Procter & Gamble uses the Web to give consumers an inside look at products that haven’t been formally launched yet. Consumers have an opportunity to try these new products and comment on them. The consumer then has some “ownership” of the product when it comes to market.
Not to keep picking on the now defunct Pets.com, but theirs is a good example of a failed attempt at brand building. They, and a great many other pure play e-retailers, never got close enough to customers to allow customers to see themselves when beholding the brand. Pets.com spent their marketing dollars exposing their charming puppet to a mass audience and not on connecting with individuals. Amazon, on the other hand, spent little, if anything, on TV and chose instead to concentrate on understanding their customer: “We know the books you have purchased in the past. Here are some like those we think you will like.” Amazon built their great brand by understanding the customer.
The Web must be used with a different understanding of the consumer’s interaction. The strength of the Web for CMR is not about selling more products but connecting with the customer. Michael Bayler and David Stoughton in their book, Promiscuous Customers: Invisible Brands (Capstone Publishing, 2002), make the point that when customers go online, their behavior often switches, like the swapping of left and right in a mirror image. They write,
Somehow, in digital markets, the expectations of our most valuable customers are almost absurdly heightened and accelerated. They are inclined to shoot first—assassinating the brand with remarkable callousness—and not bothering to ask any questions at all. The Internet changes everything. It commoditises everything it touches, with a reverse Midas touch that strips not only cost, but value, from almost every process.
There are some who would quarrel with that thinking because they have found ways to involve customers in unguarded communication and build brand relationships on the Web. Budweiser’s now famous “Whassup?!” campaign was hugely successful across the world, exceeding expectations and embedding itself in the vernacular of many languages. People took the characters to heart and felt they were part of the brand.
Audience interaction with the Budweiser brand was achieved by introducing interactive elements on the website including screensavers, phone icons via SMS (short message service) mobile messaging, wallpaper, TV ads, and sounds. The screensavers had a message function that could be personalized, and the site enabled people to send a variety of icons to their phones. The ability to e-mail characters from the ads was most popular within the site.
Integration with Budweiser’s TV advertising campaign kept people talking about the site. Yet-to-be-broadcast ads were hidden on the site for viewers to find. Budweiser film crews visited bars around the country auditioning people to act out their own version of Whassup?! The prize was the chance to appear in ads to be screened on both TV and the website. Whassup?! was the fourth most-talked-about-website of the year. People became involved spontaneously in what was essentially a cultural virus, infecting the lingo wherever it went.
The Whassup?! campaign offers evidence that there is a lot more to brand building on the Web than click-through. It’s still about involving customers, empowering customers, and building brand value based on what customers are willing to put into it, not on what companies can expect to get out of it. Consumers were empowered to share in the Whassup?! campaign, sometimes even adding to it. Budweiser offered e-invitations to the bar events, allowing friends to invite each other.
Budweiser’s “Whassup?!” became the first catchword of the new millennium, as a result of the discussions it generated among its target customers—its “talk value.” Budweiser also enjoyed its best sales trends in seven years.
Michael Bayler and David Stoughton, Promiscuous Customers: Invisible Brands (New York: John Wiley & Sons, December 2001).
 “Watchin’ the Game, Havin’ a Bud,” Brand Strategy, March 2001, p. 11.