Pop Culture
Sarah Theodore  
Remember back when Oprah Winfrey had a book club and publishers everywhere fought to get their books on her show? That’s because most of her picks turned into overnight bestsellers. Well, Oprah is into weight-loss advice these days, and she recently shared some of her secrets on the show, including one of her favorite beverages — Fresca. Now, she only mentioned it in passing, but I caught it, and I’m betting other people caught it, too.
As a fellow fan of the grapefruit-flavored soft drink, I wondered whether her comment would affect sales. Sure enough, when I was shopping this weekend, I discovered the Fresca shelf empty, and after much searching, I found only one lonely Fridge Pack on an end-aisle display. Coincidence? I think not. If anyone at Coca-Cola is willing to share, I’d love to find out if my theory holds true. Does the Queen of Daytime have the power to influence beverage sales?
Blog on and see
On a — completely — unrelated note, I was recently intrigued by an article I read on Internet blogs and the way some companies are using them as marketing tools. You might first have heard of blogs, or Weblogs, during last year’s presidential election. Candidate Howard Dean used blogs as a grassroots campaign tool, and during the election, some blogs were even accused of influencing balloting because minute-by-minute estimates of poll results were posted online.
But companies such as Stonyfield Farm also are using blogs to reach consumers. The Londonderry, N.H., company features several blogs, including Strong Women Daily News, Baby Babble and The Bovine Bugle, on its Web site.
Having never actually read a blog, I decided to log on to the Stonyfield site and see what it was all about. Part open letter, part message board, the blogs discussed issues of concern to the company and its consumers. For example, in Stonyfield’s Baby Babble, blogger Christine Halvorson asks parents whom they most often turn to as a trusted source of advice, and several visitors to the site posted responses.
By design, Stonyfield’s blogs do not talk about Stonyfield products. That might seem counterintuitive, but company Chief Executive Officer Gary Hirshberg says he believes consumers would be able to see through such overt tactics and the purpose of the Weblogs are to create a connection with consumers.
A clear drawback of blogs is that bloggers are dependent on consumers coming to them instead of passively hearing messages while watching TV or driving a car. But that also might prove to be their power. “Active” marketing such as a blog would seem to have strong potential to create an emotional bond with the company and its products.
Hirshberg admits there is no way to determine the effectiveness of a blog, and my survey of the site revealed that only a few readers actually posted responses. But as this month’s cover story illustrates, even the biggest brands can lose their relevancy if the brand or company identity are not consistently maintained. If blogs are where consumers are expressing their own identity, why not meet them there? It won’t replace traditional marketing, but it might prove to be the complement companies are looking for. That is, of course, unless you can get yourself on the Oprah show. BI
Sneak Peek
Cover Story —  Rockstar
Special Report —  The Top 100 companies
Category Focus —  Alternative beverages
Marketing —  Niche opportunities
Packaging — Closure technologies
State of the Industry Report
Beverage R&D —  Protein ingredients
Marketing —  Foodservice opportunities
Packaging — Case packers and wrappers