Building a Buzz in Social Media Ahead of Traditional Marketing

A  BRAND that has been present online since the days this newspaper still included “http://” in Web addresses is expanding its digital marketing tactics by embracing social media.
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The Facebook page for UP2U Gum. Each pack contains 14 sticks of gum, offering buyers a choice of two flavors.

Perfetti Van Melle has hired the Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, as the social media agency in the United States for its Mentos line of mints and gums. As Perfetti Van Melle gears up to introduce Mentos UP2U, its first stick gum sold in this country, the initial advertising efforts will be focused in social media like Facebook.

For instance, the new gum already has a Facebook fan page, at facebook.com/up2u, which more than 95,900 people have indicated they “like.” The first 1,000 visitors who clicked on the “like” button got free gum in a promotion that began on June 13 and ended on Wednesday.

Plans call for an invitation to be made next month on the fan page, asking those who “like” the new product to provide the name of friends they would want to receive samples.

Perfetti Van Melle has long made digital media part of its pitch for Mentos. In 2003, during the California recall election for governor, Mentos introduced a microsite, or special Web site, that sought to declare a new product, Mentos boxed mints, as the “official chewy mint” of the election.

And in 2006, when performance artists uploaded to a Web site called eepybird.com, a video clip that demonstrated how mixing Diet Coke with Mentos mints can produce cool explosions, Perfetti Van Melle embraced them and posted the clip on mentos.com.

The strategy to introduce Mentos UP2U “is very much 360-degree marketing, starting with very compelling and unique social media content,” said Mehmet Yuksek, executive vice president for North America at the Perfetti Van Melle office in Erlanger, Ky.

“We’d like to build a buzz,” he added, and then move on to advertising in traditional media like television.

To help generate such word of mouth, Perfetti Van Melle is also using Lizzie Grubman Public Relations in New York, which will distribute samples of Mentos UP2U at events in locations like Las Vegas and Miami.

The interactive aspects of the marketing plans are indicative of the increasing importance of digital initiatives at companies that peddle consumer packaged goods.

“Just a few years ago, digital information meant one thing to senior executives: risk,” said Susan McPartlin, retail and consumer industry leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, which joined with the Grocery Manufacturers Association on Tuesday to release a study titled, “Thriving in a Connected World.”

“However, companies are no longer thinking defense,” she added. “They are using the digital data to advance their competitive position.”

At the same time, social media, smartphones and other digital technologies are empowering consumers “with greater control of their shopping choices,” Ms. McPartlin said. “And they aren’t shy about posting their feelings online about products, where they literally are handing over reams of potential insights that can create a tremendous opportunity for consumer packaged goods companies that can find patterns in the noise.”

That is demonstrated repeatedly on the UP2U Facebook fan page. For instance, about an hour after the brand posted a question on the page on Wednesday afternoon — “A theme song plays whenever you enter a room. It’s UP2U, what song do you choose?” — there were already more than 120 comments, which included “I Will Survive,” the theme from “Jaws,” “Like a Virgin” and “My sons would say the music from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ when the old lady is on her bike.”

In this realm, “consumers are out in front,” said Marc Kempter, senior vice president and group account director at Martin, particularly the target audience for the gum, which is teenagers and young adults.

“Television is still necessary to create broad awareness” for a new product, he added, but the propensities of the “digital extroverts” in the core market for UP2U led to a decision “to launch it digitally first, build up a fan following and then take it mass.”

There are drawbacks to that strategy, Mr. Kempter said, especially that “there isn’t a playbook” for success.

“Six months ago, a year ago, everyone was talking about Facebook ‘likes,’ ” he added. “Now, it’s not just ‘likes,’ it’s the interaction you want to have with the consumers.”

Perfetti Van Melle already sells a pellet-gum variety of Mentos, called Mentos Pure Fresh, but wants to enter the stick-gum segment because it is about four times larger. The stick-gum segment, however, is intensely competitive, as the confectionery giant Mars, which now owns Wrigley stick-gum brands like Orbit, 5 and Juicy Fruit, clashes with Kraft Foods, which now owns Cadbury stick-gum brands like Trident, Stride and Dentyne.

“We are a top-tier, very formidable global player in gum,” Mr. Yuksek said, referring to Perfetti Van Melle brands sold internationally like Brooklyn and Happydent. “We’re here to make it happen in the U.S.”

Mentos UP2U bears that name because each 14-stick package contains seven sticks of one flavor and seven sticks of a second flavor. The packages declare: “2 flavors. 1 pack. You decide.” The four pairs include berry watermelon/fresh mint and sweet mint/bubble fresh.

In September, there will be “an entire digital experience bringing the brand to life, all about celebrating choice,” Mr. Kempter said, “and then TV in the late fall.”

According to Mr. Yuksek, Perfetti Van Melle plans to spend $50 million on advertising and marketing to introduce the new gum. The company spent $17.3 million last year in the United States, the Kantar Media unit of WPP reported, to advertise in major media all its gums, mints and candies, which also include Air Heads taffy and Chupa Chups lollipops.

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