followers into brand advocates?