A few weeks ago I wrote a post in response to Brian, a disgruntled “consumer” who had written an ‘open letter to all of marketing and advertising’ objecting to brands’ attempts to stimulate consumer participation. I offered apologies to Brian, arguing that done right, participative campaigns can provide genuine value to consumers and promised to try harder in future.
…And then Kellogg’s goes and unleashes Pop It Forward, an idea so bad it makes me want to cry. The name, echoing charitable Pay it forward-type initiatives made me think that this was cause-related; that Kellogg’s are assuaging their guilt for encouraging mothers to feed their children chocolate desserts for breakfast. But this is not the case. Pop it Forward is in fact a competition which asks young people to submit their ‘Big Ideas’ as to what they would do with 1 million Pop Tarts. The people who have the best ideas (as voted by fans of the Pop Tarts Facebook page) receive a bulk delivery of ‘toaster pastries’ together with a film crew to capture for posterity their idea as they put it into action.
To help would-be participants along the way, the Facebook page includes an utterly baffling ‘Idea Generator’ which, when clicked, provides insightful suggestions like ‘Gifted’ ‘Wish’ ‘Kitten’ (me neither). And to whet our appetites, they have posted a series of ‘Inspiration Videos’ on their YouTube Channel which provide example ‘Big Ideas’. My personal favorite is ‘Inspirational Video Baseball Game’ where Krysta shares her plan. If she could get her hands on 1000 Pop Tarts she would ‘give them out to anyone I could’ and proceeds to hand out Pop Tarts at a baseball game.
So have Kellogg’s been deluged by people desperate to share their ‘big ideas’ and get their hands on the goodies? When I originally checked the campaign’s Facebook page (which I had to ‘like’ to access doing untold damage to my carefully-managed social network persona) they said they would be sharing ideas on September 20th. But when I checked back on 20th, no ideas had appeared. Competition entries have since begun to filter through with the main themes being ‘I would eat a load and then give the rest away’ with ‘the homeless’, ‘the elderly’ and ‘the lactose intolerant’ the most likely recipients. Despite over 2 million people ‘liking’ Pop Tarts on Facebook, very few ideas have been submitted and the vast majority of these ideas have received no votes.
So why am I singling out this campaign from all the other misguided attempts to stimulate participation which upset Brian and make our industry look stupid? The reason that this campaign is so bad is that it benefits nobody – it is completely pointless. For participatory campaigns to work they must be mutually beneficial: something consumers choose to engage with because they find doing so in some way rewarding (they receive a prize, they look cool in front of their friends etc). And the brand should also benefit because by choosing to participate, those consumers perceive something compelling about it (whether something specific like that it has a new product or more general about its unique outlook on the world) that they would not have understood had they not taken the time to do so.
Uniqlo’s Lucky Counter is a case in point. The initiative asks consumers to tweet about a selection of the brand’s products in return for a discount on them. The brand benefits because potential customers are exposed to a range of its products and share those products with other potential customers via Twitter on the brand’s behalf. Those participants benefit because by sharing said products, they receive a discount on them. A simple, mutually-beneficial transaction.
I may be missing something but as far as I can see, no one benefits from Pop it Forward. I’m assuming that Kellogg’s aren’t suggesting Pop Tarts as a solution to feeding the homeless meaning that the only thing that this initiative communicates is that they have lots of Pop Tarts and that they want people to eat them (not an obvious reason to invest millions of dollars in a marketing campaign). They are not asking their fans to help them choose a new flavor or package design or even using this initiative as a platform to launch an inspiring new brand idea. If it were a TV ad, it would be a Kellogg’s executive appearing on screen saying ‘buy Pop Tarts’ without offering any reason why anyone would ever want to.
And the lack of any sort of idea guiding the initiative makes it very hard for conumers to engage with. Of course, the real prize on offer is not the Pop Tarts themselves but (in Henrik Werdelin’s words) the ‘opportunity to look awesome in front of their friends’ as they demonstrate their creativity through the activation of their ‘big idea’ on film. But since they are being given no tangible inspiration, it is unsurprising that the ideas they are contributing are so equally uninspiring. For the consumer, this initiative is neither useful or entertaining. It is, however, eminently ignorable.
So what do we learn from this? Nothing new or startling: brands must stand for things beyond the things they hope to sell. It is only by finding ways to engage people that we can hope to get their attention, win their affection and encourage them to consider us. This was as true for traditional approaches to marketing (TV ads needed to entertain or touch or shock… so that the audience would be paying attention when the sales pitch happened) and it is also true for more participatory approaches – participation isn’t an idea (this is the trap Kellogg’s has fallen into), it is an outcome: the result of an engaging initiative that benefits both the brand and the consumer.