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Griffin's Choco-ade instigator swears campaign was genuine

Wednesday 25th July 2012

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Amber Johnson, the 35-year-old Upper Hutt mum who instigated the return of Griffin's 80s Choco-ade, swears the private equity owner biscuit played a genuine role in the grassroots campaign and not that of an 'Astroturf' marketer.

Johnson, started the "Get Griffins to bring back Choco-ade" Facebook page in June 2011 because husband Karl had a craving for the biscuit. The page received more than 500 "likes" before Griffin's NZ contacted Johnson and climbed on board, launching a wider campaign to support bringing back the biscuit. Astroturfing is marketing that's designed to give the appearance of grassroots appeal and support.

"Griffin's aren't stupid - they have done their homework on this," Tom Agee, senior marketing lecture at Auckland Universities Business School told BusinessDesk. "It gives them something to hook a campaign into so they can say it was brought back by your demand."

"You have to have a financial case for bringing a brand back and in this case it makes sense," Agee said. "They will probably sell a lot of biscuits thanks to this woman."

The strategy is working so far. Griffin's NZ marketing director Josette Prince said Choco-ade was the biggest-selling biscuit in New Zealand in its first week back on the shelves.

Pacific Equity Partners-owned NZ Snack Foods, which owns Griffin's along with the ETA and Nice and Natural brands, isn't alone in seeing the potential in social media as a marketing tool. HnyB Insights, an India-based researcher, is forecasting social media revenue, dominated by advertising, will soar to US$233 billion by 2020, from US$14.9 billion this year.

Griffin's Prince says the Choco-ade campaign "was not artificially created."

"We wanted to invest in it because enough people wanted it - it is not a light decision to re-launch a product," she said. "Astroturf marketing isn't a well-known phrase and it's not in the New Zealand market."

According to Wikipedia, citing the Washington Post, the term Astroturfing was coined by former US Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas in 1985 after he got "a mountain of cards and letters" promoting insurance industry interests. "A fellow from Texas can tell the difference between grass roots and Astroturf," he was quoted as saying.

Johnson began her campaign aggressively, offering free biscuits for people who signed up to her campaign. No-one actually claimed the biscuits. She says her Facebook efforts had been running "about ten months to a year" before Griffin's got in touch.

"We had about 500 likes before Griffin's got in touch and that was after I put a link on their Facebook page months earlier," she said. "A Facebook page is easy to set up but getting people to pay attention isn't that easy."

Facebook went public in May in the biggest initial public offering by a tech company in history. Since then the shares have shed about 25 percent amid concern its projections for advertising revenue may have been too optimistic.

NZ Snack Foods profit fell 50 percent to $8.2 million in calendar 2011 after costs rose faster than sales and it took an impairment charge against its Nice and Natural brand. Sales rose 4.5 percent to $276 million, while the cost of sales rose 7.2 percent to $123 million.

Sydney-based PEP, which owns 82 percent of NZ Snack Foods, tried to sell Griffin's last October, having acquired the company from Paris-based Danone for $385 million in 2006. The business has since been taken off the market after a buyer failed to materialise.

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