ANA Annual Meeting 2014

How Red Vines is Gaining Even as Its Organic Social Reach Falls

Candy Maker American Licorice Explains its Creative Social Tactics

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Founded 100 years ago, American Licorice remains an underdog in the candy industry, hugely outspent by giants such as Hershey Co., Mondelez International and Mars Inc. Making things even tougher for the maker of Red Vines licorice is the fact that its aggressive use of social media is not getting the same organic reach it once did because of policy changes by the likes of Facebook.

Michael Kelly, the marketer's media and consumer communications manager, lamented the problem on Thursday during the Association of National Advertisers' "Masters of Marketing" conference in Orlando.

"To add insult to injury, the brands that have invested the most time energy, energy and spend to build up our fan bases, we have the smallest percentage of fans organically seeing our content," he said. Bigger marketers can cut deals with social platforms to secure the best inventory and best rates, he said. But "if you are one of the small players like us, you really have to get creative," he added.

The company, which handles much of its marketing in-house, is answering the challenge with scrappy efforts like "Licorice Flix," a Kickstarter-funded effort, pictured in the video above, in which an artist recreated famous movie scenes made from Red Vines. The "edible movie mosaics" by Jason Mecier were made from some 200 pounds of licorice, Mr. Kelly said. The stunt gained free media attention, while fulfilling the brand's purpose of delivering "happy consumer experiences," he said.

The brand was also among the early adopters of Vine. Because what else would you expect from a brand called Red Vines?

Some of the brand's early stop-motion video efforts, including an early one called "Whoopi #Vineburg" -- which was an image that replaced the celeb's hair with licorice -- was just "us simply going in and trying to figure out how this thing works," Mr. Kelly said.

But as the brand learned how to get more sophisticated, its Vine tactics gained more attention and broke through, he said. "We got to the point on Vine where we got such a reputation ... that some of our partners like Regal theaters started to tag us in their own Vines," he said.

Scrappy digital tactics like this have helped the company grow awareness, even as its organic reach falls, Mr. Kelly said. Red Vines, which has traditionally been a regional, western brand, has achieved a 20 point jump in its awareness scores in the East, "where we've never even done any proactive, traditional advertising," he said.

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