February 14, 2007
Case Study

How CPG Company Goes Viral to Launch New Product

SUMMARY: Are you a CPG marketer having a hard time getting your bosses to approve a viral campaign because you can't add tangible results to the concept?

According to MarketingSherpa data, 37% of experienced B-to-C viral marketers use viral to build awareness, while 19% use it for direct sales. One potato chip maker wanted to see if they could produce both.

Discover how they attached their first-ever ecommerce venture onto a consumer involvement effort that the media pounced on and spread through the blogosphere.

"Our brand has been around for a quarter of a century, but we had surprisingly low awareness," says Michelle Peterman, VP Marketing, Kettle Foods. "Because our company has been so focused on distribution, resources to support awareness-building have been fairly constrained."

The potato chip maker hadn't done much emarketing except for a basic Web site, and upper management wasn't sold on the notion that the medium could translate into retail sales. In 2004, Peterman got what might be called a "yellow light" to do a multifaceted Web campaign. Now, she needed a plan.

While sorting through bags of fan mail filled with haikus, art projects and touching stories, she ran across several requests for a new chip flavor. That's when the epiphany hit: why not let fans choose the flavor?

Peterman knew she had some convincing to do. "Flavor development had been in a black box -- it was the Holy Grail. Not only was I going to have to make a case for trying an emarketing campaign, but also, 'Oh, by the way, the fans are going to tell us what to make.' "

Once Peterman's bosses warmed to the idea, the real work began. Her team needed to select chip flavors to be voted on, get them produced and distributed. Here are the five steps they took:

Step #1. Narrow selection

After deliberating over various pieces of customer feedback and consulting with Kettle Food's flavor architects, they narrowed the chip flavors for the 2006 "Happy Hour" campaign to five: Buffalo Bleu, Tuscan Three Cheese, Dirty Martini, Spicy Mary and Creamy Caesar.

The 2007 "Passport to Flavor" campaign, which ran last November/December, featured: Royal Indian Curry, Island Jerk, Aztec Chocolate, Twisted Chili Lime and Dragon 5 Spice.

Step #2. Tap into ecommerce

Key to encouraging participation was the ability for consumers to buy a party pack and taste all five chip flavors. In other words, Kettle Foods had to launch an ecommerce initiative. Peterman knew her bosses would like this since results could be attributed to the effort.

Still, she had to get other factions on board who would have to contribute to the process: the plant manager taking on small runs and the Web designer implementing ecommerce.

Step #3. Build an interactive site

After Peterman oversaw the building of a pilot Web site for the initial campaign, the 2006 run featured a fairly straightforward design that encouraged viewers to vote.

For 2007, the team wanted something more dynamic, employing a scrapbook-like design inspired by the fan mail Peterman had read early on. The Web pages used world-travel-related imagery for voting polls, message boards and email postcards. Each flavor had its own email postcard that could be forwarded to multiple friends.

For the first two weeks, the email entry slot wasn't paired with copy giving a compelling reason for consumers to provide their address. The team revamped the section to include "Vote Now" along with some other easy-to-read details to usher along the process.

Step #4. Mount the media blitz

Both campaigns featured PR runs targeting slightly upper-scale readers of general circulation food and/or lifestyle magazines as well as major-market newspapers. In the end, sample packages were mailed to the publications' food or lifestyle editors.

Step #5. Target blogs

Peterman and her team also turned to bloggers to create as much bounce as possible between the online/offline PR and the Web -- targeting SlashFood, Gizmodo and others.
Well, the ecommerce aspect produced very tangible evidence that the viral effort worked. The 2006 party packs sold out their initial run, and a subsequent order twice as big sold out in seven months. For 2007, they did even better, selling a similar amount in just two months.

The objective to increase sales easily beat Peterman’s expectations. In fact, the first new chip flavor was the most successful product introduction in the company’s history, exceeding sales projections with more than three times the sell-in to retailers. The buzz also boosted sales of the Kettle’s core line of chips and led to new deals with three major supermarket chains.

Even Kettle Foods' executives, sales reps and their behind-the-scenes specialists were impressed. The promotion became the company’s most talked-about marketing program with consumers and the media.

While 17% of site visitors gave an email address in the 2006 campaign, 44% signed up during the 2007 run. The conversion rate for Passport to Flavor doubled once the "Vote Now" feature was added.

Total votes for 2007 increased 7% over 2006’s much-longer campaign period. 18% of consumers who voted purchased a party pack both years. "They really sell -- they are not just little cutesy one-off products," Peterman says. "One of the biggest complaints we get is, 'I can't find Buffalo Bleu at my store. Get it to my store.' That's great [feedback]."

Peterman was just as pleased with the media blitz, as they garnered praise from publications, including Parade, Better Homes and Gardens, Saveur, Chow, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times.

Critical to this success was the decision to include sample packs so the journalists could actually taste the chips. “They were surprised at how great each flavor tasted and were more comfortable writing about the promotion,” she says. “Our Web traffic correlated closely with our media hits.”

Also showcasing the Web site's interactivity was the finding that 34% of the Passport to Flavor voters joined the message board discussions by authoring a post.

Finally, 31% of the traffic from the Happy Hour campaign arrived from blogs. "We got a lot more blog coverage than we ever had," Peterman says. "The awareness has been going great, but the engagement factor is now what we are turning dials with."

Useful links related to this story

Creative samples from Kettle Foods:

WebTrends - provided analytics:

Maxwell PR - handled publicity:

eROI - designed the Web pages:

Passport to Flavor:

Kettle Foods:

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