Underneath the sugarcoated veneer of the $15 billion North American confectionery market lurks a brutally discouraging nougat: a dependency on volatile commodities like cane, cocoa and peanuts, and a stubborn audience that doesn't like brands to change. So it comes as no surprise that top candy powerhouses such as The Hershey Company and Nestlé are among the Web's most sophisticated marketers, fluent not only in linear media, but in destination Web sites, data marketing, word-of-mouth and social advertising. Examples of groundbreaking next-generation candy campaigns abound - Cadbury's epic drum-playing gorilla garnered nearly five million views on YouTube, and Skittles' anarchic, always changing social-media-crazed campaign fetched north of 14 million likes on Facebook.
To stay competitive, McLean, Va.-based Mars, makers of the Mars bar, Snickers and Twix, and M&M's Canada took a chance at folding social media into a digital scavenger hunt.
The Find Red ad campaign, produced by Proximity Canada in Toronto, connected the Web presence of findred.ca with Google Maps Street View. The goal: get users to find three locations on Google Maps where the Red M&M character was "hiding" in Toronto. Users clicked a "found" button in Street View each time they located the character; no actual physical object hunting was involved.
The contest, which included contestants from across North America, ran for a month starting Nov. 4. Winners will be announced at the end of 2010 and receive an M&M-shaped car - the Smart Fortwo Coupe.
Proximity Associate Creative Directors Jonathan Ruby and Rene Rouleau developed the campaign to get Canadian users and bloggers to drive buzz about M&M's on social networks and on the wider Web. "At the end of the day, it was a PR play," Ruby says. "We weren't selling product: this was a total branding play to get as many people talking about it as possible."
Proximity Canada is no stranger to campaigns with a social media spin. Clients include Gillette, Gatorade and Alka-Seltzer. Its work on the Doritos Virolocity campaign, with users submitting their own clever chip commercials, won a Canadian New Media Award.
Find Red started with a YouTube video scripted by Ruby and Rouleau and filmed by Canadian video company Topix, which has previously made several M&M's commercials. In the 47-second video, the M&M "spokescandies" are hanging out in the den of a house. Accident-prone Yellow accidentally spills water on a keyboard and sets off an electrical spark that transports Red into a computer showing Google Maps Street View. Poor Red is lost and consumers are prompted to locate him via a Street View app on findred.ca.
The video performed well on its own, garnering more than 34,000 views. After which, users were fed clues to help them find Red across the major social media platforms: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Stickybits, a bar-code scanning mobile app. Clues were clever: Facebook and Twitter posts gave hints that locations were near markets and parks. YouTube videos showed cryptic objects like a toy dinosaur. Stickybits clues, weaned from M&M's bar codes, gave vague text hints to the whereabouts of Red.
"We thought since this is all living in the digital space, because it all takes place on Street View, why not serve up all of those clues in a digital way?" says Ruby.
On top of all the digital clues, Proximity also offered physical hints using out-of-home marketing in the streets of Toronto. Posters had QR bar codes - those scannable black-and- white shapes that contain embedded digital information. The codes were baked into traditional outdoor media buys that spanned usual suspect touch points like mass transit shelters, street-side display advertising and retail kiosks in high trafficked areas. All of the spots featured the full family-the M&Ms characters, save Red. The codes were placed so they could be accessed by smart phone users. Once captured in mobile devices, consumers were served links to videos, pictures and textual clues that gave users hints as to the whereabouts of Red. Overall engagement was excellent.
Visitors spent an average of more than 19 minutes on findred.ca. "It's unheard of for anyone to spend 19 minutes on a branded Web site," Ruby says. "Typically you get two to three minutes at the most."
The secret, the two felt, was the game-like experience of using Street View and the more than 100 clues created for the game. As the campaign neared its end, the location clues got more specific, so the two had to manage the flow of clues closely. For example, one early clue told users they were too far west from one spot, while later clues would tell users to instead look just west of another spot. On top of that, they had to make sure clues across all platforms were similarly helpful so no one type of user got a boost over the others. "It was quite mind-boggling at some points," Ruby says.
While the Proximity team doesn't yet know how the campaign did with its 13- to 25-year-old target demographic, Rouleau is optimistic. Find Red's numerous participants on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms indicated a younger crowd, he says. "There was a comment on findred.ca that said "sick!" with like four S's and four I's," adds Rouleau. "And we figured that was probably skewering toward our market."
Social Media Madness
M&M's social media outreach still has a long way to go. M&M's USA's Facebook page is about 85 percent smaller than Skittles, with 2 million fans, while the Canadian page has just 600 fans. The Twitter account @mmsfindred had less than 200 followers and the Find Red Foursquare account garnered less than 100 friends. The company says Twitter was not a major part of the campaign's objectives. But analysts say the low performance is indicative of a deeper strategic issue.
Erika Brown, executive vice president at research firm Frost & Sullivan, applauds Mars for communicating in a language tech-savvy audiences understand. But, she says, there is a danger in having too many channels to coordinate and too much data to analyze: "A marketer needs to ask themselves, 'What information do I need in order to consider this campaign a success?'"
Nawid Farhadi, a social media strategist based in the Netherlands, participated in the hunt for Red to get a feel for the campaign and thought Proximity's strategy may have been flawed. He covered 80 kilometers of Toronto in Google Maps but could not find all three of Red's locations.
"It was kind of cool to use Google Street View in a campaign, but it was far too difficult for people to have a decent shot at finding those three M&M's," Farhadi wrote via email. "They could have kept it a lot easier if they just stuck with Facebook and the campaign site for providing campaign-related information."
Proximity spokesperson Shari Balga says the campaign gave users multiple touch points to engage with the brand. "It was also an opportunity to understand what platforms resonated best with our target," she adds.
In Close Proximity
Ruby and Rouleau say they will continue to help Proximity use social and digital tools in ad campaigns because any service that is popular should be exploited. "We're always looking at anything emerging," says Rouleau. "We are using and leveraging what people are using. If they are on Facebook or Google Street View, that's where we're going to be."
Ruby says there likely won't be a sequel to Find Red simply because each campaign needs to stem from an original idea. Currently, there are no plans to migrate the campaign to other markets. However, future campaigns will draw on the success of Find Red, using the latest social technologies and the company's social media prowess to take a campaign viral across emerging platforms.
"The social media aspect of [these campaigns] is amazing. It's incredible because it has exponential growth to it," Ruby says. "I do something; it shows up in my news feed; and it shows I'm searching for Find Red. The message isn't contained to just an ad or a Web site; the fact that it grows through your entire social network is incredible."
Reporting and editing by Blumsday LLC