Spreading The Word
We Are Social’s The Marmarati campaign for Unilever got the yeasty spread’s most avid fans involved in the creation of a brand-new, limited edition recipe. Nathan McDonald, Managing Partner at the agency, tells Figaro Digital about the strategy behind the campaign, which won two awards at the 2010 BIMAs
You know your brand’s probably doing OK when it starts flying off the shelf and into everyday speech. Boris Johnson, Russell Brand and Chris Moyles have all been dubbed ‘human Marmite’ – an honour derived from the proudly polarising spread’s ‘love it or loathe it’ campaign of 2006.
None of them, however, qualify as Marmarati: those zealous devotees of the yeasty black stuff who formed the heart of We Are Social’s award-winning campaign for Unilever. A lovingly conceived exercise in deepening brand engagement, The Marmarati campaign got fans involved in the creation of a limited edition ‘XO’ (extra old) recipe via social media and specially staged events and then turned them into brand ambassadors, spreading the word on the spread we love to love (or hate).
“The Marmarati are an elite group of dedicated Marmite lovers,” explains Nathan McDonald, Managing Partner at agency We Are Social. “Our strategy was built around engaging those people who already love Marmite in quite an obsessive way. The goal was to convert them into brand advocates for the new Marmite XO product. The creative strategy was to form a very exclusive club – The Marmarati – which drew inspiration from the Victorian origins of Marmite. We put an eccentric, humourous twist on that which made it fun and engaging and allowed people to join in.”
The campaign represents a model example in how to nurture brand engagement and shape opinion while getting customers involved with the product at a fundamental level. McDonald and his team began by locating key influencers in the blogosphere and on social media who they knew were particularly passionate or vocal about Marmite. “A select group was then invited to an exclusive event,” says McDonald. “We sent out an elaborate, personalised, Victorian-style invitation and told them they were going to be part of Marmite history if they chose to attend. But we kept what was actually involved secret. We didn’t reveal any details.”
These chosen few were the First Circle of The Marmarati, and so unusual was the invitation that at first some recipients thought it was a hoax. These key influencers were invited to a specially-staged event in London where they met the Marmite-makers. This was the actual team from Unilever, dressed up for the night in full Victorian garb and rechristened the Alchemist, the Master Blender, the Master Spreader, the Marmite Artisan (“the beauty of Marmite’s public announcements – they are his work”) and Lord Marmite himself (the company’s real-life CEO.) Those who attended were able to taste the new extra-strong XO recipe – not yet finalised at this stage – and give their input. The brand’s most avid consumers were being given a hand in their favourite product’s creation.
“We gave them a whole invented history of The Marmarati,” says McDonald. “And then we asked them to get out and spread the word and recruit the next level of Marmarati. So we really asked those first influencers to be our advocates and help us recruit. And they were really up for it. We’d given them something – exclusive access to the brand – and they wanted to repay that by helping us with the rest of the campaign, which was exactly what we’d hoped for.”
The strategy worked a treat and before long more enthusiasts – the Second Level of the Marmarati – were signing up to Facebook and posting video, pictures and poems on the Maramarati website, all declaring their deep-seated passion for the product.
McDonald believes this is the first time consumers had been involved in the actual development of an existing FMCG food brand, but explains that the tactic was inspired by the way technology manufacturers seek user-input into the development of new prototypes.
“It was as if we were thinking about the first few iterations of the product as beta versions,” he says. “These were given to the most valuable members of the community and we asked them for their feedback. That made them feel special and as if they had ownership of the product, and made them more inclined to talk about it and be an advocate.”
A significant part of the campaign’s success was the sheer detail and dedication that went into the creative strategy: staging the events, creating the artwork and establishing that cheerfully eccentric faux-Victorian air. (“Downlower historic documents,” invites the website at marmarati.org, taking users to a ripping yarn involving secret societies, the invention of the toaster and warnings about the nefarious “marmaladi.”)
Traditional advertising generally seeks to spread the message as wide as possible. By making exclusivity the key, We Are Social’s campaign went the other way, deepening an already existing special relationship between brand and consumer. One reason they were able to do this is the unusual nature of the Marmite brand itself, which may be unique in having made a virtue of the fact that some people just can’t stand the stuff. That made it a particularly satisfying project to work on, says McDonald.
“It’s a very good creative platform,” he says, “derived from the simplest brand insight, which is that some people love Marmite and some people hate it. That kind of truth is a very strong place to start any creative work from. Any brand that has a strong point of view about itself or the world is really interesting to work on because it gives you permission to appeal to a select group and not have to worry about other people. It’s almost OK to disregard all those people and be the opposite of what they want. That gives you a license to come up with something creatively very strong.”
All of this meant that social media, with its unique capacity for deepening brand engagement, was the perfect vehicle for driving the campaign, providing consumers with a public voice and enabling them to communicate directly with the brand.
“One of the strengths of social media,” says McDonald, “is finding existing customers that already have quite a strong relationship with the brand and strengthening that relationship in order to retain them and increase the value of the relationship, for the brand and the consumer, as well as eventually converting them into an advocate where they recommend the product to their peer group, which is the most powerful form of marketing that exists: word of mouth from people that you know.”
In the frantic world of FMCG marketing, this was an eye-catching, appealing and media-friendly campaign (The Guardian was among those who reported it) which demonstrated that if marketers genuinely understand consumers, capture their imagination and grant them a voice, the benefits can be real and deep. We Are Social won in the Best Customer Goods & Services and Engagement categories at the 2010 BIMA – proof that effective, creative marketing really is all about spreading the word.
Article by Jon Fortgang