Yes, you read that right. Staid old supermarket staples, once scoffed at as laggards in digital media, are charging online at an unprecedented pace -- and their efforts are being rewarded: Traffic to industry websites in the past year has grown twice as fast as the U.S. internet population.
Unique visitors to package-goods brand websites soared 10% compared with a year ago in the third quarter to 66.4 million, according to data shared exclusively with Ad Age by ComScore. The tally is double the 5% rise in the U.S. internet users to 181.9 million.
The traffic increase, according to ComScore, appears to come primarily from a surge in online display advertising from package-goods players, who, while relatively late to embrace the medium, are now coming on strong.
Mars' Uncle Ben's site, for example, which cracked the industry's top 10 last quarter, according to ComScore, did so primarily by using targeted banner ads on Oprah.com and FoodNetwork.com. They generated nearly 2 million of the 3.6 million visits the site received in the third quarter. UncleBens.com traffic surged more than 1,700% from a year ago.
Displaying the goods
While search is also a big driver of traffic to package-goods sites, as ComScore reported in October, most of the recent increase has come from online display, said Carolina Petrini, senior VP-consumer package goods solutions at ComScore.
"I think 2007 has been a big year overall for CPG," Ms. Petrini said. "You will see products being advertised on home pages of major portals, such as Bertolli [a Unilever brand] or Contadina [Del Monte Foods] on the Yahoo.com home page. You never saw that before this year."
Much of the growth comes from food marketers, who occupied all 10 of the top spots in ComScore's third-quarter industry scorecard. But that doesn't count what most likely would have been the industry's most heavily visited site, Johnson & Johnson's Baby Center, which ComScore excluded because it's essentially a media and e-tailing site.
Sure to be controversial, however, is that some of the biggest and fastest-growing sites are for candy or heavily sweetened snacks and soft drinks with content geared mainly toward children. Food marketers who've largely withdrawn from child-oriented TV programming are finding plenty of children are willing to follow their brands to the web.
For example, Millsberry.com, a site featuring games and ads for such General Mills brands as Fruit Roll-Ups and Cocoa Puffs cereal, saw an 11% increase in traffic from last year to nearly 5 million visitors in the third quarter -- an audience that easily surpasses those of many individual children's programs.
Others in the top 10 include the rapidly growing My Coke Rewards, with purchase-based prizes aimed heavily at teens; Hersheys.com; Mars' MMs.com; and Candystand, a site roughly a decade old that has supported Lifesavers through three corporate owners.
"I think that because of growing public outrage about advertising to children on television that marketers are working to find other ways to insinuate their brands into children's lives," said Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "They're turning to the web and also, I think, increasingly finding ways to advertise in schools."
Of course, the growth in package-goods sites isn't all about kids. Top sites also include KraftFoods.com and sibling NabiscoWorld.com; General Mills' BettyCrocker.com; and Mars' MyMMs.com, a site used largely by adults to create customized assortments of M&M's candies, which saw traffic grow 79% in the past year behind stepped-up offline and online advertising.
Personal-care and household-products marketers are stepping up their web investments too. L'Oréal Paris last week announced a revamped site, lorealparis.com, from Interpublic Group of Cos.' R/GA, New York, featuring recommendations for its beauty products and videos of its stable of celebrity endorsers, with an online and offline campaign behind it to break in January.
Buying into digital newsprint
Heavyweights Unilever and Procter & Gamble Co., while never big run-of-press advertisers in newspapers since the advent of radio and TV, have stepped up their advertising on newspapers sites in the past year behind such brands as Degree for Unilever and DayQuil/NyQuil and Crest for P&G, notes Jane Newman, senior sales executive with the Newspaper National Network.
Despite the increases, however, most package-goods marketers are far from catching up with the general market. P&G's internet spending as a share of total measured spending was 2.1% in the first half, up from 1.4% a year ago but still well below the 7.6% average found by TNS Media Intelligence. Although Unilever spent 5% of its first-half media outlay online, it was below-average too.