"The competition is fierce," says AnnDee Soderberg
Internet Marketing Manager, Kellogg's Snack Division.
"Competitors had so much more scale and volume than what we
could have achieved both offline and online."
She hoarded her limited promotions budget to focus on times of
year - Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc - when consumers were
most likely to be interested in cooking. Unfortunately this
meant her ads had less impact because steady message frequency is
critical for brand awareness campaigns.
"We had to be more scrappy, and come up with something we could
own as a company. We looked at offline programs, POS recipe
booklets, relationships with milk vendors… but none of that was
going to cut through the clutter."
Soderberg was committed to relying on classic offers, "We know
what women online want from consumer packaged goods -- recipes
and promotion information." So, to stand out in the marketplace
she had to come up with a radically new way of delivering them.
Soderberg wanted to do something no CPG had done before: build an
instant messaging "RecipeBuddie" that AOL IM users could interact
The test would be risky. To make the campaign payback properly,
Soderberg had to get several Kellogg's brands to agree to
dedicate almost all their annual online spend on it. They
wouldn’t have leftover funds for email campaigns, or other online
promotions. The RecipeBuddie would be it.CAMPAIGN
Soderberg started by selling the idea internally.
"There were no similar programs to compare it to. In a large
company that's usually your biggest obstacle -- to get somebody
to believe in something that hasn't been proven."
She started by spreadsheeting three sets of potential campaign
results -- very conservative, moderate, and aggressive success.
"I broke it down to ROI, showing cost per unique user, and CPM.
Brands understand this."
The most conservative response metrics still showed a lower CPM
than other campaigns the brands had been considering. Plus,
Soderberg's boss was squarely in favor of the campaign. So she
got the go-ahead to start.
Although six brands agreed to pool resources (including Club
Crackers, ReadyCrust, and Vanilla Wafer) the brands' existing
recipe libraries didn't cover every aspect of cooking. And
Soderberg figured if users didn't find RecipeBuddie useful the
first time, they'd never use it again.
So, she partnered with Cooking Light, among other content
providers, to create a fuller library.
For the same reason, she decided RecipeBuddie would be its own
brand. Kellogg's various brands would be sponsors, but not
appear to limit or determine its answers.
Next, work began on the script - the answers that RecipeBuddie
would give to every question or comment the team figured
consumers might ask it (more than 2,000 answers in all.) The
scripting team shared these seven tips with us for you:
Tip #1. Start with a personality memo
"We developed a full biography," explains Soderberg. "She's
35, married, lives in the suburbs of Chicago. She has two
kids, two pets. It's obvious she's not a real person, but
this allowed us to make sure the voice conveyed the essence of
the brand. She should be coming back with comments that fit
For example, the personality was not one that would use
abbreviations beloved by IMing teens such as "gr82CU instead
of "great to see you." "We would have been alienating an
Tip #2. Include answers for off-topic remarks
The hardest part of writing the script was in figuring out
what sorts of comments consumers might try that required
answers. The team assumed that because the Buddy mimics the
experience of IMing a real person, consumers would expect a
conversational style they would not get from a traditional
search tool for a recipe library.
Plus, instead of asking about food, they might test the Buddy
with off-topic questions such as "what's your favorite color?"
(The answer, "My favorite is yellow. In fact my kitchen is
painted yellow. What's yours?")
If a consumer went too far off topic, the Buddy would gently
lead them back to cooking and recipes.
If a consumer used profanity, the Buddy was primed to answer
with a neutral remark. If the consumer continued, the Buddy
would stop answering.
Tip #3. Prompt users to ask specific questions
The team worried consumers trying the tool for the first time
might have "blank page syndrome" and not know what to type.
So the Buddy was also programmed to break the ice with
conversational gambits such as "Are you a cat or a dog
person?" and "Try typing 'recipes for entertaining'."
Tip #4. Keep answers under 50 words including a link
There isn’t much room in an IM box, and most people don’t like
to read for very long. So, answers to most questions were
under 50-words, and many were under 20. Yes, this word count
includes hotlinks as well as polite comments flavoring the
exchange with personality.
Tip #5. Test inserting text-link promos occasionally
Soderberg wanted to use the Buddy to get the word out for
specific brand promotions as well as the recipe library. She
included text-links that are clearly a sponsor's offer (as
opposed to RecipeBuddie's conversation) every once and awhile
She tested varying frequencies - ranging from inserts every
third to fifth message. Offers might include sweeps entries
and printable PDFs of a few compiled recipes.
Tip #6. Recognize and welcome repeat users
The Buddy was programmed to recognize repeat users and to
greet them as such.
Tip #7. Make destinations remarkably easy-to-use
The point of using IM is that it's fast and easy. This brand
experience would be destroyed if the links the Buddy pointed
toward were a pain to navigate.
So the team developed a recipe card format. (Link to samples
below.) If you clicked on a suggested recipe, instead of
going to an entire site, you'd simply see a pop-up mimicking a
classic 3x5 recipe card.
Your window with the Buddy would remain open in the background
so you could continue the conversation if you wanted.
Soderberg's team launched RecipeBuddie in October 2002 by testing
with a wide variety of online ad formats, most of which resembled
IM chat invitations (link to samples below.) Ads appeared on
Burst Network, AOL, AllRecipes.com, Kellogg's own sites, and a
variety of other places.
Soderberg's spreadsheeted calculations were way off.
"We had no idea we'd blow away our most aggressive user
estimates," she says. Not only did many more consumers try out
RecipeBuddy than she'd expected, but each month RecipeBuddie got more than 50% repeat users - which shows consumers love it. "Once you start, you continue to use it."
To put that in perspective, Soderberg says, "Other CPG sites
struggle to get 10-15% of consumers coming back to use a site
month after month."
Consumers also actually tell RecipeBuddie how much they like the
service. "We've had more than 100,000 people say 'Thank you' or
'I love you.' You don't get that in any other medium, period."
The team reviews messaging reports weekly to watch for patterns,
and spot problems. One thing they learned almost immediately was
that some consumers were querying in Spanish. So, they
immediately scripted a response where RecipeBuddie explained she
was trying to learn Spanish now and hoped to be able to speak it
One question that never came up, "Are you a real person?"
RecipeBuddie has scripted answers for this contingency, but no one
ever asks. Although consumers tend to treat RecipeBuddie much
like a person (such as typing, "Thank you") they know they are
communicating with a software program.
Repeat users quickly learn how to use RecipeBuddie efficiently,
and conversations end up being shorter and more pointed. So, the
best timing for adding in sponsored links is one every three
messages instead of every five. Otherwise a link might not be
displayed for quick conversations.
The PDF recipe booklet offers are very popular - roughly 50,000
consumers have downloaded a PDF so far.
Soderberg notes that just like email now, someday there could be
buddy overload. "We're in that 2-3 year sweet spot. After that
people will be so much more selective about who they allow on
their buddy list." So, if you'd like to create one for your
brand, don't delay.
Useful links related to this story:
Creative samples of banners and RecipeBuddie screenshots:
emedia, inc., the agency that helped Kellogg's develop, script
and promote RecipeBuddy:
ActiveBuddy, the technology company powering RecipeBuddy:
MarketingSherpa Case Study on a similar buddy campaign where
Warner Bros. targeted online teens: