November 24th, 2008

Wal-Mart Aggressively Courts Mommy Bloggers

By Jack Neff
Advertising Age

Eleven Moms Weigh in on P&G, Coke, Campbell Brands

Over the weekend of Nov. 15-16, Katja Presnal was a key figure in the public flogging of Motrin and its parent Johnson & Johnson on Twitter, creating a YouTube video that showed dozens of tweets castigating its babywearing ad.

By Nov. 21, she was blogging in an entirely different way. Ms. Presnal was preparing a blog post in her role as one of Wal-Mart Stores’ Eleven Moms panel of mommy bloggers behind the planned Nov. 24 unveiling of “Salon Secret,” which turns out to be Procter & Gamble Co.’s Pantene.

The idea was to have the mommy bloggers, who had attended a trip to Wal-Mart’s Bentonville, Ark., headquarters last month, be treated with an unnamed “salon brand,” to be revealed as Pantene. A sampling site for the launch notes that 70% of salon-brand users prefer the mystery brand.

Power of mommy bloggers
Ms. Presnal, who runs the Skimbaco.com online retail site and SkimbacoLifestyle blog, is a one-woman embodiment of the best and worst that mommy bloggers can offer marketers.

Sure, her YouTube video whacking Motrin got more than 63,000 views last week. But since her trip to Bentonville, she’s also favorably tweeted about Wal-Mart and its philanthropic efforts more than 90 times to her 4,400-plus followers.

The Bentonville experience also included a trip to the Campbell’s Soup test kitchen and offices of Coca-Cola Co. and Kellogg Co., where the moms weighed in favorably in advance of the latter’s marketing program in cooperation with Wal-Mart to tout the value of its cereal at only 50 cents per bowl. They also got to stop by one of the retailer’s famed Saturday-morning meetings, which featured appearances by Harrison Ford and CEO Lee Scott, who donned one of Mr. Ford’s hats from “Indiana Jones.”

The marketer-blogger relationship
Ms. Presnal is quick to point out that she isn’t paid by Wal-Mart. But the Bentonville trip was all-expenses paid, she and the other bloggers get samples to review, and she said Wal-Mart is working on some other potential business arrangements for the bloggers with outside partners.

Wal-Mart “really just wants our honest opinions, and they are afraid if they start paying us our opinions wouldn’t be as transparent or they would look bad,” said Ms. Presnal. She added that Wal-Mart makes the bloggers “aware of opportunities,” but doesn’t push stories on them.

Ms. Presnal said her opinion of Wal-Mart has improved considerably since she got involved in the program and learned more about the retailer’s sustainability and charitable efforts. She admitted she didn’t shop at Wal-Mart often before she got involved with Eleven Moms, particularly given that her online store focuses on the luxury market.

Successful so far
The Eleven Moms effort appears to have been successful so far for Wal-Mart, which also has linked it to a YouTube channel that has amassed more than 16 million views and become No. 16 in viewership on the site in the past month.

As a testament to the fact that it may be wise not to exclude too many mommy bloggers from your community, the Bentonville trip included a 12th mom recommended by the others. The addition of guest bloggers means 19 women currently are featured at ElevenMoms.com.

Wal-Mart’s suppliers are benefiting, too. Pantene’s Salon Secret program, which also has been backed by ads from WPP Group’s Grey Global Group, New York, featuring “What Not to Wear’s” Stacy London, appears set for a major merchandising push in Wal-Mart stores in addition to the tie-in with Eleven Moms bloggers.

The Eleven Moms got locked boxes of samples of the “Salon Secret” products that can be given away to their readers starting Nov. 24.

Not always sweet
Yet, it’s not always sweetness and light for marketers courting mommy bloggers. On Nov. 21, as P&G was preparing to lift the veil on Salon Secret a few days later, the featured video on Wal-Mart’s YouTube channel was a money-saving tip from a mom that didn’t help P&G much. She suggested drilling a hole in bottles of P&G’s Swiffer WetJet cleaning fluid and refilling them with Clorox Co.’s Pinesol, saying doing so could save moms more than $100 over the course of a year.

But it wasn’t all bad for P&G, which also markets Tampax—the video also suggested using tampons to plug the hole in the Swiffer bottles between refills.

Wal-Mart and P&G didn’t return calls for comment at press time.

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