Nestlé Social Media Nightmare

19 03 2010

I’m watching what’s happening at Nestlé with a lot of interest. I think we should all be watching carefully.

If you’re not up to speed, here’s what’s happening.

Greenpeace has targeted Nestlé in a campaign against palm oil. Here’s the Greenpeace Orangutan web site. And here’s some good background on the story.

Twitter is aggressively and gleefully helicoptering in enormous vats of gasoline to pour into the anti-Nestlé firestorm.

And, precisely on cue, the Internet’s townspeople have gathered their pitchforks and torches to storm the castle.

Here’s the Nestlé “fan” page on Facebook. Yikes.

Some of the snarkiest anti-Nestlé voices are from self-appointed social media experts. There’s a little too much glee for my tastes about picking on a company that has found itself in trouble.

Has Nestlé handled this unexpected attack flawlessly?  Perhaps not. But none of us are perfect. And that goes double when the stakes are high.

Before You Break Out Your Own Pitchfork…

The attack on Nestlé is not entirely fair.

They are not the only company on Earth that buys palm oil. Palm oil is widely used in the production of food and cosmetics.

And it’s not like they’re callously ignoring the issue, either.

As The Guardian points out, like Unilever and Kraft, Nestlé is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a consortium of buyers and producers promoting sustainably produced palm oil.

It’s all unfolding now, but a few lessons seem clear:

  • Social media gurus advocate “giving up control of your brand” and “conducting business transparently”.  This can be fun when people are on your side. Nestlé is learning that it’s a lot less fun when they’re not.
  • When you give up control of your brand people may not treat it the way you would like.
  • Transparency means people will see you naked sometimes. You will not always look good naked.
  • It’s a bad idea to “engage with consumers openly” when it suits you, and then slam down the castle gate when the mob turns ugly.
  • When the crowd turns against you, all the “sharing” tools you have given them can — and will — be turned against you too.
  • There are a group of people who relish “sticking it to the man”. They will always be first in line handing out pitchforks and torches.

I’m not suggesting that companies should avoid social media entirely.

What I am saying is that companies that do go there need to go in with their eyes wide open.

 Social media is like anything else in life. There are risks and rewards. And it’s not always easy going.

Lastly, beware the advice to abandon control of your brand. You are responsible for your brand’s success or failure, and you can’t crowdsource the job or make excuses when things get tough.

To borrow a line from an old song, “it’s a thin line between love and hate”.

Nestlé is a great company in a tough spot. I’m rooting for Nestlé to get this right, in every sense: not just the crisis management issue but the longer-term product issue.

Are You Selling Cave Swiftlet Saliva Or Kraft Cheese?

18 02 2010

What publishers must learn from CPG:  my latest blogpost at Jack Myers MediaBizBloggers. A brief preview:

We can ask, “how can publishers stop content from being commoditized?” but it won’t help.

I think it’s time for a weirder but more productive question.

Are You Selling Cave Swiftlet Saliva Or Kraft Cheese?

Cave Swiftlet saliva is the main ingredient in bird’s nest soup. It’s so rare and so differentiated that a bowl of soup made from it goes for about $30. Nice business. But the other 99% of what people consume are essentially commodities. Salt. Coffee. Cheese. Publishers can learn a lot from consumer packaged goods companies. Especially food marketers.

How would a food company look at the problem of commoditized content?

Read more here.

Social Media Link Roundup: Unilever, Kraft, P&G and Obama

26 01 2009

Monday links to explore:
Babs Rangaiah of Unilever: Video From Monaco Media Forum Video

Marketers Should Be In Charge Of Social Media
Today’s Ad Age asks “Who in corporate America owns the consumer relationship, the customer experience, word-of-mouth or social media? The answer appears to be nobody.”

A BlogHer Mommy Blogger’s Visit to P&G

2009 Web Predictions
Lots here about Twitter, Facebook, Google, Yahoo

Brand Obama, Social Media and Lessons Learned
Good article from Jason Heller

If Dilbert Worked In Advertising
Funny because it’s true.

Kraft Apple iPhone App: iFood, the Video
Useful 3 minute video overview of the Kraft app here. By the way, Kraft iFood also works on the iPod Touch.

Kraft Apple iPhone App: iFood (Screenshots)
And good screen shots here.

Don’t Dream It, Be It: The Velveeta Manifesto and Marketing In Hard Times

10 11 2008

In hard times, poor marketers have a million excuses.

“My brand is too old-fashioned to do anything cool”. “My budget is too small”. “I’d be an awesome marketer if I could only work on a really hot brand”.

frank_tattooWhy not do something great right now, today?

In the immortal words of Dr. Frank N. Furter, “don’t dream it, be it”.

(Immortal? Really? Yes. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the longest running release in film history.)

Velveeta is, perhaps, not the world’s sexiest brand. And I’m guessing they don’t have the biggest budget ever.

Bad marketers make excuses. Good marketers make progress with any brand, in any economy.

Here’s what Velveeta is doing right.

The Velveeta Casserole Challenge Blogger Campaign

Kraft is running a challenge that asks five top Mommy bloggers (Suburban Bliss, Miss Zoot, Confessions of an Apron Queen, My Wooden Spoon and Livin’ With Me!) to use Velveeta to create casseroles for four for under $10. The recipes appear online through Nov. 23, where visitors can vote for their favorite.

Why is this a great idea? What lessons can we learn from what they’re doing?

Focus On What You Can Control

You can’t control when the economy will get better. You can’t control what people will buy, or won’t buy. You can’t get twice as clever with your positioning and market research and double your results. When the economy turns sour, it’s time to focus on the fundamentals.

Velveeta can help feed a family of four for $10. That’s not a glamorous promise. But it’s simple and clear. And for a lot of families it’s hugely relevant.

Velveeta was born in 1928 and was barely a year old when the stock market crashed and The Great Depression hit America. If this was a brand that didn’t know how to deliver value, it couldn’t have survived. This campaign taps into what’s fundamental about the brand.

bloggersIt’s fair to say that a value message focused on recipes ain’t exactly revolutionary stuff for a food company. And this effort won’t pick up any medals at awards time. But, presented in a fresh and contemporary way that leverages Moms talking to Moms about what matters, it’s very smart business.

Don’t Believe The Hype

“Newspaper and TV journalists see their industry shrinking daily, reinforcing their tendency to see the economic glass as half empty—and draining.” —Paul Maidment, editor,, in an interview with eMarketer

The age of always-on news means that the same stories get beaten into the ground relentlessly. Watch CNN for more than an hour, and you’ll be looking around for your suicide pistol. Ignore the news, and focus on your brand and the opportunities that exist NOW.

Look For The Win-Win

In a tough economy, it’s hard for Kraft to put growth numbers on the board. But it’s also true that in a tough economy, it’s hard for Moms to put something interesting on the table.

There’s a win-win staring you in the face for this brand, if you’re paying attention. Good for Kraft for keeping their eyes open.

Find The “Blessing In The Broken-ness”

My wife’s uncle is a priest. He’s always reminding us to “find the blessing in the broken-ness” — in other words, in everything bad that happens there’s always — always — an opportunity to find a gift.

What new opportunities has this bad economy opened for your brand? Velveeta can help feed a family of four for $10. What can you do for your customers? How can your brand really, truly help somebody with a big problem they have right now?

Anybody can look like a genius in good times. The best marketers deliver when times are bad.

Why not do something great right now, today?

Don’t dream it. Be it.

Can The iPhone Kill CPG Copy Testing?

13 10 2008

Last week I spent three days in a dark room in Philly at one-on-ones. 

They were OK, but still: is this any way to learn how consumers will really act? Or is there a marketing variant of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle that somehow renders all of our learning uncertain?

Maybe CPG marketers should borrow an idea from the researchers at IBM’s Almaden Research Center.  According to WIRED’s Blog Network, Almaden is:

“seeding Apple’s iPhone Applications Store with research projects in a bid to see how users in the real world take to them. (…) ”

“In the first 24 hours of the program’s release on the App Store it bagged about 60 reviews from real users. Now more than 500 reviews have been written of it,” he says.

“You can never have a total sense of user experience by doing lab studies.” 

According to Tim Bajarin, president of consulting firm Creative Strategies,  “Researchers as well as software developers often come up with great ideas but don’t have ways to test them, especially from the standpoint of getting them to a lot of people. So this could be invaluable.”

It would be just as fair to say, “marketers as well as their agencies often come up with great ideas but don’t have reality-based ways to test them”. How can the iPhone and other interactive media help?

Three Ways To Turn Digital Marketing Into A Lab

If we’re paying attention, digital offers us all brand new opportunities to trade market research theory for a deep dive straight into reality.  If we’re wrong, we can learn and adjust quickly. If we’re on to something, we have the chance to learn while we earn.

Here are three ideas to consider:

  • Use Google To Test Ad Copy. Paid search is a dirt-cheap way to find a set of consumers who are in the market for your product and find out what words and ideas are motivating.  Direct marketers do this today. There’s no reason why brand marketers can’t learn here too.
  • Use YouTube To Get Feedback On TV Commercials. Every marketer I’ve ever worked with has had ideas that they love, but are so far outside of the box that they can’t figure out how to test them. Why not do some cheap production of these ideas and put them on YouTube and see if the idea has any traction? Obviously, you can’t do that if you’re announcing major news that you don’t want competition to know about. But, let’s be honest: most of the time, our brands don’t have major news.
  • Pay Attention To How Your Users Are Talking About You. People who like your product may be talking about it in a fresher, more imaginative, clearer way than you are.  The atmosphere at corporate HQ is unavoidably polluted with corporate lore, personalities, and competing egos. Your users are free of all that. There’s an excellent chance that they’re more free to get your communication right than you are. Same goes for product images on Flickr. Look at how people shoot photos of products in your category. I’ll bet those shots are a lot more exciting and a lot less constipated than what most of us have been shooting.If you have the budget, you can do what General Mills and Kraft have recently done: start their own word-of-mouth networks. General Mills’ “Pssst” gives members the inside skinny on the latest product news. Members can also test new sample kits via snail mail. similarly shares news, coupons and sampling offers. (Hat-tip to Prophet, who picked up the Brandweek article before I did.)

I appalud both companies for not falling prey to the notion that “marketers are not in control of their brands anymore”.  These marketing execs are doing exactly what they should do.

They’re learning to move as fast as their consumers do, and to operate in the same reality. That reality does not exist in sterile conference rooms, or thick binders, or behind two-way glass in Philly.

It’s where reality has always been: out there. General Mills and Kraft are out there.

Has your company been there lately? You may be surprised how different it looks lately.

Kraft’s Low-Fat Social Media Launch: A Case Study

26 09 2008

I suspect that the rumored experiments with social media by CPG companies are a lot like the talk around freshman year high school lockers about sex: there’s probably a lot more talk than action.

By contrast, this Kraft case study is the first one I’ve ever seen for a CPG company that did two important things:

  • Shows how they tried social media; and
  • Addresses how they tried to measure its effectiveness

One could argue the measures are a little soft. Still, they’re tougher standards than I’ve seen to date, which too often rest on ROP (Return on Prayer).


In January 2008, Kraft launched their new 1/3 Less Fat Philadelphia Cream Cheese with a campaign including TV spots, print ads and a sweepstakes that gave away bagels and cream cheese to 100 winners each day at through March 20. Visitors to the site were also able to download a new widget for recipes and party-planning tips.

The social media portion of the campaign was built around a PR stunt. Kraft gave JetBlue passengers a breakfast box containing a bagel, new 1/3 Less Fat Philadelphia Cream Cheese and an info packet explaining the product. Brand managers Adam Butler and Tyler Williamson became the face of the brand on a blog, YouTube videos and on the plane.

The agency, DEI Worldwide, engaged directly with consumers via online message boards, chat rooms, IM and profiles on MySpace and Facebook.

“Authenticity” And Acid Moments

Engaging with consumers in authentic, one-on-one conversations means you won’t always hear what you hope to hear. This game isn’t for the faint of heart. For example, I’m guessing top management at Kraft HQ was less than thrilled with this comment:

One blogger wrote, “As brand managers for this product, it’s all so overly intentional and schticky. You are sales people with an obvious point of view. This blog simply aims to distract from that fact by implying both of you can actually say anything other than ‘Kraft/Philadelphia cream cheese is great.’ A for effort, F for execution. The only thing cheesy around here is this blog!”

 Another real online conversation is below:

According to DEI Worldwide, the social media campaign consisted of  40 blog posts and 28 videos, written and filmed by the brand team, posted on the microsite during the campaign.


The campaign generated 535,088 direct online conversations in  chat rooms, instant message applications and message board forums with a potential pass-along 1st generation reach of 2,675,440.

At this point it’s only fair to note that I have no idea what “potential pass-along 1st generation reach” is. Anybody from Kraft care to comment? Anyone else have an idea?

In addition to the 1-1 conversations that took place, the campaign received more than 7,000 video views (really, not bad at all) and 50,000+ blog views.

Also — and probably where the bulk of the measurable ROI was — the campaign was featured  on national TV on Fox Business News, on National Public Radio (NPR) and in Brandweek Magazine.

What Did Kraft Learn?

In their own words:

    * Be authentic.
    * Accept some risk, you will not be able to control everything.
    * If you’re not talking about your product on-line, others are, and they’re controlling the conversation.
    * We need to be where people are getting their information and talking about food. People are online and doing this every day.
    * Don’t underestimate how technologically savvy consumers are, you can reach them through ways you didn’t think possible.
    * You need to find a way to respond to people’s comments; this is not a one-way conversation.
    * People want to feel like they’re being heard; forums like are a particularly easy way to achieve this feeling.
    * Videos…people love being on camera
    * If it’s been done before, don’t do it again, do it better

What Can Other CPG Brands Learn?

  • There’s a lot to learn (both good and bad) from launching with social media
  • Social media is an amplifier of traditional media, not a complete substitute
  • A human story is better than a pure product story, esp. when the full product promise can be delivered in the brand name
  • Social media may not require substantial paid media, but there is a significant cost in staff time and attention required in this approach
  • Be sure your management will be supportive, even when not all the “conversations” you start go the way you hope they will
  • Know your success metrics in advance

What have I missed as a lesson learned? I’d like to hear your thoughts.


CPG Marketing In A Recession

20 08 2008

Just got back from a few days off visiting friends in Portland, Oregon and am struggling to catch up. I don’t have a second to spare today, and probably neither do you.

In spite of this, I suggest you drop everything and invest 3 minutes you don’t have with this Ad Age video.

It’s Kraft Foods CMO Mary Beth West talking about marketing in a recession. And here’s why it’s worth your time:

  • No buzzwords, BS or self-promotion
  • Real-world examples
  • Practical, actionable advice

Very refreshing to hear a grown-up talk sense. I loved this, and I think you will too.

Watch it here.