P&G Gives Its Marketers a Crash Course in Social Media

Twittering Digerati Descend on Cincinnati HQ for 'Digital Hack Night' Charity Event

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- ­Procter & Gamble Co. paired 40 digital media and agency executives with 100 of its North American marketing directors in a contest to sell Tide T-shirts for charity last night as its much-awaited "Digital Hack Night" became a four-hour reality show aired largely in social media.

More than 2,000 Tide T-shirts were sold for charity at P&G's 'Digital Hack Night.'
More than 2,000 Tide T-shirts were sold for charity at P&G's 'Digital Hack Night.'
Among the lessons learned: Fewer than 150 media and marketing people leaning heavily on their social-media friends and followers, resorting to big-name incentives and spending a total of about $4,000 on digital media can sell more than 2,000 T-shirts at $20 a pop for charity and hit the top 10 trending topics on Twitter in the process.

Tide's Twitter honor
Tide attained that Twitter honor, if ever so briefly, in the last half hour of the contest before being elbowed out by four entries related to reports that Bristol Palin, daughter of former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, has broken up with her fiance.

In all, the four-team effort, which included executives from Google, Facebook, MySpace, Intuit and a host of other digital players, raised about $50,000 directly for the charity Feeding America and another $50,000 in a match from the Tide brand.

But charity wasn't the night's only objective. "We really wanted to come up with a learning experience for our marketing directors that would inspire them and expose them [to digital media] in a way they hadn't learned before," Lucas Watson, team leader for P&G's digital business strategy team and organizer of the event, said. The event also aimed to build stronger ties with digital media and agencies, and help recruit marketers to work at P&G, he said.

Twitter, though it served as a digital backbone for hawking Tide T-shirts, didn't send an executive, despite the invite, because it doesn't yet have anyone on the business side to handle such an appearance, Mr. Watson said.

Fierce competition
As might be expected with a group from P&G, competition got fierce. One group got Global Marketing Officer Marc Pritchard, in a short-lived YouTube video, to offer an hour of his services advising a nonprofit on cause-related marketing in return for a 100-shirt purchase. Greg Ross, director of media for North America, and Ted McConnell, general manager-interactive marketing and innovation, also offered to barter consulting services for similar purchases.

David Armano, VP-experience design at P&G digital shop Critical Mass, webcast the event through the agency website, alwaysinbeta.criticalmass.com. Numerous participants -- including Kelly Mooney, president of Resource Interactive, Columbus, Ohio, at mooneythinks.com, and Dave Knox, P&G digital brand strategist, at HardKnoxLife.com (he also passed along via Twitter an offer of two tickets to Google's Zeitgeist event in October) -- blogged the proceedings to promote T-shirt orders.

Others resorted to more conventional promotion. David Dintenfass, a marketing director for Vicks, got an offer posted on slickdeals.net, prompting a P&G colleague to note a recent lecture she had gotten against using digital coupons.

TotalBeauty.com CEO Emrah Kovacoglu blasted an e-mail appeal for T-shirt orders to his site's registered users -- albeit a few minutes after the contest deadline. Media participants weren't allowed to provide free media that would put their teams above the $1,000 spending limit.

"This wasn't meant to be a media-buying exercise," Mr. Watson said, but it did give P&Gers a real-time demonstration of the power of social media even without a big outlay. Screens throughout the expansive training center adjacent to P&G's 11th-floor executive suites tracked team efforts by web hits, closure rates and final sales.

Who else but P&G?
Probably no other company could get so many digital players in Cincinnati on a Wednesday night for an event whose purpose was almost entirely undisclosed in advance, said John Burbank, CEO of Nielsen Online.

"P&G has the obvious clout," he said. "But clout without imagination is nothing."

Eight years ago, Mr. Burbank was himself a brand manager for Pampers' online program.

"There was a group of us who were pioneers and had the arrows in our back to show it," he said. "The organization now is so much more embracing this kind of work now."

"It's for a great cause, which was the motivator for me, other than the fact that I'm competitive," said Andrea Theodore, marketing director for Olay, and co-leader of one team. "Experiencing the impact of digital in a way you can immediately see the impact is what it's all about."

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