Sales of Procter & Gamble’s Pepto-Bismol had been flat or declining for several years when in 2010, P&G marketers noticed that social media chatter about the pink indigestion reliever was occurring on Saturday and Sunday mornings—presumably after users had overindulged the night before. So P&G decided to try to lure potential customers before their eating and drinking binges by touting the product on Facebook with the upbeat slogan “Celebrate Life.” The result was an 11 percent market-share gain in the 12 months through fall 2011.
The company that for generations has meticulously observed customers in their homes as they mop floors, apply makeup, and diaper babies is now listening to their conversations online. And for good reason: The 25- to 54-year-old women who buy the bulk of P&G’s products spend more time on Facebook than typical users. “For us, the real aha! was an incredible ability to listen to consumers much better, much faster, more broadly,” says Alex Tosolini, P&G’s head of e-business. “These days, social media is an integral part of brand building.”
That’s creating new challenges for the world’s biggest advertiser. Even though P&G’s Tide, Crest, Cover Girl, and other brands are household names, they’re not what most people are talking about on Facebook or Twitter. “I don’t think too many people sit out there in conversation and talk about the deodorant they use,” says Zain Raj, chief executive officer of marketing services company Hyper Marketing. Companies need to build bonds with customers “so a brand becomes a choice, and then they’ll go out of their way and pay more,” he says.
P&G has created cheeky blogs, such as My Fire Hydrant, starring Tyler, an adopted bichon frise, to promote Iams pet food. Facebook pages of individual P&G brands use celebrities to tout products, including Ellen DeGeneres and Sofia Vergara for its Cover Girl makeup. And P&G creates online advocacy campaigns around topics that customers raise in focus groups.
Although P&G won’t disclose how much of the $9.3 billion it spent last year on advertising went to social media, the company says it’s increasing the share of its marketing budget allocated to sites including Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube, as well as sites prominent in overseas markets. All its major brands now have a social media marketing component. Women ages 25 to 54 with children at home—the key target audience for consumer products makers—each spent an average of 484 minutes on Facebook in February, 14 percent more time than the site’s typical user, says Andrew Lipsman, vice president of industry analysis at digital marketing firm ComScore.
P&G first stepped into social media in 2005, with “Tyler’s” blog. The fluffy white rescue-shelter dog engaged readers with his story and links to a bichon frise rescue-group site. P&G also that year ran its first ads and promotions created to drive traffic to a company website, Crest Whitestrips’ “Smile State” Facebook page, for students at 20 colleges. The site offered prizes, concerts, and other giveaways to those who joined.
More recently, P&G has built social media campaigns around issues important to consumers it wants to reach. Facebook pages for Secret deodorant, aimed at teenage girls, address the issue of bullying—the proverbial mean girls whom some of its customers faced. From those findings, P&G created its “Mean Stinks” issue campaign on Facebook, launched last February. It features Amber Riley of television’s Glee. The page lets participants send apologies to those they have bullied and view videos and comments others have posted. The “Mean Stinks” page now has 367,402 “likes,” indicating users recommend it, with half regularly posting, viewing, or recommending the site.
Visitor interaction at Secret’s Facebook page soared 25-fold since the campaign began, P&G says. It now has 1.5million “likes.” The interest also fueled a 5percent market-share jump for the core brand in the 12 months after the campaign, and 16 percent for the premium Secret Clinical line featured on “Mean Stinks.”