Published on: December 7, 2011by Kate McMahon
Back in the late 1970s, Carly Simon’s hit song “Anticipation” became synonymous with Heinz Ketchup. The TV commercial was all about Heinz being “worth the wait.”
Fast forward to this fall, as the iconic brand opted to utilize Facebook to introduce a new, more sophisticated product - Limited Edition Heinz Tomato Ketchup Blended with Balsamic Vinegar. There was the much-promoted hype (and wait) for the exclusive worldwide launch available only to Heinz’ 860,000-plus Facebook fans starting Nov. 14th.
Then came an unanticipated wait, as a computer glitch prevented orders from being processed until 9 o’clock that evening.
The 142-year old company got a taste of real-time online consumer ire.
While Heinz scrambled to fix the e-commerce order tab, the ketchup community peppered the Facebook Wall with frustration. These posts succinctly summed up the sentiment of many:
“Where’s my Balsamic Ketchup?!?”
“Fix that tab! I got fries waiting!”
“Yep - got halfway through (my order) then was kicked out .... Argh!”
"Where's my ketchup!? I been up wit da chickens waitin' fer da ketchup ... where's my ketchup? ... Or in lieu of my rant, please advise, at your earliest convenience, as to the cost and availability of this new and presumed exquisite gastronomic product?”
This could have easily become yet another “social media snafu” case study – “Heinz Forced to Bottle Ketchup Launch on Facebook” read one early headline. But to Heinz’ credit, the company turned it around.
Heinz responded quickly, apologized for the technical difficulties, and then sweetened the deal. Heinz offered a free bottle of Balsamic Ketchup and free shipping to every consumer who posted on the site while it was down, and a free bottle to those who placed orders in the first day of functionality. Fans who “liked” the Facebook page got 25-cents off of their order.
Just as importantly, Heinz’ social media team jumped into the Facebook dialogue, writing more than 600 posts in response to both positive and negative comments. (Here at MNB we consistently extol the benefits of engaging with consumers online. Yet I am consistently baffled by the number of major companies with big media budgets which do not respond on Facebook, leaving the consumer comments dangling, unresolved, on the page.)
Once in gear, Heinz shipped some 16,000 bottles in the first 36 hours, and the online reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. The blend, made with balsamic vinegar instead of distilled white vinegar, is a darker red color and has a richer, tangier taste. The print ads suggest it be paired with foods such as a “Haute Dog,” “Hamburgeur” and “French Frites.”
Additionally, the online enthusiasm has already built demand for the product, which will be available this month at select retailers, including Walmart and Safeway, through March. While the classic Heinz Tomato ketchup in a 14-ounce plastic squeeze bottle retails for $1.89, this Balsamic version comes in a glass bottle with a $2.49 price tag (plus $2 shipping on Facebook orders).
Which brings us back to “Anticipation,” which has the lyric: These are the good old days.
These aren’t the good old days. Manufacturers can find ways to get their products to consumers that have nothing to do with traditional retailers. They can create demand for these products using media venues that did not even exist a few years ago. And in exchange for having such opportunities, these same manufacturers have to deal with consumer expectations in a way that is more up close and personal than ever before.
It seems like a fair deal to me. Manufacturers and retailers, however, have to anticipate every possibility, be nimble enough to respond to both positive and negative events, and engaged enough to understand the exigencies of modern brand marketing, cashing some finer day.
What are your thoughts? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
- KC's View: