The Secret Sauce for the Cranberry’s Social Media Win With Millennials

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[Editor’s Note:With Thanksgiving approaching, we offer this holiday-related case study, a fowl-infused What’s Trending in PR and a seasonally apt message from our holiday columnist Mike McDougall. We hope these articles provide food for thought and whet your appetite.]

The Issue: Reinventing the Cranberry

It’s an age-old issue for communicators: How do you create content for your brand that can break through the noise and find its way to new audiences?

In the following case study, we added a few more conditions. First, can your content take a fruit—the cranberry, which is associated mostly with its peak harvest and holiday season—and make it trendy with millennials? Cranberries contain vitamin C and fiber and may help maintain urinary tract health, but with many other foods touting benefits, how could this superfruit stand out from the crowd?

Those were some of the issues facing the Cranberry Marketing Committee (CMC), a federally created entity (more on this below), before the 2015 holidays.

As “America’s Original Superfruit,” cranberries are a staple at many Thanksgiving feasts. Yet we noticed millennials reinventing the traditional celebration with a newer, trendier holiday: Friendsgiving. In turn, we believed the beloved cranberry also needed to reinvent itself and claim its place at this swanky holiday tab

Cranberry Marketing Committee, Executive Director, Michelle Hogan
Michelle Hogan, Executive Director, Cranberry Marketing Committee

le. As you might know, Friendsgiving is Thanksgiving’s young, chic alter ego, a millennial-driven trend where party hosts celebrate the holidays with friends in the days and weeks before and after Thanksgiving.

An idea the CMC and Pollock Communications settled on to raise the cranberry’s profile with millennials called for the fruit to break free of traditional associations a bit and become a part of the emerging holiday. Creating a breakthrough social media campaign also was on the agenda. Piece of (cranberry) cake, right? The CMC and Pollock decided to create a strategic social media campaign to engage a young, millennial audience through a creative cranberry-focused photo-sharing contest timed to Friendsgiving.

The aim of the campaign was to meet millennials where they socialize—on social media—and capitalize on an existing millennial-focused event. The campaign captured the interest and attention of this important new audience, cooked up cranberry buzz, encouraged cranberry trials and generated contest entries (in the form of creative, millennial-inspired cranberry dishes, drinks and décor) on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. But with every success come a few challenges…

Berry Creative: The CMC urged online contestants to be creative in their use of cranberries in recipes.
Berry Creative: The CMC urged online contestants to be creative in their use of cranberries in recipes.

Bogged Down with Hurdles

As noted above, the CMC has a federal pedigree. It was established as a federal marketing order in 1962 to ensure a stable, orderly supply of good quality product. In addition, the CMC conducts cranberry promotions on behalf of its members, including cranberry farmers and marketers.

Since the CMC’s inception, Thanksgiving has played an important role in our promotions. As generations and technology have evolved, though, we realized the cranberry and the CMC needed to keep up with changing behaviors and new media so we could reach key audiences. The risk of not moving with the times was listless sales figures. Understanding the millennial generation and how to reach this social-media savvy, food-focused audience became paramount in order to engage with it, stand out from the crowded holiday food space, create a new generation of cranberry lovers and ultimately increase cranberry sales.

While the CMC had a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, we were absent on Instagram; we were not actively engaging with millennials and relevant social influencers. To reach the coveted millennial target and expand cranberry consumption, the CMC needed to augment its social media activities and forge relationships with millennial influencers. With a tight timeline of only a few months to gear up (planning began in summer 2015) and a modest budget, we needed to find a creative way to make a powerful impact.

Fanberry: The CMC contest microsite did double duty, offering traditional and unusual cranberry recipes.
Fanberry: The CMC contest microsite did double duty, offering traditional and unusual cranberry recipes.

Soliciting a Solution

Pollock had plenty of knowledge about the behavior of millennials; still, the agency undertook a research effort, diving deep into relevant studies and articles. From this activity it concluded:

  • Millennials’ affection for food rivals their interest in social media
  • They love to post photos of food, cocktails, crafts and DIY wins (and fails) on social
  • Millennials enjoy celebrating, and their self-created holiday, Friendsgiving, is no exception
  • Friendsgiving is focused on food and friends, but there’s a significant amount of social media buzz surrounding the celebrations
  • Social media influencers motivate millennials

The research guided Pollock’s planning to: develop a social media photo-sharing contest focused on creative recipes and décor to create news of the versatility of cranberries and their myriad uses; time the contest to peak harvest season and Friendsgiving to maximize interest and social media buzz; and partner with social media influencers to motivate millennials to try cranberries and enter the contest.

These three factors were equally important to the campaign: The influencers drove awareness of the contest; the contest motivated millennials to create and share social buzz about cranberries; and the backdrop of Friendsgiving provided the optimal time and place to drive cranberry relevance, engagement and sales.

The CMC and Pollock collaborated on targeted media and blogger outreach, identifying the right influencers, creating a compelling contest microsite (CranberryFriendsgiving.com), launching an Instagram account (@uscranberries) and designing attractive promotional materials, including the Ultimate Friendsgiving Guide, with tips and information for hosting a Friendsgiving dinner party highlighting cranberry dishes, drinks and décor. Since millennials are passionate foodies and appreciate unique recipes as well as high-quality photos, we were careful to select ultra-trendy tips and unconventional recipes as part of our resources, to pique interest, resonate with this audience and drive interaction.

In addition to targeted media and influencer outreach, Pollock recommended the CMC create a 360-degree marketing campaign. The CMC mobilized its members to help support and create awareness of the contest and encourage marketing initiatives to promote the social campaign within their own programs. Several members tweeted, posted and added the contest website URL and hashtag to their branded sites and materials, further boosting exposure. Pollock tapped its network of retail dietitians to implement an in-store promotion at Redner’s Warehouse Markets timed to the contest. The promotion included an in-store circular, an article in its Health¢ents publication and TasteStation cranberry recipe sampling events in 30 stores during November, timed to Friendsgiving.

The contest microsite elicited entries, but also doubled as a resource of cranberry information, with links to a variety of sweet and savory recipes and relevant websites showcasing the versatility of cranberries. The contest hashtag, #FriendsgivingCranberryContest, helped increase social buzz and allowed us to track contest entries across all platforms. Consumers were encouraged to share how they featured cranberries in their Friendsgiving celebrations for a chance to win a $2,000 dinner party. That we challenged millennials to get creative with cranberries, a traditional holiday food, motivated them to think outside the box and helped inspire entries while positioning cranberries as a versatile fruit that belonged at the Friendsgiving table.

We also found influencers who met our strict criteria. The CMC teamed with Friendsgiving experts and millennial social media influencers Elsie & Emma of ABeautifulMess.com and Carlene Thomas, RDN, LD, of Healthfully Ever After.

Our criteria for the influencers: Were they foodies and millennials with large followings? Active in celebrating Friendsgiving? Unique and creative in their recipes and décor items? Active on social with targeted followings? Successful with similar activations?

The influencers proved to be a cost-effective and relevant means of communicating our messages with pre-approved cranberry-focused posts, tips and contest shout-outs. In the absence of advertising, the influencers were crucial in helping to drive cranberry awareness and contest entries.

The Results

The campaign resulted in hundreds of contest entries, significant social media chatter about cranberries and impactful sales increases across all cranberry products, helping to create a new generation of cranberry lovers and expand cranberry consumption. We measured success by the number of contest entrants, media impressions and increases in social media followers for CMC pages, as well as sales increases for cranberry products at retail, including:

•211,317,802 impressions in traditional and social

•190,115 impressions through multiple retailers’ social channels

•20%-138% increases in followers of CMC social pages

•1.2 million shoppers reached through Redner’s partnership, resulting in the following:

* 11% sales increase for fresh cranberries

* 64% sales increase for dried cranberries

* 22% sales increase for cranberry sauce

* 14% sales increase for cranberry juice

Lessons Learned

Based on the success of the social media campaign, the CMC recently launched the second annual Cranberry Friendsgiving Photo Contest to continue to raise awareness of cranberries among millennials timed to harvest and the Friendsgiving holiday season. Using lessons learned in year one we’ve expanded this year’s contest. Some of the lessons learned:

•Enlisting targeted and relevant social influencers is a strategic way to reach millennials.

•Utilizing a unique hashtag allows you to track and monitor social buzz and entries and engage with contest entrants.

•Developing social media-ready promotional graphics and materials makes it easier for industry members, media, influencers and consumers to get involved in marketing activations and initiatives that spread your product message.

•Amplifying social media efforts with tools such as a Twitter party or Facebook Live help ignite interest and spread the news about your campaign.

CONTACT: Michelle Hogan can be contacted via EBlasi@pollock-pr.com