Kids Spread The Word

Jan 28, 2004

By George Anderson

The cover story of the February 2 edition of Forbes looks at an innovative
marketing program from Procter & Gamble that enlists 280,000 teenagers from
across the country to spread the buzz about the company’s products and get input
on a wide variety of topics important to younger consumers.

The kids, between 13 and 19 years of age, are part of P&G’s Tremor marketing
unit. According to Forbes, the mission of teenagers “is to help companies
plant information about their brands in living rooms, schools and other crevices
that are difficult for corporate America to infiltrate. These kids deliver endorsements
in school cafeterias, at sleepovers, by cell phone and by e-mail. They are being
tapped to talk up just about everything, from movies to milk and motor oil–and
they do it for free.”

P&G devotes approximately one-third of its effort to spreading the word
about its own brands but also enlists the teens on behalf of other brands.

The origin or Tremor and its growth is directly tied to the dissatisfaction
that companies like P&G feel with traditional mass marketing.

James Stengel, P&G’s global marketing officer, says bluntly. “The mass-marketing
model is dead. This is the future.”

Valvoline is one of the non P&G brands working with Tremor.

Walter Solomon, senior vice president at Valvoline, explained the motor oil
company’s reasoning. “This generation is much more influenced by peer behavior
than baby boomers were. If we can make an impression, it will have tremendous
long-term effect.”

P&G’s Stengel believes with word-of-mouth networks such as Tremor, “The
possibilities are almost limitless.”

P&G, according to Forbes, is building “a new network of equal or greater
size, one that will focus on moms–a much bigger and more affluent target than
teens–who will be asked to help flog Tide, Pampers and Bounty paper towels,
among other brands.”

Moderator’s Comment: Should other companies be following
P&G’s lead and seek to create organized word-of-mouth networks to promote
their stores, brands, products and services?

George Silverman, author of The Secrets of Word-of-Mouth Marketing told Forbes it is best to proceed with caution. “It’s like playing with fire,”
he said. “It can be a positive force when harnessed for the good, but fires are very destructive when they are out of control. If word-of-mouth goes against you, you’re sunk.”

Anderson – Moderator

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