By Murtaza Adamjee

In its simplest definition, digital marketing is defined as the promoting of a brand through the use of digital distribution channels to reach consumers in a timely, relevant, and personal manner.

Although similar to internet marketing in many aspects, digital marketing extends beyond the traditional practices; digital marketing includes a multitude of elements that today predominantly encompasses social media, mobile marketing, and social networking.

In recent years, there has been an apparent explosion in digital marketing creating major shifts in marketing opportunities. It has reshaped communication, creating in essence, an easily accessible, global network. However, despite the buzz, there remains a certain degree of resistance to its applications. Simply put, the idea of implementing digital marketing as a valid business application seems ineffective at the surface; quite possibly because businesses don’t immediately see how they can extend their reach to potential customers in 140 characters or less.

In order to fully understand digital marketing’s potential impact on the return on investment (ROI), I have decided to take a look at companies who have employed its practices, not for better, but more importantly, for worse.

Case Study: Nestlé

One of the biggest elements of digital marketing, social media campaigns are now widely used by companies to create buzz, network with customers, and create an online presence. Essentially, social media campaigns focus on the grouping of individuals into specific networks that share common interests. Over time, these networks gain social credibility, and become platforms for interactive networking where business can share information, connect with consumers, and target specific aspects of everyday life.

In March 2010, Greenpeace changed its home page to a photo-shopped version of the Kit Kat logo that read ‘Nestlé Killer’ in an attempt to increase awareness of Nestlé destroying rainforests for palm oil.

To support Greenpeace, a handful of Nestlé’s 90, 000 fans on Facebook decided to change their profile pictures to the Photoshopped mock-up. In response, Nestlé requested fans remove the altered version of the company’s logo or be subject to having their comments deleted. The reaction from a few fans was something along the lines of “What ever happened to freedom of speech and expression?” This embarked a series of sarcastic and hostile remarks from whoever was in charge of Nestlé’s public relations. The individual proclaimed that the logo was Nestlé’s intellectual property and as a result, went on the offensive (talking about missing your morning cup of coffee). Lesson #1: don’t insult your customers; in a matter of minutes, Nestlé landed itself in a PR nightmare.

Case Study: Pepsi

With the emergence of digital marketing, mobile marketing has also become an increasingly popular channel to reach customers. With the advanced browsers of the iPhone and smartphones, a number of companies are now turning to the iPhone/iTunes platform; 90 per cent of North Americans are within three feet of their cell phones 24 hours per day. Through mobile marketing, companies have a way to reach their target market wherever they are, at any time of the day.

In 2009, Pepsi introduced an iPhone application (app) by the name of AMP UP Before You Score in an attempt to promote its AMP energy drink. The iPhone app was specifically designed to help men ‘score’ in their quests to pick up women by offering a sheet of information and pick-up lines for 24 stereotypes of women (sounds handy).

The iTunes description read: “Know what makes her tick before you open your mouth, so she’ll like what she hears when you do.” The mobile application promised to be a “roadmap of success with your favorite kinds of women.”

The release of the app was met with a roar of criticism, and forced Pepsi and AMP to offer an apology via Twitter – “Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women. We apologize if it’s in bad taste & appreciate your feedback. #pepsifail.”

Despite the apology, the damage had been done. Undoubtedly, a number of customers’ reverted to boycotting Pepsi’s products.

Just a few of the responses:

@metroidbaby: Though I appreciate the(non-)apology, @ampwhatsnext, damage is done. I won’t be buying Pepsi products for a very long time.

@cobra_DeEtta: @AMPwhatsnext Your campaign is thoughtless and offensive despite the guise of juvenile humor to excuse it. Lame apology not accepted.

@gsborealtor: @AMPwhatsnext #pepsifail You need more than to give a half-hearted apology, pull the app

Case Study: Skittles

Social networking campaigns are often used by companies as platforms for communicating with clients. In particular, Twitter is an effective medium that can be used by companies to target customers in the same digital media community. In a sense, Twitter helps humanize a brand.

In 2009, Skittles launched a social networking campaign that would rock the social media world. The home page was converted into a Twitter panel that captured an uncensored feed of tweets with the word “skittles.” Some argued that the stunt was a success as Skittles would benefit from the increase in publicity. However, social networking is about engaging with your customers; something Skittles failed to do in its entirety. According to social media consultant Joanne Jacobs, essentially all Skittles did was “set up a doorway…to nothing. Give users a mirror and they tend to make funny faces in front of it. Give users some content, and a context in which ideas can be explored, and they engage.”

Skittles failed to provide content of its own, and most importantly, failed to interact with its customers. Ultimately, the Skittles Twitter experiment was a bust; all that was accomplished was a stream of invaluable jargon without any relevant context for productive engagement.

With the number of digital marketing tools readily available, the challenge for companies is realizing this trend and using it to their advantage. Social networking platforms are powerful tools for communicating with clients. However, Nestlé, Pepsi, and Skittles are classic case studies of companies trying to impose its rules and censorship on social networking platforms for which they actually have no control. If used correctly, digital marketing platforms can provide businesses with a host of effective tools that can be utilized to build quality relationships within their target market. Lesson learned. Case closed.


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