Ocean Spray Takes Social Route to Beverage Launch

Call it another demonstration of the two-edged sword that is social marketing: Ocean Spray’s number of Facebook fans has shot up in the past few dayys from 10,000 or so to more than 100,000. But at the same time, it’s been inundated by messages begging “Where are todays SAMPLES????” “FREE SAMPLE TAB NOT WORKING!” and “Please. Please??!!”

What could case such social media hysteria? A free can of sparkling juice, delivered straight to your home.

To promote the release of the 80 year-old collective’s brand new Sparkling Juice drinks, (available in both original and diet Cranberry and Pomegranate Blueberry, natch!) the company turned to that good old social network übergiant, Facebook. Facebook users opting to “like” Ocean Spray can now fill out a form to receive a coupon and a free sample of either Diet or Original Ocean Spray Sparkling Juice in the mail. Ocean Spray further urges its fans to return to Facebook once they’ve received their free sample and give their reactions. “Share your: Comments, Opinions, Photos, Stories, Recipes, How Sparkling fits into your day… and more!” reads the Facebook page. “We’d love to see what bubbles up from your taste tests!”

Ocean Spray’s efforts to get their products physically into consumers’ hands aren’t new, but they are one more example of how companies who engage social media as a way to recruit consumers are trying to overcome the fact that it’s hard to taste something via computer. Rather than sampling in-store, companies have to get creative when finding ways to get their products to consumers via social media. Not too long ago we reported on a partnership between online shopping site Zappos.com and Red Bull, where cans of the energy drink were included in customers’ orders. Ocean Spray is also encouraging consumers who obtain and test out the new product to discuss it in a number of dynamic, interactive ways: recipes, photos, videos, suggestions and more can be shared via Facebook.

Nice if you can get it...

But there’s that double-edged sword again: the discourse, alas, often centers around the promise — or lack — of a free sample. Ocean Spray’s social media strategist behind the new campaign told BevNET that on both Monday and Tuesday, the first two days of the free sample offering, the limited number of Sparkling Juice samples ran out within an hour of being released on the Facebook page. A great success for some, but those left empty-handed used Ocean Spray’s Facebook page only to communicate their frustration.

Still, the discourse, be it positive or negative, isn’t the point, according Darryl Jursa, V.P. of Emerging Media at Dig Communications.

Whenever any company gives something away for free, “you can get a boatload of fans,” Jursa says. “The challenge is then keeping them.”

Surprisingly, even the high number of fans in and of itself is neither the most significant challenge for Ocean Spray, nor is it the overriding objective. According to Jursa, it’s actually locating and separating the quality fans out of the quantity of fans, which is done by putting together a calendar of subsequent events that uses what information wasn’t there before.

“Now they have your e-mail address, which you didn’t necessarily have to give. So now they have data, so they could go to these people and ask questions: what did they think? How did it taste?” Jursa says. “It’s socially optimized so when they deliver feedback it goes directly to the Facebook page. It keeps it within the loop of Facebook, which is fine, but… it’s as simple as continuing the freaking dialogue with these people, and you can continue it via e-mail, not on Facebook.”

So, for the non-social media savvy company, lack of a Facebook account does not mean the end of the world. Instead, it’s one tool of many that a company like Ocean Spray needs and can use to find the people willing to engage with them. That way, says Jursa, when a company is ready to launch the next flavor or product, they can pinpoint those who would be most interested in providing helpful, valuable customer feedback. That free sample? It’s just one way to get that essential contact information.