Dangling Incentives on Facebook

Marketers — in this case, food marketers — are trying a new approach when it comes to winning followers: Online coupons and incentives that grow in value as more consumers “like” a brand on Facebook.
 
ConAgra Foods’ Healthy Choice, burger chain Jack in the Box and Barilla’s Wasa Crispbread are recent examples of brands that have been offering these digital incentives. It’s not a race to get more Facebook followers, the companies claim, but to create a sense of community and engagement among consumers.
 
Let’s look first at ConAgra, which last Tuesday kicked off a “progressive coupon” offer on its Healthy Choice Facebook page. Users who “liked” the brand received a coupon for 75 cents off their next Healthy Choice purchase. ConAgra then coaxed more consumers to join its Facebook page by dangling a “buy one, get one free” coupon offer. In other words, the coupon’s value grew as more consumers joined the page.
 
Within 25 hours after launching the promotion, the Healthy Choice Facebook fan base nearly tripled and it “continues to grow,” the company said. (It currently has 53,000 fans.) The coupon’s value grew from 75 cents to $1.25 and, three days later, reached its “buy one, get one free” goal. Furthermore, more than 37,000 consumers have since “reserved” the coupon to be mailed to them.
 
Genevieve Mazzeo, PR and social media manager at ConAgra, said the initiative taps into marketers’ desire to truly engage with their fans. “By allowing the value of the coupon to be directly linked to the amount of people who want and reserve it, we’ve created a sense of community,” Mazzeo said.
 
“Rather than just putting the coupon on our brand Web site, this gives us an opportunity to engage with the [target consumer — mom] and truly start a dialogue about how Healthy Choice is a great value for the money,” added ConAgra marketing director John Lindell. Since the coupon effort kicked off, the opt-in rates for the Healthy Choice e-mail newsletter also increased, said Lindell.
 
Jack in the Box has been following a similar strategy. The fast-food restaurant is running a promotion on Facebook, dubbed “Be My Rich Fan,” as part of which the brand is depositing a virtual nickel into a jar each time a new follower joins its Facebook page. At the conclusion of the sweepstakes — ending Oct. 25 — one winner will get the amount collected in the pot. (In real currency, that is.)
 
Presently, Jack in the Box has 213,374 Facebook fans and the pot is valued at more than $10,660. Joanne O’Brien, group account director at Secret Weapon Marketing, the agency that handles the chain’s advertising and marketing efforts, said the sweepstakes builds on Jack in the Box’s first major foray into the social media space last year.

That Jack in the Box campaign involved a Super Bowl XLIV ad in which Jack gets hit by a bus. The spot prompted a social media outburst where consumers posted “get well” videos and tossed around “conspiracy theories,” said Secret Weapon Marketing CEO Dick Sittig. While the campaign was mostly about getting the brand “acclimated to social media,” the current sweepstakes is meant to build an online following “so we can talk about the brand,” O’Brien said.
 
Meanwhile, Barilla is running a Facebook promotion where a coupon for Wasa Crispbread increased in value as more consumers “liked” it. That effort launched Sept. 1, and Wasa Crispbread is currently at 7,745 likes.

In many ways, the participating brands emulate from Groupon, a popular site based on the idea of group buying. It allows consumers to cash in on local deals, but only if they get a certain amount of friends to join. The more users join, the better the offer.

Company president Rob Solomon said Groupon’s mobile app is used by 25 million subscribers in 29 countries — a large number, considering the company has only been around since November 2008. (Groupon had 400 members at the time.) Marketers’ shift to social, mobile and real-time advertising is driving usage of the app, and others like it, he said.
 
“I’m seeing lots of spin-offs of Groupon. People are trying to riff off our model,” said Solomon, but he noted that the concept is slightly different than what the packaged-goods brands are doing. For one, coupon and offer values from CPG companies are typically in the lower range, say “buy one, get one free.”
 
While such incentives seem to be catching on, the question remains: Is the strategy really effective in cases where a consumer “likes” a brand just for the money?
 
Sucharita Mulpuru, a Forrester Research analyst who covers the social marketing space, said that’s often the reason why consumers join brands’ Facebook pages in the first place. “Any brand that thinks otherwise is kidding itself,” she said. “But many marketers are [also] in it for the money, and that’s okay.”

On the upside, marketers are smart to embrace social media to engage with consumers. Mulpuru added: “[At the very least], this is a captive audience.”