A group of social advertising specialists were given their chance Monday to make their pitches to win the business of packaged goods giant Del Monte Foods.
The simulated beauty contest at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Social Media Marketplace included a proposed ad effort enlisting a cat with 509,000 Twitter followers to sell Meow Mix, a Kibbles 'n Bits-sponsored online pet photo contest, and using Twitter to find people who are "passionate" about chicken broth on behalf of College Inn.
Listening politely and responding in turn to each of the pitches from social marketing experts --including Federated Media Publishing, Deep Focus, Socialmedia.com and Rock You -- was Doug Chavez, senior manager for digital marketing at Del Monte.
While seemingly pleased with the proposals, he expressed a lingering skepticism about whether all the Twittering, uploading, commenting and "conversation" around the company's various brands would add up to anything useful. "How we pulse (social) media though the year and how we track that is a challenge for us, because at the end of the day, what did you do for market share -- what did you do for sales volume?," he asked.
Chavez's unease highlights the continuing concerns that major marketers have about social media advertising, despite the rapid rise of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter at the expense of traditional Web portals. An array of confusing ad formats, a lack of standard metrics and low click-through rates have conspired to limit the expansion of social media budgets.
To help address such issues, the IAB Monday released a set of social advertising guidelines as a preliminary step toward developing formal standards for the emerging category.
For now, marketers will have to trust that getting a lot of Tweets or Facebook "fans" will ultimately benefit their brands. "It's not about click-throughs," said Seth Goldstein, CEO of Socialmedia.com, who serves as co-chair of the IAB's UGC Social Media Committee and helped develop the new social advertising best practices. "It's really about trying to build brand awareness. To stimulate conversations between people about brands is a good thing -- we're just not sure exactly why."
However, Del Monte's Chavez raised questions with the panel of social media gurus about "managing" consumer conversations about brands when they may turn negative. The advice of John Battelle, founder and CEO of ad network Federated Media, was not to try to silence online critics. "Embrace the negative," said Battelle. "If you try to make people say only good things about your brand, you'll get killed."
Battelle took on the daunting challenge of trying to spice up College Inn by proposing a campaign that would tap into the hundreds of Tweets about "soup" and "chicken broth" on Twitter to boost exposure for the unsexy brand. "College Inn should be in that conversation and it's not," said Battelle, who also pointed out that a Google search of "best chicken broth" brought up Swanson's competing product among top organic results, but not College Inn.
For Del Monte's Meow Mix cat food brand, Ian Schafer, founder and CEO of digital agency Deep Focus, also saw Twitter as a key weapon in the social media arsenal. Specifically, he touted the potential of Sockington, a Twittering "cat" with a half million followers, who could be lined up as a brand ambassador.
"Seventy-five percent of the content on the Internet is about cats," explained Schafer, pointing to sites such as Icanhascheezburger.com as part of the kitty craze online. He emphasized capitalizing on existing social media hits rather than trying to create branded communities from scratch.
When Rock You Chief Revenue Officer Ro Choy suggested online coupons as a popular feature of social media campaigns that provides a tangible measure of success, Chavez sounded unconvinced. "How do you go from someone just getting a coupon to go beyond that and becoming a brand loyalist?" he asked.
That's a question that Catalyst: SF, which Del Monte in April selected as its new digital agency of record, may have to help the company answer in the coming months as it tries to connect more directly with consumers via social media.