Multinational giants Coca-Cola, Mars (through its Wrigley-owned Skittles brand) and Unilever (via Marmite), are moving away from traditional advertising approaches, such as television campaigns, and choosing instead to use 'viral marketing' through media such as YouTube. This was probably most successfully demonstrated by Kraft-owned Cadbury's now- famous drumming gorilla.
Emma Wilson, integrated marketing communications director for Coca-Cola north western Europe, told a recent conference organised by the Food, Drink and Agriculture group within The Chartered Institute of Marketing: "We need to fundamentally change our thinking and think about multi-screen formats."
Test, learn, play...
She reported that while Coca-Cola spent 70% of its marketing budget in traditional media areas such as TV, which it knows works, and 20% on innovation in these areas 10% of its spend is now devoted to brand new ideas "to test and learn and play with things".
The amount spent on one such brand new channel, YouTube, is likely to rise from 20% to 70% of Coca-Cola's marketing budget in the 'new areas', according to Wilson. And if the latest YouTube video that shows David Beckham on a beach, with a can of Pepsi in his hand, kicking three footballs 50m into waste bins is anything to judge by, all of the big brands are now getting in on the act.
Wilson said consumers were increasingly using combinations of technologies to stay connected with each other and the wider world. The question is: "How do we put content out there that we know consumers are going to pick up?" she remarked. "Citizen journalists are really driving the PR about our brands."
She added: "It's about being a lot more nimble and open to change." She noted that power was now in consumers' hands. "We no longer talk about advertising, we talk about content. We are not on the bandwagon of digital; it is fundamentally part of what we have to be doing."
Robert Goldsmith, managing partner with marketing communications agency Spinnaker told a conference arranged by the Irish Food Board, Bord Bia, last month that it wasn't just "image led'" brands such as Coca-Cola that were getting in on the act. Brands such ABF-owned Patak's and Blue Dragon brands with "hidden depths" were also using the new channels, he said.
But even very small companies are starting to exploit the YouTube generation. As well as making use of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, Malmesbury Syrups, a small supplier of flavoured coffee syrups, has just produced a YouTube video that provides a 'guide to making the perfect coffee'. "We've had a lot of fun using these things and it's a lot cheaper than using trade advertising," said Malmesbury Syrups's founder and md, John Taylerson.
Malmesbury Syrups originally began selling its products online via Amazon in February 2009. "A big proportion of the turnover of the business is now online and a lot of that is done through Amazon," said Taylerson.