The dissemination of brand information via word-of-mouth is taking on a whole new dimension.
Procter & Gamble is aiming to spread the message by extending its five-year-old Tremor teen word-of-mouth marketing vehicle to bring in moms. And around a half-million mothers have now been enrolled in its Vocalpoint program that was launched nationally in the U.S in February following trials in three cities.
Vocalpoint works with companies in sectors such as beauty, consumer products, fashion, entertainment, music and food to get members involved in previewing products and services while building wordof- mouth advocacy.
P&G explained that the traits it’s looking for in Vocalpoint participants are the same as the characteristics it is after for Tremor teens— members need to have wide social networks by being involved in the likes of school, church and play groups, have “the passion to talk to others and share information and the drive to actively seek new news,” plus be highly influential.
In marketing parlance, these people are connectors, the most viral and valuable of consumers.
Like their Tremor counterparts, Vocalpoint participants won’t be paid, though they might get coupons or free samples of new products. A P&G spokeswoman said moms take part because “they feel empowered by the fact that they get to nurture their social network by sharing important information that is relevant to their family and friends.”
Tremor was launched in 2001 when P&G didn’t have a body of research on the teen market, and the program presented an opportunity to study both that demographic and word-of-mouth marketing. Tremor communicates regularly with members via e-mail and the tremor.com web site, providing inside info, surveys, music, sneak peeks and exclusive benefits. P&G reckons it has “cracked the code” on the creation of predictable word-of-mouth advocacy with the program, delivering a 10% to 20% improvement in marketing effectiveness.
The initiative, which involves 250,000 teens across the U.S., was positioned from the off to serve both internal efforts and third parties. One of those clients was CoverGirl. Tremor sent a sample of the firm’s then new lipstick, Outlast Lipcolor, to participants in Providence, Rhode Island, along with product information and refer-a-friend sample cards. P&G says the program resulted in a 14% lift in sales after eight weeks, while post-test analysis showed that connectors told an average of nine people about Outlast Lipcolor, and that more than 65% of those were planning to purchase the lipstick.
That makes it sound easy, but viral marketing’s not an exact science, according to Justin Kirby, of London-based connected-marketing consultants Digital Media Communications.
“You have to ask ‘what is it that you do that will ignite conversations among the consumer, and how do you support that?'” he explained. “You have to focus on creating contagious communication.”
He added, “It’s about newness. You get people to say ‘have you seen this? Check this out.'”
Kirby says word-of-mouth marketing is still at an experimental stage, but that it’s an innovative way of getting a flavor of what works and what doesn’t.
“But it’s a question of having to try different things because the landscape’s changed,” he said.
P&G is probably ahead of the curve with Tremor, having done more with word-of-mouth than most corporations, said Kirby.
“It’s really interesting that Tremor was borne out of a large organization like Procter & Gamble,” he said.
However, online’s where it’s at for communicative teens and, while P&G uses the Internet to talk with Tremor participants, it is not the core platform for communications. Many brands, though, are using the net to power their viral marketing.
U.K. pay-TV operator BSkyB recently created a new opening-sequence video of The Simpsons animated series using real actors. The company then put Real Life Simpsons up on hot viral-video web site YouTube for users to share. The clip recorded 1 million views in under a week on YouTube and, by mid-April, had racked up more than 5.75 million.
“Putting it online, there’s a fantastic discussion between millions of people—it’s bringing The Simpsons to them instead of having them tune in,” said a BSkyB spokesman, in a statement.
DMC, Kirby’s company, worked with U.S. movie studio New Line Cinema to develop mash-up trailers—video remixes—of the new movie “Take the Lead,” starring Antonio Banderas. The footage was repurposed to produce a music video comprising sounds and dialog from the film.
“There’s nothing new about movie trailers,” said Kirby, “but what we did here is trend spot what’s going on online with user-generated content. We’ve got two of the world’s top-20 VJs and a rising star and got them to remix. The film’s about ballroom and hip-hop and with the mash-up, we have a dance track that stands in its own right.”
He says using mash-ups to create a buzz is interesting because it gets influential people to create material they will show in the real world, such as in night clubs, and also gets an audience talking about it online and sharing via sites like YouTube, Google Video and MySpace.
For Steve Henry, creative director at U.K.-based ad agency United, virulant communication’s all about grabbing the audience.
“There’s a role for short film in marketing brands, but it will certainly be virals,” he told attendees at The Guardian newspaper’s Changing Media Summit in London in March.
Henry said web sites are great places to sell, but that the selling has to be dialed down.
“In the past, ads have been interruptive—but that’s now flawed,” he explained. “Brands need to build entertainment value.”
This article appeared in WWD Beauty Report International, a special publication of WWD.