ad:tech Chicago: Sharpie, Ben & Jerry's Squeeze Merit Out of Social Media Sphinx

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My last ad:tech Chicago session was the Social Media Industry Forum, presented by Geoff Ramsey of eMarketer.

The sesh had a festive air for many reasons, not least that it was Ramsey's birthday. ad:tech's Warren Pickett burst in near the end to furnish him with candle-lit cupcakes.

But the company was also lively: we had a frothy, sometimes cynical and perennially candid band that included Digital Marketing Manager Katie O'Brien of Ben & Jerry's, President Rick Murray of Edelman Digital (which does interactive stuff for B&J's), PR/Social Media Manager Susan Wassel of Sanford Brands (here to rep Sharpie), and Digital Strategist Akash Pathak of DraftFCB, which worked with Wassel to bring life to Sharpie's label.

Sharpie: Uncapping the Creativity of Others

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There's not much at first glance to a suite of color-enhanced permanent pens, but by enabling users to engage with it, and send in ways in which they've used their Sharpies to be creative, the company discovered it's at the center of a passionate and evangelical circle.

Facebook and YouTube were used to give advocates a place to demonstrate the ways they've Sharpie'd their lives. You can check out the gallery at Sharpie Uncapped. (At left, for example, is some Sharpie art from Buenos Aires.) YouTube also sports how-tos for decorating shirts and other "useful information," Wassel dryly quipped.

The effort is also buttressed by the Sharpie Squad, a broad mix of creative but wholesome folk, like mommy bloggers.

One of the coolest things about launching a social media campaign is that it required little in cash, but Wassel admits Sharpie aired concerns about not being able to control the response. "What if people talk about huffing Sharpies?" (One guy asked if "huffing" meant "inhaling," and Wassel said, "Sorry, yes." I was the only one who laughed.)

Wassel acknowledges these concerns needed soothing. But however much you prep yourself beforehand, there's no way to know how people are going to appropriate and manipulate your message; I guess you just need to have a team that's fluent enough in social media (and diplomacy) that they know how to respond. (Incidentally, the US Air Force has a pretty good response flow chart for dealing with social media.)

At this point Pathak interjects to talk measurement. To measure a social media campaign, they look at four things: volume, sentiment, topics and engagement. And here are the four things they learned after the effort was up and running:


  • 1. With social media analysis, opportunity is better than originally thought.

  • 2. Just preparing the campaign raised awareness of social media throughout Sharpie's own organization.

  • 3. Each social media tool grew to fit a defined role: relationships, two-way conversations, support and inspire communities.

  • 4. LISTEN, QUICKLY ADAPT AND REPEAT.


The last one was the most heavily-emphasized.

Ben & Jerry's: The Broad Appeal of a Hubby Hubby

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O'Brien of Ben & Jerry's discussed a couple of campaigns, including Free Cone Day, which was promoted in part via virtual gifts on Facebook. The 500,000 virtual cones they purchased to give away on the socnet were gone in 24 hours.

More interesting was an effort whose fruits were being reaped as O'Brien was speaking. The day before the session, Vermont's decision to legalize same-sex marriage went into effect. Ben & Jerry's renamed its Chubby Hubby ice cream "Hubby Hubby" within the state to honour their decision.

About 9 this morning, there were 5000 blog posts ... and 100 tweets a minute, 99% positive," said Murray of Edelman. Both O'Brien and Murray admitted they weren't sure the "Hubby Hubby" effort would draw much interest outside the state, but the pure virality of the effort showed otherwise.

It was a "combo of effective blogger outreach, search engine work, ChunkMail support drove a lot of traffic," Murray continued, concluding, "but driving it all was the cultural relevance of the idea."

After all this, Ramsey asked what department social media rightfully belongs to, and the answers were understandably varied. For Ben & Jerry's, "It's digital, right now." O'Brien added that functionally it "falls into marketing, sometimes brand marketing, sometimes integrated marketing."

Pathak interjected, "It can be a lot of things ... digital ... events..." and Wassel corroborated that, arguing that various departments use social media in different ways.

Finally Murray hit us with a gem: "I think it belongs to any agency that gets it. It belongs to the agency that get it and can operate in social media speak."

Top benefits of social media? Relationship-building (O'Brien); love and loyalty (Wassel). I couldn't help but think about that online dating sesh from the day before.

"What brand or company doesn't want love or loyalty to be successful?" Wassel pointed out.

Finally we got into the topic of why Ben & Jerry's and Sharpie decided to go into social media anyway -- which is what the heart of this session was about. Wassel and O'Brien gave similar answers: that social media was, in a way, part of the DNA of their company: communicating with people, sharing in their life experiences, engaging with them.

"Figuring out how to do it and do it right based on your industry is one thing. But to not play in it at all is a miss," Wassel crisply observed.

I liked that.

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