Coke, ConAgra, Kellogg Cozy Up with Search Buys

Type in “Coke,” “Diet Coke,” “Sprite,” or any other soft drink marketed by Coca-Cola and the search phrase “My Coke Rewards” comes up as one of the top options.

Coincidence? Definitely not. Since the latter half of 2007, the cola giant has been supporting its popular online loyalty program largely through search buys.

Just over a year ago this strategy would have been considered unusual for beverage and consumer packaged goods companies. However, thanks to proven return on investment and a desire to dominate search terms related to their brands, Coke, ConAgra, Kellogg and other major CPG companies are now actively embracing search marketing.

Google and Yahoo! have both seen a rise in the number of packaged-goods giants embracing this medium during the last two years. In the past six months, in particular, marketers have come to “adopt search as an ‘always on’ [kind of strategy],” fueling the growth, said Kevin Kells, Google’s national CPG industry director.

This is in response to the fact that “consumers are searching 24/7 for things like, ‘How do I get stains out of my clothes?’ or ‘How do I get my hair not to be so frizzy on a humid day?’ There are millions of searches in any category we work in.”

CPG companies’ use of search is expected to grow about 30% to $594 million by 2012, per Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass.

When Coke launched its My Coke Rewards loyalty program in 2006, it started with traditional TV, print and out-of-home advertising. But, “we found that search was the most effective and efficient way of bringing consumers to the [] Web site to register,” said Carol Kruse, vp-global interactive marketing at Coca-Cola, Atlanta.

Earlier this year, the company tapped interactive marketing agency AKQA, San Francisco, to expand upon a list of key search terms for the loyalty program. Those results now number in the tens of thousands, per the company.

Coke is not alone. Search is now the primary driver for ConAgra’s recipe site, The Omaha, Neb.-based company purchased a comprehensive list of search terms encompassing everything from “easy-to-prepare” to “great tasting recipe.”
“It was a shift in perspective more than anything else,” said ConAgra’s interactive marketing director, Kevin Doohan. He likened a company’s investment in search to securing virtual shelf space.

Indeed, this desire to monopolize any given brand category is part of what is driving search’s growth among consumer packaged-goods companies.

“When someone looks for your brand online, what do they see? Do you own those results through paid or organic search? And can you influence those results if other Web sites are coming up and competing against your brand?” Doohan asked. “That speaks to a dial-tone level of search. Like the electricity in your house, it should always be on. That’s one of the views we’ve had.”

Another factor driving the use of search is ROI. “The major driver, regardless of the recession or not, is making your ad dollars more effective, to find people of the most value to you and who know the most about your category and brand,” said Google’s Kells. “Every dollar is being used to the most potential and leverage.”

So much so that even cereal maker Kellogg is turning to search to implement its major, brand-building initiatives. Next Monday, it will unveil the new face of
Much of the site design draws its inspiration from visual search technology, said Susanne Norwitz, rep, Kellogg, Battle Creek, Mich.

Kellogg, for instance, has crafted the recipe portion of the site to resemble a virtual recipe book where visitors can scroll or flip through the pages. “This technology will make it very easy to navigate, and it’s also very visually stimulating,” Norwitz said.