When British confectionary giant Cadbury (CBRY.L) wanted to promote its new Crème Egg Twisted bar recently, it turned to social media. Dubbed "Operation Goo," the initiative invites British consumers to become CIA agents. (That's Cadbury Intelligence Agents, of which there are now 9,082.) Their mission, if they choose to accept it, is to track down Twisted bars across Britain via clues sent on microblogging site Twitter. Cadbury then selected 10 so-called "super-agents," who use online clues to track down the "goo." Supplied with Flip cameras by Cadbury, the agents then film their exploits, upload them on YouTube, and win points for generating the most social media exposure via tweets and videos. The agent with the most points by mid-July gets $33,000.
It's the kind of buzz money just can't buy. And Cadbury isn't the only major European brand experimenting with social media. Cell-phone operator Vodafone (VOD), for instance, uses Twitter as both a marketing and customer-service tool. British consumer products company Unilever (UN) is creating online communities aimed at the brand's target customers, urging teenage girls or new moms to create original content from Web films to new product ideas. "Social media is reinventing the way brands engage with their customers," says Norm Johnston, global digital leader at WPP-owned ad agency Mindshare in London.
Moreover, companies such as Cadbury are finding that the likes of Twitter, YouTube, and Bebo are inexpensive and effective ways to advertise. By creating a fun online environment that meshes various social media applications, companies are attempting to attract a powerful army of brand ambassadors whose online tweets and videos are more effective than any 30-second television ad. Cadbury declined to comment on the grounds it is too early to judge the success of its promotional initiative.
Testing Out Twitter
Considering that Twitter itself is just three years old, it's understandable that companies are still cautiously experimenting with social marketing. Switzerland's Nestlé (NESR.BE), for instance, is testing Twitter Pulse, which lets companies capture the stream of Twitter conversations related to their brand and publicize them across the Web. To promote its Juicy Juice children's fruit drink in the U.S., Nestlé runs a banner ad on a range of parenting sites asking questions such as "How do you stimulate your child's mind?" and "How important are vitamin-enhanced foods to you?" Users tweet their responses, which are fed live into a Juicy Juice banner ad on the site.
German carmaker Volkswagen (VOWG.DE) is taking a similar approach to marketing its cars. It's running a banner ad that claims to analyze a person's recent tweets and then recommends the car best suited to them. Don't have a Twitter account? No worries—you can enter the name of a tweet-crazed celebrity such as Demi Moore. (VW says her model is a Volkswagen GLI.)
British wireless giant Vodafone is experimenting with several social media initiatives. Last November in Britain, the company launched Vodafone Live Guy, an online treasure hunt where participants use online apps such as Twitter, Facebook, Google (GOOG) Picasa, and YouTube to track down Live Guy—a Vodafone brand mascot—and win one of Vodafone's Dell (DELL) Inspiron Minis, laptops embedded with Wi-Fi and mobile broadband. Since then, Vodafone's British arm has launched a number of other social media ventures. Vodafone UK has launched a Twitter and Google Maps application to promote the end of European roaming charges, allowing customers to tweet where they are going on holiday this year. The tweets are then plotted on a Google map in real time.
A similar Vodafone competition in Britain is the Taxi Grand Prix. Timed to coincide with the current Formula One races, the online game follows 10 British taxi drivers in real time as they race to complete the same number of miles as the Grand Prix drivers. Vodafone sponsors the McLaren Formula One team. Entrants pick two Vodafone McLaren Mercedes-sponsored taxi drivers from a pool of 10 in five British cities. Online players can keep track of how their taxi drivers are performing via real-time mapping, performance graphs, and Twitter updates.
Recently, Vodafone Netherlands used Twitter to create buzz around the Vodafone Mobile Clicks competition (run in conjunction with Vodafone UK). The competition targeted startup wireless businesses, linking the competition's Twitter feed to a specially created site (www.vodafonemobileclicks.com). Vodafone has also used Twitter to build interest in major product launches, such as the HTC Magic, which is based on Google's Android mobile platform. "Because it enables a dialogue, Twitter is a great channel to engage with customers in a different way," says Vodafone Group spokesman Dan Bowsher.