Social Media As A Living Focus Group

There’s an old saying that loosely goes “bad press is better than no press”. It’s better to be known for something, good or bad, than to be unknown. Or so the theory goes. And due to social media marketing that theory is being put to the test all the time now.

Take for example the latest campaign for Dr. Pepper Ten, a new diet drink that boasts only 10 calories. Their campaign theme is aimed directly at men, and their Facebook page is branded in kind with the “Dr. Pepper 10 Man’Ments”–a code of how to live life like a real man. The all-man-all-the-time approach is familiar–many brands have gone down this road before with varying degrees of success–and even goes so far as to offer the tagline “It’s Not For Women”. Ok we get it. It’s a man’s drink with only 10 calories. But that is not what Dr. Pepper is now known for.

Spend a few minutes on their Facebook page and you’ll find that Dr. Pepper Ten is now the big instigator in the most recent battle of the sexes. 10.6 million people have liked their page as of this writing–this is enough to make any CMO smile–but an unofficial analysis of their wall comments tells a different story. Alternating in almost a perfect back-and-forth debate, comments range from the defensive (“I’m a woman and I’ll never drink this misogynistic soda”) to the offensive (“if you don’t like it, get back in the kitchen and make my dinner”), from the analytic (“this campaign will kill your sales”) to the humorous (“as a lesbian, am I manly enough to drink this?”). This is enough to make any CMO cringe. Or maybe not. Maybe they intended to cause a controversy to rally people around their drink.

In one sense, marketing’s job is to create brand awareness and increase sales. This campaign certainly raised awareness (10.6 million people are definitely aware of the campaign), and likely prodded their target audience (men) to buy the product. It definitely alienated some women, but there were plenty of comments from women who shrugged off the controversy and declared their affinity for the brand (“laughing at this *fake* controversy–it’s a joke people! Going to chug a Dr. Pepper 10 right now!”). Even some men were offended, but they remained engaged (“going to check back tomorrow to see how Dr. Pepper has ruined women’s lives”).

The bottom line will be the sales figures, but the line just above the bottom line simply cannot be ignored: more than 10.6 million people know about the new drink. For better or for worse, this very public airing of instant reactions to a marketing campaign mark the rise in power of the consumer. Now when you launch a campaign you get an immediate reaction that is quantifiable and qualifiable. There is no silent majority in social media marketing because the message now gets shaped after the launch by the audience, just as much as the agency creatives and planners who developed it. Dr. Pepper launched a men-only campaign, but women have taken over the message surrounding the campaign to a large degree. The campaign is now a controversy, and garnering plenty of earned media coverage on top of it. The continuing dialog surrounding this campaign will ultimately determine how long it lives or how soon it dies because it is being tested in-market. And the results are coming in every second.

The influence an audience has over what a brand does goes beyond a marketing campaign. Recently there was so much social media backlash against Netflix and their plans to launch a brand for their DVD-only subscriptions called Qwikster, that they scrapped the whole idea before it even launched. What this tells us is that brands are listening to their customers more than ever before. Not because they’re suddenly more interested, but because now they have this real-time ability to track and measure audience reaction and response.

Social media is the world’s most dynamic focus group.