Social lesson No. 1: If your campaign isn't doing what you expected, make an adjustment.
That's what Reese's learned in changing the course of a buzz-building campaign for a new product reveal when its early hints on social media failed to generate the excitement it anticipated. In the end, however, its course correction led to deeper fan engagement.
Reese's Crunchy Cookie Cups will not be in stores until May, yet the Hershey Co. brand decided to start hinting at something in late February.
That decision stems in large part from what happened a year ago with a different product debut.
Last March, Reese's sped up the confirmation of a different new version of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups after a fan posted about the idea months before the product was set to hit stores and weeks before the brand planned to announce it. Those Reese's Pieces Peanut Butter Cups went on to become a major hit.
"Pieces Cup really just changed how we even think about marketing," said Reese's Senior Brand Manager Ryan Riess. "In the past, we never talked about a product until we had 60% distribution. It was not even when it came out, it would probably be a month or two after it was already on shelves."
The Reese's Pieces version of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups is doing so well that Hershey is adding more pack sizes including miniatures and a 12-pack. Sales in 2016 were more than four times what the team expected, Mr. Riess said.
"I thought it was going to be huge but I didn't realize it was going to be this huge," he said.
After the success of the Pieces Cups, Reese's decided to try to build buzz for the newest iteration, Reese's Crunchy Cookie Cups, with crunchy chocolate cookie pieces mixed in.
"We wanted to really spark the conversation, I'm not sure how much we wanted to lead the conversation," Mr. Riess said.
The effort began on Feb. 23 with vague teasers about something that might be coming from the brand. As people would comment and make suggestions about what it might be, Reese's would respond and try to keep the guessing game going. Fans posted guesses including whether it would be the return of a product, such as a cup with caramel, an "inside out" cup, or even the cup from about 20 years ago that had a layer of chocolate cookie on the bottom.
"The biggest thing that we didn't know is that balance between how direct and how subtle to be," Mr. Riess said.
In fact, Reese's went back to its agency partners after some subtlety did not break through as anticipated. A Feb. 25 post with a cookie recipe was a hit. But nearly no one mentioned how the brand's Cupmoji character came into the short video post in a cartoon including a folder marked "cupfidential" with the file number 5517 (a hint at the date it would be available in stores).
People commented on and shared the recipe, but the cupfidential aspects were barely mentioned.
So, the Reese's team and its agencies decided on the Cupspiracy board, a more direct way of mentioning clues. Reese's worked on the project with external partners including Soulsight, Arnold, Havas, UM and Ketchum.
"The board came about in one day after we saw that the campaign wasn't picking up the steam that we wanted," Mr. Riess said. "It was too subtle."
The Cupspiracy board came together quickly and remained a key element in the campaign moving forward. In all, Reese's posted six times before revealing the product on March 9.
The board gave more energy to consumer theories, which played a role in the way the work came together as the campaign progressed. Reese's would monitor engagement and work with media buying agency UM to determine when the next post might be needed and when to plan for the reveal.
"The critical moment was when fans got to the point where they were really excited and just wanted to figure out what this product from Reese's was," Mr. Riess said.
The campaign did not have a firm end date, though the team knew that it had to wrap up early enough to allow time to switch the brand conversation to two other big spring projects, NCAA March Madness and the upcoming Easter holiday.
Even once Reese's picked a date -- March 9 -- to announce what the product was and that it would be available in May, the introduction of Reese's Crunchy Cookie Cups was moved up a few hours. Hershey had planned to announce the product in the middle of the day. It had been sending some vague samples, with no wording on packaging, to select media. And on March 8, "The Today Show" reached out and said it wanted to run something on the reveal the morning of March 9.
The segment showed how people's own ideas, not corporate speak, were part of the conversation. Guest co-host Brooke Shields tasted the cup and quickly suggested the cookie pieces were from Oreo cookies. (Not only are Oreo-maker Mondelez International and Hershey rivals, but Hershey rejected Mondelez's $23 billion takeover offer last year.) Still, it was buzz. The new product news generated more than 200 media placements and 491 million impressions, including the "Today Show" segment and posts on sites including Delish, People and PopSugar.
When it came to the brand's own announcement, the strongest fan connections came on Facebook, where a reveal post has so far logged 20,000 likes, 6,300 shares, 5,000 comments and 30 million total impressions. On Twitter, a similar post led to 1,400 likes and more than 6.7 million total impressions.
For now, Reese's has turned its attention to March Madness and Easter. Later on, there's a chance the newest variety could make its way to TV, just as the Pieces Cups did. Even for that hit, TV was not part of the original plan.