You can make a lot of friends by being silly.
Little kids looking for playmates and savvy politicians looking for voters know it. Some actors have built entire careers out of it. (Here's looking at you, Mike Myers.) And, lately, candy marketers have been trying to outdo each other in the approach, seeing silliness as a seriously winning route to success.
Over the summer, the Canadian chewy confectionery brand Maynards launched a contest inviting fans to take webcam pictures of their faces and use them as the basis for a new version of the candy that will be distributed across Canada next year. Between the launch of the campaign in late July and the official close of submissions on Sept. 30, more than 3,000 people entered their designs through a special " Make Your Face a Maynards" app on Facebook.
Best of all from the company's perspective, the number of people who clicked the brand's Like button shot from about 30,000 to more than 91,000, powered in part by fans telling their friends they might soon be able to "eat my face!"
Next Monday, fans will find out whose efforts are rewarded, when the Kraft -owned brand reveals the Top Ten submissions in its contest. On Oct. 24, Maynards officials will draw a winner who will get $5,000, a year's supply of their own candy, and a trip to the Hamilton factory where the treat is manufactured – as well as the fame that comes with being the literal face of a new candy (albeit one that will be available in stores for a limited time).
"All candy, but Maynards in particular, is a sweet, silly little break in your day, and this whole program is supposed to be the same sort of thing, in that it just puts this sort of ridiculous proposition in front of people," suggests Simon Creet, the vice-president and chief creative director of the Toronto ad agency The Hive, which devised the campaign.
"It's just this seemingly random route to fame they're offering up that feels like it fulfills the same role candy does in your day: It's not really a necessary thing, there's very little nutrition you're getting out of it, but it puts a smile on your face."
Extreme silliness is de rigueur for the category these days. Ads by Skittles, the hard but chewy candy brand owned by Kraft's rival Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., have spread quickly on the Web in recent years, in part because of their outlandishness. One recent
In August, Wrigley's sugarless Orbit gum launched a U.S. campaign to play up the brand's claim that it can "clean up a dirty mouth." Using a Facebook app titled Bleeping Clean Videos, viewers can customize a few lines of dialogue in three different short videos, adapting them from what appear to be foul-mouthed conversation into something else. The brand now has more than 1.3 million "Likes."
Kraft's U.S. division, meanwhile, is pursing a ruder route to engaging fans of the Maynards candies, which are marketed under their individual flavours south of the border.
Two weeks ago, Sour Patch Kids launched
The video promoted a new mobile game, Sour Fling, downloadable to iPods and iPads, in which players help Sour Patch Kids safely escape from the candy factory.
That interactivity is one key to engaging fans in the candy and gum categories.
"Brands want to have a conversation with consumers, and there's many ways to do that, but reaching consumers where they are in a way that's meaningful for them is increasingly the trick," noted Mackenzie Davison, the director of marketing for candy and chocolate at Kraft Canada.
"If you go back even 12 months, the [marketing]game was all about getting people to 'Like' you. That has become easier and more commonplace to do. A harder thing to do is engage consumers in messaging and content that is relevant to their lives." That challenge, Ms. Davison said, changes with increasing frequency, "depending on who your consumer is and what your brand is." But meaningful content helps increase what is known as "dwell time" on a brand's Facebook page or website, which is one key metric of success.
Kraft and The Hive settled on the candy customization campaign because they knew the brand's 18-24 demographic – its sweet spot, if you will – is often motivated by a quest for some sort of notoriety. "There's this crazy thirst for fame these days, particularly among younger generations who have grown up watching the Kardashians and Paris Hiltons and people who are famous for nothing really," Ms. Davison said. "They've grown up uploading silly stuff on YouTube and I think it adds up to this kind of constant search for ways to achieve some level of fame in some odd way."
If the recent results seem to be encouraging, there's one reason for companies to be cautious. While brands like Maynards, Orbit and Skittles may want to have conversations with consumers, it's unclear whether consumers want to have continuing conversations with those brands, especially if they have "Liked" a brand only to enter a contest or receive a special offer. Increasingly, studies are indicating a significant rate of "Unliking" after campaigns are over: Brands may be looking for a long-term relationship, but people often only want a one-night stand.
"Candy is a little bit of an impulse buy," said The Hive's Mr. Creet. "When you make a car purchase, you're living inside that thing for years and years and it says a lot about you. Candy tends to be a little bit more fleeting."
And while silly may be fun for a while, you don't usually want to marry it.