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Friday, June 16, 2006

Coke + Mentos = Lessons in Viral Marketing

This summer's goofy craze -- fueled by as many as 800 videos posted online -- appears to be creating carbonic geysers by putting Mentos candies in bottles of soda. It's relatively cheap, if not completely clean fun, and even provides something of a science lesson. Some with a little too much time on their hands have already elevated the physical reaction into an art form.

Yet Mentos blasting is not all fun and games. According to the Wall Street Journal, the fad has resulted in about $10 million worth of publicity for Mentos. Coca-Cola, for whom $10 million in marketing is just a drop in a soda glass, is somewhat dubious about the phenomenon. As one rep from Coke was reported to have said of his product, "We would hope people want to drink it more than try experiments with it."

Hey, either way, people are buying the stuff. As online marketing consultant B.L. Ochman notes, Mentos demonstrates vividly the power of viral marketing. In this case, the publicity was positive, encouraging folks to become backyard scientists through a modest purchase of Mentos and Coke. But Ochman makes a more ominous observation: what if those 800 videos had been negative, encouraging people not to buy those products by illustrating a defect or a hazard? "Would most companies even have a clue of where to look for them?", she writes. "How many companies know how to monitor MySpace and other social media communities? It's a brand new world, and this story ought to be a heads up to every CMO who's still saying 'this social media stuff isn't important to us.'"

The answer: Probably very few. Most companies, though, have employees who understand social media, and who would likely be among the first to spot viral buzz surrounding their company's product or service. (They might even be aware of such tools as marktd, a digg-like marketing news site that allows users to share and "mark" articles that discuss trends in advertising, media, branding, event planning and public relations.) Such employees should be encouraged to present their findings to senior management... who, in turn, need to be made aware of online marketing and the impact it can have (just as they needed to be made aware of the Web a decade ago). Creating an executive-sponsored ad hoc team to monitor developments in viral media would be a cost-effective way to help companies stay on top of things online -- and either exploit positive development or be proactive about negative ones.

Additional strategies for reconciling marketing with the digital world are presented in this article from strategy+business.

UPDATE: The Motley Fool likewise slams Coke for misreading the Mentos craze.

UPDATE 2: Another reason why Coke shouldn't be so quick to dismiss this meme: Sales of Coke, Pepsi and other carbonated soft drinks were down across the board in 2005 -- the first major sales decline in 20 years.

Source: Smart Mobs