Burdened by age restrictions, alcohol companies have been among the last marketers to embrace social media. After all, a good chunk of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube users are under 21, which means they are off limits, according to industry regulations. But in recognition that they can no longer ignore the fast-growing medium, beer and spirits companies are getting more aggressive.
A notable example is liquor marketer Diageo, which has forged a particularly close bond with Facebook, turning to the social-media giant for advice on running some 30 brands that now have their own pages. Or to be more precise, Facebook has come to Diageo. Company representatives visit Diageo's North American headquarters in Connecticut to conduct "boot camps" in which social-media experts serve up advice on how best to use Facebook to market everything from Guinness beer to Smirnoff vodka.
"It's really about learning directly from the experts," said Kristin Ganong, Diageo North America's VP-digital strategy and engagement. "This is probably the fastest-changing face within the digital sphere right now, so being able to hear from those that are leading that charge is an invaluable opportunity." Globally, some 950 Diageo marketers have been trained since the partnership was formed last year. And in that time the marketer has boosted its Facebook fan total from 3.5 million to 10 million, CEO Paul Walsh said on a recent earnings call, adding that "over the coming year our partnership will see us develop further marketing innovation and consumer intelligence to support our brands."
Indeed, the Financial Times reported Sunday that Diageo has struck a deal to spend more than $10 million on Facebook ads in return for "early access to forthcoming features and consultancy to make its campaigns 'social by design.' " Also, Diageo Chief Marketing Officer Andy Fennell will sit on Facebook's new "client council," which includes other marketers such as Coca-Cola, the Financial Times reported.
So what has Diageo learned so far? For one, the marketer is getting tips on how to use Facebook's ever-evolving set of new products. For example, while Diageo has shied away from promoting online check-ins at bars and restaurants for legal reasons, Facebook pointed out that the rules allow it to use Facebook Places to promote company-owned assets, such as its wineries. (Like other alcohol marketers, Diageo relies on birth dates in user profiles to lock out underage users. Facebook has said it has systems in place to verify ages.)
The marketing strategy is "not just about the number of fans we have, but really the engagement that we are being able to drive with those fans," Ms. Ganong said. "Facebook has certainly been helpful in terms of helping us get some of that information." And Diageo is picking up new insights on its fans, whose preferences vary from brand to brand.
For instance, Diageo is finding that its Guinness fans are into recipes. A recent post linking to a video on Guinness-inspired flank steak marinade drew nearly 1,000 likes and 60 comments. Diageo uses a markedly different approach for Jeremiah Weed, a brand of bourbon liqueurs, flavored vodkas and malt beverages that are mostly targeted at males. On the brand's Facebook page, a sexy bartender named Nancy interacts with fans, often replying to them personally in videos, while giving away limited quantities of free T-shirts and pin-up posters.
Crown Royal fans, meantime, are all about the brand's iconic purple-cloth bag. One fan recently lined up a bunch of bags and posted a photo with this caption: "38 empty crown bags = so many memories," while other fans have posted photos of bag-inspired quilts, curtains, pillows and more. Diageo seized on the fan passion, publishing a coffee-table book featuring the creations.
But the company walks a fine line, careful to allow consumers to steer the conversation. "There's always a delicate balance," Ms. Ganong said. "You don't want to necessarily take an insight and expose it to the point of where now the brand is capitalizing on it, because that takes away from the intrigue," she said. "You don't want to over-commercialize it."