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Active Cultures: Linking Value and Digital Marketing as Told Through Yogurt


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Using case studies from three yogurt brands, I explore the ways companies can combine social and traditional "passive" media to resonate with audiences on a cultural level.

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Active Cultures: Linking Value and Digital Marketing as Told Through Yogurt

  1. Active CulturesLinking Value and Digital Marketing as Told Through Yogurt by Steve Gottschling
  2. Last May, Andrew Blakelyrepeated for us a tragic story his boss had told him. (you can read the whole thing here)
  3. “This morning my yoghurttold me to find it on Facebook. It didn’t tell me why, it just told me to find it. Why on Earth would I want to find a yoghurt on Facebook? It’s a yoghurt!”
  4. Up until that moment, thepoor yogurt brand probably thought they were doing everything right.For starters, they understood the importance ofengagement, of tapping into the new “empowered, connected consumer.”
  5. They knew the internet had changed the relationship between brands andaudiences, and they chose to act.
  6. But, as it turnsout, simply being there wasn’t enough. They lacked an understanding of theways their brand fit in their audience’s lives. And the result was not just rejection butcomplete bewilderment.
  7. To Andrew’s boss, yogurt was a commodity with no othermeaning. He therefore had no reason to engage with it online.
  8. In the coming slides, we will show how brands cansuccessfully combine digital platforms with traditional “passive” media to resonate with their audience on a cultural level.
  9. We will show how this sort of cultural resonance allowseven commodities like yogurtto weave themselves into the stories consumers tell each other, the stories they tell about themselves.
  10. When everything goes according to plan, the audience will not bescratching their heads, wondering why they should ever engagewith your brand online.It will make sense from the start.
  11. Before we continue, it’s important to realize that the ingredientsthat make for effectivedigital strategy are thesame ones that helped traditional “passive” media win over audiences for years.
  12. And the key ingredient iswhat Bernard and Veronique Cova call Linking Value.Source: Tribal Marketing: The Tribalisation of Society and its Impact in the Conduct of Marketing
  13. In other words, good brands help audiences situate themselves in their social landscape, to imagine themselves as part of something bigger.
  14. Modern identity is malleable, able to beshifted and bended inan entirely conscious way. Every social interaction can be seen as an act of maintaining or reshaping identity.
  15. On the social web, this is more true than it ever has been before. Participation insocial spaces online requires users to construct digital selves from the ground up.
  16. With linking value, brandsfunction as building blocks in that process.They connect our identity to ideologies, to broadercontexts, to communities of peers with similar enthusiasms.
  17. And the best part…
  18. Most of this takes place in our imagination.Although social interaction iskey for identity building, no one else needs to be present for us to change the way we see ourselves.
  19. I can be completely alone in my favorite chairand still imagine myself as part of the Go Greenmovement, as a LOMO enthusiast, as a modern health-conscious mother. The list is endless.
  20. This imaginary component is what makes passive media like print or television a primary provider of linking value.
  21. We’re all familiar with the ability of passivemedia to illustrate and dramatize benefits.But its real power is tocreate linking value by imbuing brands with cultural meaning.
  22. Let’s see some examples.
  23. (Click to see video)
  24. Note the use of familiar symbols: the cubicles, themuted colors, the clear social roles of the characters, the business attire. This TV spot uses these symbols to conflate AT&T’s Blackberry Torch with the middle-class white collar milieu.
  25. The Torch thus becomes a way for its audience to identifywith the values of that milieuand to imagine themselves as part of it.Even though the Blackberry’s features can be found onmany other smart phones, it is the cultural associations that differentiate the Torch.
  26. The Pepsi ads of the 1960s are a slightly more obvious example.
  27. Here, the source of the linking value is right in the tag line. Audiences are asked toimagine themselves as part of a broader “generation,” a spirit or a movement.
  28. And now for a completely different kind ofmedium, observe the changes that have taken place in McDonalds restaurants.
  29. McDonalds recognized its audience had developed epicurean aspirations– a taste for good design, comfortable public space, glimmers of the upscale. By overhauling its interior spaces, McDonalds created anideological bridge to the cultural context its audience desired.
  30. Why do we spend all this time with passive media? Because effective digital engagement harnesses the same principles of “cultural invocation.”
  31. While passive media has the power to invoke imagined cultural membership, social media makes thatmembership more real (or at least makes it seem that way).
  32. Users can locate other usersin the same community rather than merely having to imagine their existence.
  33. But in the end, nothing has changed. The real magic of social media, like passive media, is to give consumers a way tosituate their identities within a larger cultural context.
  34. Now, let’s look at three yogurt brands that infuse their product with linkingvalue, elevating it above mere commodity status.
  35. First, let’s discuss Fage
  36. Though Fage Greek Yogurthas received a brand tune upfrom both Ogilvy and Mullen since 2007, the brand hasalways aligned itself with anupscale epicurean worldview.
  37. (click any image tosee video)
  38. Notice how this TV spotexcises altogether rational benefit descriptions.No one even mentions what the product is.
  39. Instead it presents a view of the world– a passion forbeauty and aesthetics with a slight bourgeois undertone. To purchase Fage is to alignyourself with a community of aesthetes.
  40. You can see this culturalassociation in past work as well.
  41. How does this meaning-making translate to the digital space?
  42. Currently, Fage’s Facebook page promotes heavily its “Greek Getaway” contest. By doing so, it performs abalancing act of advancing thebrand and inciting discussion.
  43. The page presents themes of“getting the best from life,” ofleisure with an upscale bent. It then asks users to participate.
  44. Also worth noting are theFacebook updates that do not align with the themes expressed in the passive media.
  45. The brand creates engagement by asking its audience to discuss more everyday topics like recipesand flavors, departing from its main brand message but still holding the community together.
  46. Now let’s talk about Stonyfield Farms
  47. Digging up any sort of passivemedia campaign for Stonyfield is a challenge, as Stonyfield invests less than half theamount its competitors invest in traditional paid media.
  48. Instead, the bulk of Stonyfield’s marketing takes place on itswebsite, which then serves as a sort offactory for cultural meaning.
  49. More specifically, Stonyfield positions itself and its audience as part of the samegrassroots activist movement.In Stonyfield’s narrative, the brand and consumer don’t exist in separate camps.Everyone is part of the same whole, the push for sustainable living.
  50. Indeed, almost all ofStonyfield’s marketing efforts ask us to imagine “real live” people in order to invoke feelings of bottom-up mobilization.
  51. One example is Stonyfield’sinvitations for users to submit content of their own. Stonyfield then posts the submissions, effectually depicting an entire virtualcommunity as it participates in the brand narrative.
  52. (Clickimage tovisit site)
  53. “Just Eat Organic” is the quintessential visual representation of a brand community. Users post videos of themselves following a specific set of rules (in this case, shouting “just eatorganic”), and others can see the results.
  54. With so many visibleparticipants sharing thesame ritual, a feeling of solidarity emerges, an esprit de corps around organic food.
  55. Stonyfield achieved a similareffect with the Your Organic Moment campaign.
  56. (Clickimage tovisit site)
  57. In place of videos are written anecdotes, but the idea is thesame– a visual representationof the community surrounding the brand.Stonyfield doesn’t just ask itsaudience to imagine a cast of likeminded peers– it uses visuals to make that community real.
  58. And we haven’t even mentioned the interviewswith the farmers who supply Stonyfield’s milk.
  59. (Click image to visit site)
  60. Meanwhile, Stonyfield’syogurt lids create a bridge between this virtualcommunity of activists and “the real world.”
  61. Stonyfield is certainly not theonly brand to surround itself with a virtual community.But what sets the brand apartis the way these tactics work toward one cohesive brand narrative.
  62. Ultimately, Stonyfie ld’s digital efforts are about voices–rounding up a small choir of different stories from the people connected with the companyand with the causes it champions.
  63. To purchase Stonyfield yogurt is to lend your voice to that choir, to become a part of its grassroots environmental movement.
  64. And, finally, Yoplait
  65. What sets Yoplait apart from Fage and Stonyfield is thehuge role that gender plays in its brand narrative.
  66. Featured in Yoplait’s passive media efforts are not just descriptions of the yogurtitself but portrayals of what it means to be a modern American woman.
  67. Here are some TV spots to illustrate my point.Click each image to see the spot.
  68. 2008
  69. 2010
  70. 2011
  71. First, note the use ofmovement in each ad. There is always at least one character in fluid motion.In the 2010 and 2011 ads, this motion is backed by an equally locomotive soundtrack.
  72. The ads’ constant motionhelps imply something largerthan the individual– the 2008 ad whizzes through onewoman’s life from childhood to motherhood, while the 2011 spot features strangers passing the yogurt from one person to another.
  73. Next, note the use of rational statements of fact. These explanations are then coupled withcollective language like “we’re on the move and we don’t want anything to slow us down.”
  74. The collective language creates linking value byimplying a greater community of modern health conscious women. “We will not let a lack ofcalcium slow us down! We will act together!”
  75. Yoplait also creates linkingvalue with its extensive line offlavors, which many of the ads mention either visually or verbally. The following TV spot makesthe flavors is chief focus (click the image to view).
  76. 2008
  77. The ability of these flavors tospur community engagement becomes much more clear when you visit Yoplait’s twitter page.
  78. On Twitter, Yoplait spends almost all its time responding to individualtweeters, often asking them to engage with the community by discussing their favorite flavors. In this way, talking about flavor (especially identifying with a certainone) becomes a way of identifying with the community as a whole.
  79. Ultimately, the flavors alone drum up respectable community engagement, butwhat’s even more important is the way Yoplait uses passive media to align itself with a desirable cultural identity, thereby creating more excitement around its digital spaces.
  80. So what can we recommend to that ill-fated yogurt brand that tried to court Andrew Blakely’s boss?
  81. First, using only the popular digital touchpoints likeFacebook and Twitter is not enough to create meaning. Brands need to find another way to connect themselves to broader cultural contexts, whether through traditional paid media or, as Stonyfield shows, throughdigital properties of their own.
  82. Second, companies should view engagement on those social platforms as the reward, the result ofconsumers imbuing their brand with greater meaning. Only when a brand has become more than a commodity will users advocate it digitally.
  83. Third, there is absolutely no better time than now to understand what communities surround thebrand already, what meanings the brand has already adopted.
  84. After all, linking value is onlyuseful when it connects people to the community or ideology with which they genuinely want to identify.
  85. In the end, it’s tempting to seedigital media as an upgrade, a “next step up” fromtraditional passive media.
  86. But this would be a mistake. Instead, we should look at both media as equallyimportant in the creation and dissemination of meaning.
  87. Thank Youby Steve Gottschling