FOR decades, Nabisco has sold cookies called Social Tea and crackers called Sociables. Now a competitor, Pepperidge Farm, is going all social, too, by entering the increasingly popular field known as social media with a Web site devoted to social networking.
Pepperidge Farm, owned by the Campbell Soup Company, is introducing a campaign with the theme “Connecting through cookies.” The centerpiece of the campaign is the Web site, artofthecookie.com, which is meant to help women — the target audience for Pepperidge Farm — improve their social lives.
“Our friendships with our girlfriends make our lives so much richer,” proclaims a section of the home page of the Web site. “Visit our new section about keeping those connections strong.”
Sally Horchow, the co-author with Roger Horchow of “The Art of Friendship: 70 Simple Rules for Making Meaningful Connections” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006), has been hired to serve as the spokeswoman for the campaign.
The Web site includes video clips from a cross-country trip that Ms. Horchow took in the summer, during which she spoke with women from Las Vegas to Nantucket, Mass., about making and maintaining friendships.
The campaign, with a budget of $2 million to $3 million, includes a public relations initiative, a survey of American women on the topic of friendship and print advertising.
The campaign is indicative of the efforts being made by mainstream marketers to take advantage of the growing ardor among consumers for online social networking.
Ad spending on Web sites like Bebo, Buzznet, Facebook and MySpace — by companies like Blockbuster, Circuit City, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Sony — is expected to total $1.2 billion this year, according to eMarketer, a research company, and climb to $1.9 billion in 2008.
Marketers are also building their own Web sites that encourage socializing among consumers, with brand presences that range from understated to deafening.
In addition to Pepperidge Farm, the marketers going into the social media business include Jockey, with a humorous site for young men (jockeyunderwars.com) devoted to a video contest, and Dove, with an earnest site for women (campaignforrealbeauty.com) devoted to subjects like body image and self-esteem.
“We started with this notion of wanting to move our communication with our consumers from telling them about us to having a dialogue with them,” said Michael Simon, vice president and general manager at the Pepperidge Farm snacks division in Norwalk, Conn.
To make possible that shift “to two-way marketing from one-way marketing,” Mr. Simon said, the company conducted ethnographic research by “going into our consumers’ homes, sitting down with them, talking to them about how they use our products.”
During those conversations, “this notion of connection came up again and again,” he added, and how “hectic lifestyles, life in general, has gotten in the way” of women forging and strengthening ties with friends — over, say, a pot of tea and a plate of cookies.
If Pepperidge Farm can present itself to those consumers as the brand that “can help enable connections and reconnect with friends,” Mr. Simon said, “that will be seen in a positive light.”
There are of course drawbacks to becoming involved in the lives of consumers outside the realm of trying to influence their purchasing behavior.
For instance, what if Pepperidge Farm helps one friend get in touch with another to remind her she has not paid back a debt?
“Maybe then she isn’t a friend,” Mr. Simon said, laughing.
Some consumers might object to the commercial aspects of the site; for example, the Pepperidge Farm brand logo is prominent on the home page.
“Yes, they’re selling cookies,” Ms. Horchow said in a telephone interview. “But they’re also interested in getting into the nitty-gritty of this and helping bring people together.”
To curry favor with consumers, “brands are realizing they have to do a lot more than making something that tastes good,” she added. “Connecting on a personal level with people makes your life better.”
Ms. Horchow, who praised Pepperidge Farm “for asking me to spread my gospel” about the benefits of social connections, will work with the company for a year, she said, adding that “it may continue” beyond that.
Ms. Horchow plays a significant role in the public relations elements of the campaign, which are being produced by DeVries Public Relations in New York.
“The Web offers us so much opportunity for blowing ideas out,” said James Allman, chief executive at DeVries. “We’re not confined to thinking about a 30-second spot.”
Many campaigns centered on social networking use little traditional advertising or none at all, said Mr. Allman, who previously worked for advertising agencies in New York like Ammirati Puris Lintas.
For example, a campaign that DeVries developed for the Pantene hair-care line sold by Procter & Gamble, which encourages women to cut their hair and donate it to cancer patients, “was supported by minimal advertising,” Mr. Allman said, “and we are almost three times over our projected traffic” for the Web site (beautifullengths.com).
Asked if products ought to be striving to play roles in the lives of their consumers, Mr. Allman replied: “Is it weird? It’s a new way to think about brands.”
The most traditional aspect of the “Connecting through cookies” campaign is the print ads, which are created by Y&R in New York, part of the Young & Rubicam Brands division of the WPP Group.
The ads are running in the November issues of three Hearst magazines: Country Living, Good Housekeeping and Redbook. They carry this headline: “Friendship. Is yours an art form or a lost art?”
As the cookie campaign gets under way, Pepperidge Farm is already delving into additional aspects of the lives of its consumers in hopes of forging closer emotional ties with them.
A campaign by Y&R for the Goldfish line of snack crackers, which is aimed at parents, features a new Web site (fishfulthinking.com) with information about methods, as one ad describes it, “to inspire positive thinking in children.”
The goal, said Mr. Simon at Pepperidge Farm, “is understanding your consumer, understanding what’s important to them and how to connect to them in a relevant way.”
Perhaps the next cracker or cookie brought out by Pepperidge Farm ought to be called Altruistic. And instead of fish shapes, each snack can be made to look like Balto the rescue dog.