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Social Media Launch Pad

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Going beta isn’t just for the tech industry anymore. In tech, it’s common for an incomplete version to be rolled out months—sometimes years—before the official release. The idea behind going beta is that consumer feedback can improve a product and avoid potential missteps. But in the past two years or so, various marketers outside the segment, including Ford, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo and Kellogg, have adopted the practice by, in effect, releasing beta versions of their products or at least their marketing campaigns in an effort to solicit customer feedback and build buzz.

Recently, social media has become the launch pad for several products, including:

• Ford’s 2011 Fiesta, which was launched last summer with a social media campaign called the “Fiesta Movement.” A TV campaign for the model didn’t launch until last week—about a year after the social media launch.

• Procter & Gamble held a “Shave Studio” in New York’s Times Square in advance of its Gillette Fusion ProGlide launch. During the four-day event, which took place in April, P&G asked males to try out the new razor—which is pitched as turning “shaving into gliding.” It then posted users’ feedback on a site called ProGlideChallenge.com. Fusion ProGlide hits stores next month, and the ads, by BBDO, began running early this month.

• PepsiCo solicited customer feedback for Mtn Dew as part of its DEWmocracy campaign. In 2008, the brand used its DEWmocracy Web site to ask consumers to vote on a new drink. They eventually chose Voltage. Last year, Mtn Dew repeated the experiment via Facebook. In April, the brand released three new, fan-chosen flavors.

• Kellogg launched FiberPlus Antioxidant Bars with social media outreach in January 2009, but traditional advertising for the line didn’t start until June. There was also a six-month lag before the launch of advertising for its Special K crackers, which initially had relied on blogger outreach.

While a period in which marketers solicit social media feedback is now becoming common, it’s still a radical change for many categories. In autos, for instance, marketers normally “wait until the product is literally in showrooms” and then break the ad campaign, said Ford U.S. marketing communications director Matt VanDyke.

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