Emergen-C Uses Social Media For (Real) Sampling


Using social media to encourage sharing of "virtual" products or branded promotional applications is almost de rigueur these days.

But Alacer Corp., makers of Emergen-C fizzy vitamin drink mixes, is going one better by enabling social media fans to get or gift friends with free, mail-delivered sample packets, as well as the virtual type.

According to the 38-year-old company, based in Foothill Ranch, Calif., it sells nearly 400 million packets of Emergen-C annually through retail channels (food, drug, mass merchants and health food stores), and online, making it the country's largest manufacturer/marketer of branded vitamin C products. (Emergen-C's numerous formulations for adults and kids, selling in 30-packet boxes for between $10.99 and $14.99, contain large doses of C plus various other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.)



The brand does regular traditional media campaigns -- TV and some radio and print, particularly during peak winter season -- but had let its social media presence become moribund, Emergen-C brand manager Meghann Seidner tells Marketing Daily. How moribund? The brand had a Twitter account, but sent out a total of one tweet last year.

"Given that word-of-mouth recommendations and sampling, rather than traditional advertising, are our biggest sources of new customers, we realized that there were major, untapped opportunities in finding ways to creatively combine social media and sampling," Seidner says. "After all, these days, people use social media for sharing how they feel on a moment-to-moment basis. And since we market Emergen-C as 'the fun way to take your vitamins,' we wanted the approach to be fun."

Working with New York City-based, full-service marketing agency Walrus, the brand came up with a "Share the Good" social media campaign spanning Facebook and Twitter.

The campaign, to launch June 28, is premised on tapping into all of those social media-shared feelings and moods, explains Walrus owner/chief creative officer Deacon Webster.

On Twitter, the brand will, of course, be tweeting much more frequently (offering energy-boosting tips, health facts and trivia, invites to its many events, etc.). A newly created "Emergen-C Tweet Patrol" will be on the case, and in charge of some special initiatives.

One of those Twitter efforts is rewarding the "intrepid" few (about 100) who continued to follow Emergen-C despite the long dearth of tweets by offering them a free T-shirt bearing the immortal words in that one-and-only 2009 tweet ("checking out Joshua Lynn's article").

A more ambitious, ongoing initiative will have the Patrol picking a specific word that relates to the product's benefits each week, like "tired," then picking a random sample of those using that word in their tweets and following them. Those who choose to follow back will be tweeted a message telling them that Emergen-C would like to send them a free sample "starter kit" by mail. (To receive one, they supply their postal address via a simple digital form provided.)

As for Facebook, fans will not only be able to share "virtual" Emergen-C products, but the real thing. When they log in, they'll be informed that they can give real samples to 10 friends in need of an Emergen-C pick-me-up. So, when Facebook friends post that they're falling asleep at work, feeling run-down, forgetful, etc., Emergen-C followers can flag those friends, triggering both a message saying that they want to send them free sample packets and a personalized video.

The Facebook app uses the prospective sample recipient's photo and other Facebook profile info to create a personalized character within the video. Initially, the character is shown holding a sign that bears the tweet that prompted his/her friend to offer the free samples ("I'm tired," etc.). Then the character is shown transformed/re-energized (riding a unicycle and dancing in front of a disco ball), with a message noting that with the Emergen-C starter kit, "you'll be feeling first-rate in no time" (or words along those lines). The starter kits include three free mix packets.

Emergen-C's significant sampling program also spans in-store promotions, online (users can request free packets), and giveaways during fundraising events for organizations that Alacer supports on an ongoing basis, including The Keep A Breast Foundation and the Surfrider Foundation. Emergen-C's support of those two groups includes donating 20 cents for every box sold of special versions of the brand's mixes -- a pink version for breast cancer causes and a blue version for clean-water environmental causes. To date, the brand has donated more than $300,000 to the two charities.

In its coming fiscal year starting in July, the brand will also be investing about $10 million in a new TV, radio and print campaign -- the first new traditional creative in about three years, reports Seidner. The brand will be using consumer research to choose between the two leading creative approaches under consideration, she notes.

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