CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Kraft and Coca-Cola spend millions of dollars to blanket the airwaves with expensive TV ads touting cheese and soda, but when it comes to social media, the marketers and their consumer-package-goods brethren are busy playing catch-up to consumers -- and other categories.
Oh, the reasons uttered for why these titans of marketing are slow to adapt to a social world: No one wants to be friends with toothpaste; marketing-mix models reinforce tried-and-true paid-media tactics; conversations don't scale for companies that need to move millions of products a year. But as consumers flock to the services, the behemoths are trying to tackle the shift.
At P&G and Kraft, social marketing is being adopted on a brand-by-brand basis. The idea is that every brand with a successful case study will help encourage others to venture into the space.
Consider, for example, how Kraft is wading into Twitter. Its Oscar Mayer Wienermobile drivers tweet about where to expect the next sighting and have nearly 800 followers. More recently the company decided to tap Twitter users to launch the DiGiorno Crispy Flatbread Pizza by delivering pizza to "tweetups," or in-person, social-media gatherings. (DiGiorno Pizza also has a Twitter handle but had just 28 followers at press time -- including this reporter.)
Social media at Kraft -- which is arguably further along than competitors such as General Mills -- starts in its department of new services, headed by Moshe Tamssot, or with a brand manager, and is filtered down to brand-specific public-relations teams for execution. The most recent success was Kraft's iFood iPhone application, which had consumers paying 99 cents to access Kraft recipes on the go.
Lucas Watson, global team leader-digital business strategy at Procter & Gamble, came from the Pampers brand -- one of the first P&G brands to successfully use social media. He organized the company's recent "Digital Hack Night" and said social media cannot be separated from the principles by which every brand manager works. "We have to bring social media into a brand-building framework," he said. "It's part of brand building, but it takes more-nuanced communication skills."
In contrast, the soda companies have corporate social-media-led departments and initiatives, often coming out of the corporate-communications world. "[Social media] goes back to the basics of what public relations and communications are," said Coca-Cola digital-communications director Adam Brown, who heads the company's social-media office, established last month. But it's only successful, he said, "when we are joined at the table [by] all the other organizations we deal with."
Bonin Bough, senior manager-social media at PepsiCo, said social media complements and enhances a broader strategy -- and it can scale. "One conversation with one person is impactful, depending on who they talk to after that," he said. A number of Pepsi brands are tweeting, including Quaker, Pepsi and Sobe. Mountain Dew and others also have a robust presence on Facebook.
One early lesson is that big budgets don't buy friends and followers. Unilever marketing chief Simon Clift has admitted to the company's problems adjusting to the world of social media, and suggested that a big marketing budget may simply encourage companies to be lazy about adapting to the new social world order.
Even products as close to consumers' hearts as beer have figured that out. Bud Light created a rich interface for its "Drinkability" Facebook fan site, adding NCAA Tournament tie-ins and buying banner ads to try to boost its base. The site has 1,743 fans compared with 3.1 million on Nutella's largest fan site, which has had no ad support.
Letting fans lead
Interestingly, it was fans who built the Nutella site, more evidence that marketers' best-laid plans can be perceived as scripted, and many successful fan sites remain consumer-generated ones. Along with Nutella, Coca-Cola and Pringles have three of the 10 most popular fan pages. Coca-Cola's page was created by a pair of Coke-drinking consumers, but the beverage giant assumed ownership of the page by approaching them with a joint operating agreement.
P&G's Pringles bears the distinction of having Facebook's most popular marketer-generated fan page, with about 2.8 million fans. The strategy for getting so big: consolidation. Digital shop Bridge Worldwide, Cincinnati, suggested the brand essentially compile pre-existing fan pages into the one larger page, which went up in December, said Pringles brand manager Michael Burdeny. "Once we got everyone together, there was a critical mass," he said. "There were more posts, there was more video, it was a snowball effect."
And while a solution to the ROI-measurement impediment appears to be on the horizon, many brands call such a concept "premature."
Tom Moe, director-marketing for DiGiorno Pizza, said while Kraft has hard and fast rules for determining ROI in most of its $3 billion marketing investment, return on social-media investment is a fuzzy picture. DiGiorno will determine ROI for the upcoming tweetups by virtue of blog, Twitter and Facebook chatter.
P&G's Mr. Burdeny put it a different way: "For us this is a long-term strategy, and only time will tell," he said, adding that social media is a tiny slice of overall spending, "and the fans are doing most of the work for us." "The cost of not playing would be a lot higher down the road," he said.
~ ~ ~
Natalie Zmuda and Jeremy Mullman contributed to this report.