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Critical look at Woolies Lovebirds campaign

Given the success of the recent Woolworths Lovebirds campaign, in not only raising R100 000 for charity but also raising awareness of the growing importance of the social networking space for brands, thought it would be interesting to examine in closer detail the mechanics of this particular campaign - what worked, what didn't, what frustrated and what elicited warm fuzzy love for the Woolworths brand…

‘Half social experiment, half romantic game'

Critical look at Woolies Lovebirds campaign
In its own words, the Lovebirds campaign was ‘half social experiment, half romantic game'. It heralded the first entry into the social media sphere for the much-loved Woolworths brand, underlining the necessity for brands to be active members of this exponentially growing space.

Says Woolworths social networking manager Georgina Michelmore, “We believe it imperative for a brand like Woolies to have a strong presence in the space [because] it lets us quickly and easily extend our commitment to outstanding customer service, something that we're proud to say has always been a key element of our business.”

Woolworths briefed advertising agencies The Jupiter Drawing Room and Gloo to create a campaign that would give the brand a foothold in the social media sphere, built around the first of five special occasions. The idea was simple: take advantage of Valentine's Day to launch Woolies into the social media space in an elegant, charming way.

The campaign invited people to become fans of Woolies on Facebook and followers of Woolies on Twitter in an attempt to be crowned South Africa's biggest LoveBirds. The aim, says Michelmore, was to create awareness that Woolworths was entering the social networking arena, as well as build on the brand's existing fans and followers.

‘Tweet their love'

Once registered, users were encouraged to ‘tweet their love'. The more tweets, the more points were earned, putting them in line to win a share of R50 000 in Woolworths gift cards.

The criticism of the campaign itself was wide and varied, ranging from the use of the ‘retweet and win' mechanism to the necessity of registering and the misplaced use of teenage contractions for conversing with a (relatively!) mature audience, along the lines of “thanks 4 following, we have awesum things planned for 2010” in an automated direct message (DM) upon following. Suffice to say, avid Twitter users made no bones about pointing out what they viewed as a slew of “schoolboy errors”.

Because of this, the campaign failed to attract these avid users - which, according to Alex van Tonder, creative group head of King James RSVP, defeats the purpose of using Twitter as part of the brand experience.

“The truth is, while many people may have 'tweeted their love' as part of the Woolies campaign, when you look at the most active users, you'll see they are new to twitter, with one or two or, in many instances, 0 followers. And when the point of leveraging social media is to target opinion-leaders who will then virally spread a message to their online community, as well as encourage a strategically on-brand emotional takeout as a result of that message, one has to wonder what the point is,” she says.

Missing the point

Draftfcb interactive strategist Sue Disler agrees, and adds that, from what she could see, most people did not really engage further with the brand other than going on Twitter and typing #woolieslovebirds just to get points to win - again, missing the point of the interactive nature of the social media environment.

But the proof of the campaign lies in the results, and Michelmore maintains that the campaign actually exceeded their expectations.

In terms of numbers, 2877 people registered to partake in the campaign. Over 10 500 people actually visited the site - with over 60% of those typing the URL directly into their browsers - which indicates that the collateral marketing pointing participants to the site was particularly effective.

On the issue of numbers, however, Van Tonder remains unconvinced: “It's all very well that your campaign got x number of retweets, but was it really successful when the emotional takeout on behalf of users was hatred and scorn for the brand that clogged up their tweetstream?” she asks.

Along came Yuppiechef

Critical look at Woolies Lovebirds campaign
click to enlarge
Fortunately for Woolies, along came Yuppiechef. The now-famous ransoming of the lovebirds URL had the dual outcome of raising R100 000 for Soil for Life and positioning Woolworths as a hero of sorts - although full credit for that must go to Woolworths itself, for opting to play along with the domain name hijacking

According to Quirk eMarketing CEO Rob Stokes, who consulted to Woolworths following the hijack, Woolworths was fully entitled to bring in the heavies, but it recognised the potential damage this could do to the brand, given the very vocal nature of the digital community.

“This is a classic case of social media judo, where the brand worked with the momentum [created by the hijacking] and not against it - to the benefit of all involved,” he says.

The end result was an increase in publicity surrounding the Lovebirds campaign, with coverage ranging from air time on various radio stations and TV interviews to marketing-specific news sites such as Bizcommunity and mainstream consumer-focused titles such as the Mail & Guardian and The Daily Maverick. The natural outcome was an increase in site visits and participants, plus the added bonus of that warm, fuzzy feeling surrounding the Woolworths brand, given its display of good humour following the hijack.

“Best social sport of 2010”

Critical look at Woolies Lovebirds campaign
Says Disler, “Woolworths handle[d] the situation beautifully. It will certainly go down as the best social sport of 2010!”

And to top it off, despite the digeratis initial heavy critique of the campaign, there are those in the industry who believe that the brand's reaction to the campaign proves that it understands the intent of the social networking space, even if it still as a little to learn about the etiquette.

Says Cerebra's digital strategist Vincent Hofmann, “Woolworths' response to the ambush was a true reflection that the brand has ‘got it'. For a large organisation to move as quickly as it did, turning a red-faced moment into an act of goodwill, shows a clear understanding of how engagement marketing works. It's a matter of honour, trust and integrity, and Woolworths showed how a considered move can position the brand as philanthropic and caring.”

“Must be commended”

He adds, “I think that the way Woolworths' handled Yuppiechef's altruistic ambush, critique from the opinionated social media guru circles, and those questions relating to competition entrants using twitter for the first time, must be commended.”

The only downside for Woolworths, says Stokes, was that the Lovebirds campaign took a backseat to the hijacking, and it very quickly became an incidental part of the whole.

That said, Woolworths was pleased with the outcome:

“We have had lots of feedback and will continue to listen and grow,” concludes Michelmore. “While Facebook and Twitter do give us an opportunity to give our fans and followers a 'heads ups' about new launches and special offers, it's really about being part of the conversation.”

But the final word of warning belongs to Disler: “I do have to mention that whilst up in [Johannesburg] last week there were several people I spoke to that were completely unaware of the campaign both in-store and digitally. This might come as a surprise to some, but we do need to remember that we ourselves are part of a very small niche community, and if there is anything I can advise, it's to remember that...”

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About Kim Penstone

Kim Penstone is a freelance journalist focusing on the marketing, media and advertising world. In the 10 years that she has worked in this environment, she has been editor of Marketing Mix, founding editor of MediaBytes and CreativeBytes, publisher of Marketingweb and associate editor of Brand magazine. Contact her on email

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