Facebook Turns Focus Group With Splenda Product-Sampling App

Sweetener Uses Site to Give Consumers First Look at Its New Mist Spray and Gather Feedback Pre-Rollout

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Sixteen-thousand samples distributed, 3,100 fans professing their admiration and 1,500 product surveys completed.

Those are the results from a first-of-its-kind campaign conducted by Splenda for its Splenda Mist prototype, a pocket-size spray form of the sweetener, which has yet to hit the market. Traditionally, marketers in that situation might peddle freebies at grocery stores, embrace street sampling or organize focus groups. Splenda instead turned to Facebook.

BROWN: 'It's another tool in which to explore a product idea ... in a very efficient way.'
BROWN: 'It's another tool in which to explore a product idea ... in a very efficient way.'
"Facebook offered us the opportunity not only to advertise with a brand message and a product message but also the opportunity to solicit feedback and to have our target raise their hand and say, 'I want to sample this product,'" said Ivy Brown, group product director-Splenda.

The campaign used engagement ads to direct consumers to the Splenda Mist page, where through a custom sampling application, they could sign up for a "first look" at the new product. Splenda grabbed names, shipping addresses and e-mail addresses but also demographic data including gender and age range. When consumers signed up for a sample or became a fan of the product, it showed up in their feeds, which Ms. Brown said helped the campaign spread virally. Splenda had hoped to distribute 10,000 samples in 12 weeks; instead, it gave away more than 16,000 samples in two weeks. Starting Monday, Facebook plans to launch a sampling-based engagement ad, the sixth type of "engagement ad" it's launched.

J3, New York, handles media for Splenda, and BBDO, New York, is its digital agency. CBX, New York, worked on the design of Mist.

Friends of Splenda
Other brands have offered samples to fans or promoted giveaways through Facebook, but the Splenda campaign differed in that it cultivated a group specifically for the purpose of sampling a prototype -- and gathering feedback. Rollout details have not yet been finalized, but a limited amount of the product is available through Splenda's website.

Testing tips
This week Facebook plans to introduce a limited test of a sampling engagement ad. Here, three things you should know if you're considering a market test.

  • It won't replace a formal focus group, but it can provide plenty of information that you wouldn't necessarily gather in street sampling.
  • As people interact with the engagement ad, reach can be extended. Just like in the offline world, you don't want to run out of samples.
  • Once you've invited people in, don't abandon them. Give them regular product updates to encourage a sense of ownership.
  • Ms. Brown said the brand gathered valuable feedback from its target, women 25 and older, as well as those outside its target. The data are still being sifted through, but Ms. Brown said they are being used to plan the next stage of the rollout.

    "It's another tool in which to expose a product idea, concept or actual product to a particular target in a very efficient way," Ms. Brown said.

    Media experts, however, point out that the concept of Facebook as focus group, while intriguing for brands, is not a game changer for the site. "It's not necessarily a huge moneymaker for them, because it's a very niche play," said Ian Schafer, CEO-Founder of Deep Focus, an interactive-engagement-marketing agency. "For Facebook, the ad revenue comes in the form of doing this on a continual basis with lots of brands."

    Still, Tom Arrix, VP-U.S. sales at Facebook, said other consumer-products companies are taking note of the ever-expanding possibilities the social network has to offer.

    "There are conversations on an ongoing basis about brands out there," Mr. Arrix said. "Innovative brand teams can come into a platform like Facebook, glean insights and make real-time decisions."

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