A super-sized portion of useful social media nuggets was served up by Bradley Kay, president of independent marketing and communications firm SS+K, and the panel he moderated at this week’s IAB Marketplace titled “Controlled Spontaneity: Paying Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain.”

It says a lot about our culture that the most compelling viral marketing case studies relate to fast food and beer. But then again, what’s more social than booze and junk food?

Here are the takeaway nuggets, by panelist:

Jackie Woodward left McDonald’s three years ago to head up marketing and media services at MillerCoors.

  • Like the rest of us, MillerCoors is in constant social media experimentation mode. They’re still trying to figure out who to listen to and who not to (with the caveat that they don’t listen unless consumers are 21 or over).
  • “We don’t get paid for pass-alongs. The metric that matters is how much beer can we sell.”
  • It’s Jackie’s job to give an answer to the guy who says, “Dude why are you drinking that?”
  • She believes firmly that social media marketing needs to be synced up with the larger positioning of a brand — which comes to light out of good ideas.
  • The Miller High Life brand is built on authenticity and lack of pretension, starting with its no-nonsense, clear bottle. Since 2006, High Life has been positioned as “common sense in a bottle.” The highly viral, 1 second High Life Superbowl ad made sense to consumers in this economy — lots of bang, not a lot of bucks. The buzz it created translated to an 8% increase in beer sales the week before the Superbowl.
  • Jackie’s favorite viral campaign: Two Miller Lite iPhone apps. One is a spinner to determine who buys the next round. The other is a display that shows, across a crowded bar, how many beers you need. To get priority attention from bartenders, patrons simply hold up the iPhone which reads: 2 Miller Light bottles please. This leaves crowds of thirsty revelers impressed and talking, one bar at a time.

Alan Wolk of the Toad Stool consultancy is a creative thought leader in social media.

  • Alan emphasized that listening turns into R&D.
  • He talked about “prom king brands,” companies like Apple and Google, that have a “cool factor” that rubs off on those who are talking about them.
  • Not every brand has the prom king advantage, but every company does have the ability to identify its own social currency, be it money related (coupons, pricing), information-based (intel you can’t get elsewhere), or something people want to talk about — if only that the company is thinking about consumers more or in different ways than other companies.
  • Before you start thinking about social media marketing, figure out how many evangelists you actually have.
  • Consumers will accept failures, as long as you’re honest about it. As you experiment, take the good stuff out of a bad campaign and move on.
  • Alan’s favorite viral campaign: Burger King’s Whopper Sacrifice. It was low budget, yet every local station ran stories about people defriending Facebook friends in exchange for a free burger, and about BK pulling the campaign when people figured out how to game it — something the company anticipated and, in fact, choreographed. This wacky, frat boy stunt is not something most brands could pull off, but is 100% consistent with Burger King’s brand positioning. It’s is a great example of pulling strings behind the curtain to help spontaneity along.

Andrew Markowitz is the director of digital marketing for Kraft Foods.

  • Andrew underscored that with viral, we can’t creating a marketing model and push it out.
  • Instead, it’s about being smart and “micro-relevant” all over the place, without being scattershot.
  • You can’t control every element of the message. The more you put yourself out there, the more uncontrolled the message will be.
  • However, if you establish a brand voice that is authentic and credible, you can set yourself up for spontaneity that works in your favor.
  • The real challenge for marketers is not a lack of metrics, it’s that there’s so very much data that it’s hard to synthesize.
  • Andrew’s favorite viral campaign: (besides the beloved Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile): the Skittles home page Twitter overlay, especially given that Skittles is not a prom king brand like Reese’s or M&Ms.

Photo credit: Kilf Rhodes

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