Media: Double Standards - It's time for FMCG to leave the 'digital doghouse'

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 22 January 2010 12:00AM

Can FMCG brands finally harness the power of digital in 2010? Two online strategists offer their thoughts on how they can best achieve this.

NORM JOHNSTON - GLOBAL DIGITAL LEADER, MINDSHARE

- In general, how much have FMCG brands been guilty of neglecting digital channels?

FMCG has been in the digital doghouse for years, averaging around 1 per cent of its total media budget, according to Nielsen. However, things are changing. The traditional axis of inertia has been broken up by new digital-savvy client leadership, a blurring between traditional and digital agencies, and the inescapable conclusion from tons of research that all audiences are spending more time online.

- How much have media owners and trade bodies such as the Internet Advertising Bureau done to make this investment more effective?

The IAB has been relentless in educating and evangelising as well as eliminating key obstacles to growth, including ad formats, metrics and privacy.

Media owners are a mixed bag, with some still promoting high-reach, low-quality remnant inventory models. Others have been collaborative in trying to push innovation. While all of these efforts help, it really comes down to the client, and whether their leadership is driving an innovative, digital-friendly culture.

- How true is it that a lot of digital activity doesn't suit FMCG brands because it's more geared towards direct response?

Historically, FMCG brands have focused on the internet's perceived weaknesses in delivering emotive experiences and mass reach, both key benefits of TV. In the UK, this is no longer the case with the broadband-pervasive, video-enriched internet of 2010. Online now also delivers interactivity, hyper-targeting and real-time optimisation. Consequently, in a digital environment, the differences between brand and direct response are blurred. Encouraging users to share brand advertising with their friends is a "response".

- What's been the most exciting digital activity for an FMCG brand that you have been involved in?

At Modem in 1998, I was blessed with the creative team of Steve Vranakis and Mark Cridge. We produced the UK's first viral marketing for Lynx, as well as some of the earliest digital TV work for Persil. The scope was smaller and the budgets sucked, but we had a great time challenging the big traditional agencies and convincing brand managers that digital required more focus and budget.

- What should FMCG brands be looking to explore during 2010?

Definitely mobile, which will overtake the PC as the major source of internet consumption. When Google focuses so much money and effort against something, you know the media landscape is shifting yet again. I would also revisit TV. Consumers, particularly youth, are watching more TV than ever. Now, via wireless and mobile, you can sit on the sofa, watch TV and Tweet at the same time. Plus, TV is becoming IP-enabled, which will bring new capabilities and opportunities, including household targeting.

- What does FMCG brands' use of Twitter feeds during 2009 tell us

Mainly that they read the press. To be fair, in some cases it reflects a more sophisticated use of digital and in particular the importance of earned media. In other cases, it feels like Second Life all over again; brands rushing to adopt the latest trend without fully understanding it. Skittles is probably the most notorious example of this.

- What current FMCG online activity would you encourage us to experience?

Our recent Impulse work is a good example of a brand understanding its core audience and developing an ongoing, sustained digital programme. "Impulse Diaries", which primarily lives on Facebook, successfully mashes up online video, user-generated content and brand advocacy into an ongoing marketing platform that isn't built on outdated, e-mail-based CRM models.

MELANIE WELSH - STRATEGY DIRECTOR, SOUP DIGITAL

- In general, how much have FMCG brands been guilty of neglecting digital channels?

Between July 2008 and June 2009, the UK FMCG sector spent 61 per cent of its media budget on TV but just 1 per cent online ... meanwhile, the key FMCG audience - busy mums - are most likely to be heavy users of the internet, and to rank "word of mouth" as the best way to influence them. Digital offers a means by which they can recommend products and services to each other instantaneously but this has yet to be harnessed.

- How much have media owners and trade bodies such as the Internet Advertising Bureau done to make this investment more effective?

The IAB, in particular, has worked tirelessly to promote the benefits of digital to FMCG marketers; investing heavily in research, publicising the issues and partnering with key industry organisations - and we'll be watching its work with Nielsen on the UKOM measurement tool with interest. Many of the media owners are also heavily committed to the cause and, in our experience, the media agencies themselves are also key advocates of digital.

- How true is it that a lot of digital activity doesn't suit FMCG brands because it's more geared towards direct response?

Sadly for us marketing professionals, 21st-century consumers don't differentiate between media in convenient categories. "Digital" permeates every area of their lives and they expect brands to keep pace with that. Clever, responsible interactive marketing is so much more than online advertising or eCRM. It reaches users at a whole range of touchpoints and - if it's done well as part of a considered strategy - talks to them appropriately, relevantly and usefully in a timely fashion.

- What's been the most exciting digital activity for an FMCG brand that you have been involved in?

Arguably "Gone In Sixty Minutes" for the fast-moving consumer electronics brand Samsung Mobile. This integrated social media campaign generated a phenomenal 117 pages of chat on MoneySavingExpert: a key audience target for the brand. The Innocent Drinks rabbit site is another recent project we're very happy to have worked on (www.rabbiting-on.com).

- What should FMCG brands be looking to explore during 2010?

Across the board in FMCG digital marketing there are still too many brilliant but isolated campaigns and too few carefully thought-through strategies. 2010 should be the year when those brands that haven't yet started to do so invest in the foundations of a solid relationship with stakeholders. Starting a meaningful dialogue with your audience - and nurturing it through useful and relevant conversation - is hard, slow work.

- What does FMCG brands' use of Twitter feeds during 2009 tell us

No-one will forget Skittles or #Habitat, and Moonfruit led us in the ways of trending: zipping up the charts with a chance to win an iBook. But Twitter is a creative space and we believe brands who understand that relationships take time and commitment will be the ultimate winners.

- What current FMCG online activity would you encourage us to experience?

Unfortunately, too many FMCG digital campaigns are still fast-burn one-offs that take the mentality of broadcast and impose it on the medium of digital. However, We Are Social's Marmarati campaign is a very well-integrated example of how social media can be used to neatly research and promote in one democratic project.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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