Traditional Ads Yield Social Traction

In March, Kimberly-Clark brand Poise ran a 30-second spot during the lead-up to the Academy Awards on ABC. In it, Whoopi Goldberg portrayed famous women in history who may have suffered from incontinence. Its goal was to get people talking about the widespread problem — and how Poise can help with it.

What the advertiser and its agency, Mindshare Entertainment, discovered was the spot was most effective not while it aired, but in the ripples created through social media afterwards as people discussed the issue and Goldberg’s decision to be the face of it. Soon, blogs, including Gawker Media’s Jezebel and Perez Hilton, were writing about it. The online conversation then returned to traditional media when Saturday Night Live aired a spoof of the spot during Weekend Update, with Kenan Thompson playing Goldberg.

The explosion of online interest culminating in the SNL skit yielded 200 million PR impressions, per Mindshare — all for the media cost of a single spot.

“Earned media for traditional campaigns is a key component of every conversation with every client,” said Brian Stoller, leader of digital strategy for Mindshare North America. “I can’t stress [enough] how huge this area has become for us.”

“[The] new saying is: ‘An idea that doesn’t generate more content isn’t a very good idea,'” added Edward Boches, CCO and chief social media officer at Mullen.

That social media is a powerful tool for raising awareness is not new news. But its increasing power is leading some advertisers to reconsider how they plan and measure traditional ad campaigns as they increasingly look to so-called earned media impressions as being as important as primary paid media. The promise of what some are calling “free media” is that it’s more credible than paid placements, particularly when it comes from consumers speaking to other consumers.

The irony, of course, is that “free media” is anything but. Money must be spent creating content worthy of attention — content that requires people to monitor and manage it. Also, earned media often needs that paid counterpart to act as a “sampling opportunity,” according to Bryant King, vp, director of message planning at Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

Think of the full-page ad Adobe ran in The Wall Street Journal last week in response to Apple’s attacks on Flash; it added fuel to the online debate among the tech community.

At Crispin, earned media has long been a top goal. “We look at [earned media] as the second part of our media plan,” said King. “If all we did was our paid media, we’ve failed.” Some say this leads inevitably to gimmickry, but the stunts often generate enviable results. Crispin’s “Whopper Sacrifice” campaign on Facebook for Burger King, which invited users to defriend others in their network in return for coupons, cost about $12,000 in paid media with a return in earned media topping $800,000, according to King.

Crispin has also had good results with a campaign introducing Domino’s new pizza recipe. Launched last December, it uses traditional media to drive people to a Web site that, among other things, aggregates Twitter messages about the pizza. The TV creative serves a crucial role in driving social media conversations, which tend to spike when the spots run. The campaign has lifted Domino’s sales 14 percent in the first quarter.

“If you do something big enough, want to talk about that experience,” said Brandon Solano, vp of brand innovation at Domino’s.

Microsoft has observed that its TV spots drive lots of traffic to its social properties, such as the explosion of activity seen on its Facebook page when ads for the Kin phone recently aired. “There’s an annuity that will pay off time and again,” said Marty Collins, group marketing director at Microsoft.