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Using food to connect with consumers

Using food to connect with consumers Babette Pepaj
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Everyone eats. In fact, food and water are the only products we consume daily that are required to sustain life. Perhaps that's why food is a universal connector that's both intensely personal and inherently social.


A study by Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab reports that people think about food and make food-related decisions an average of 226 times a day. Most base their daily schedule at least in-part around what, when, where, and with whom they plan to eat. In addition, many of our most treasured memories involve food and a favorite family recipe. From Thanksgiving dinner to fresh-baked cookies after school, food reminds us of family and good times.



So it's no surprise that brands have always sought to leverage food as a passion point for connecting with customers. The great news for marketers is that today's digital platforms make it easier than ever for even non-culinary brands to tap into foodie passion.


Marketers are accomplishing this via a range of deliciously creative content marketing campaigns. Savvy brands understand that the best way to get consumers to talk about their products around the dinner table is to give those consumers what they're hungry for… literally.


Here are three very different approaches to content marketing that prove brands don't have to be in the food business in order crate a food-inspired recipe for connecting with consumers.

Western Union: Helping families share holiday meals digitally


Western Union is the leader in worldwide money transfer services. Once best known for sending telegrams (a service discontinued in 2006), the company is remarkably assertive and adept when it comes to social media.


Among its many digital initiatives was a holiday campaign last year titled "WU Home Cooked," which was focused on delivering family meal time experiences -- rather than money transfers -- to customers far away from home.


The company created a microsite where visitors could share personal stories about food, family and culture. They could join their family members to post treasured recipes and dinner table pictures, along with holiday wishes. Created by Giant Step, the campaign was about making a connection between the brand and its customers via food-related experiences.


It culminated with a pop-up dining room at the Western Union retail location in Times Square. Three customers were surprised with an authentic meal featuring recipes from home shared via video with their far away family members. The company then produced an emotionally charged video chronicling these "Surprise and Delight" meals that has captured nearly 3.5 million views on YouTube.


Western Union's "WU Home Cooked" campaign demonstrates how a decidedly non-culinary brand can leverage food-related passion to tell its story.

IKEA: Using food as metaphor (and furniture as ingredients)


IKEA is the world's largest furniture retailer, and it definitely knows a thing or two about marketing.


To introduce its METOD line of modular kitchen designs in Asia, IKEA and BBH Global developed a delightfully creative video titled "Recipes for Delicious Kitchens" in which a kitchen is literally cooked up using miniature versions of furniture as "ingredients."


The voiceover begins with "Start by measuring the space you want to fill," as we see the chef slice off a section of ruler and drop it into a saucepan as if it's a stick of butter. Next up is a "juicy rack of cabinets," which are cut up and placed in the sizzling pan. Light bulbs are cracked like eggs, nails are sprinkled from a spice jar and other items are tossed in until we hear the chef say "voila," and we see a tiny kitchen served up on a plate.


In the video we're reminded that each item for the kitchen can be found in the IKEA catalogue, which is referenced at the conclusion as "The IKEA Cookbook."


The message that is so cleverly delivered is that IKEA makes it easy and fun for customers to "mix ingredients" to create a customized kitchen that fits their personal taste.

Disney and The Weinstein Company: Serving up branded recipes


Film studios are tapping into the food enthusiast community with content campaigns that generate word-of-mouth, and even score publicity in newspaper food sections.


Such promotions are a natural fit for films in which food plays a starring role. Recent examples include The Weinstein Company's "Burnt" (starring Bradley Cooper), Disney's "The Hundred-Foot Journey" and the Jon Favreau's "Chef." Each of these films tapped BakeSpace.com's online food community and digital publishing platform to create branded recipes and app-based cookbooks (web-based versions can be viewed at "The Official 'Burnt' Movie Cookbook" and "'Chef' the Film Cookbook: Recipes from El Jefe"). 



These types of campaigns provide the site's built-in, very receptive audience of home cooks with content they find highly engaging and useful; foodies love to try new recipes and share them with friends and family.


BakeSpace has also created dozens of recipe-based campaigns for films and TV series that don't have an obvious food tie-in. Recent examples include Disney Pixar's "Inside Out" and Disney's "Tinkerbell Secret of the Wings." The site worked with both projects to develop activations ranging from crowdsourced cookbooks (with recipes submitted by movie fans) to online contests based on culinary themes tied to the storyline and/or lead characters.


Babette Pepaj is founder and CEO of BakeSpace, Inc.


On Twitter? Follow Babette at @BakeSpace and iMedia at @iMediaTweet.


"My lunch looks so delicious" image via iStock Photo.

  Babette Pepaj (a former TV Producer and Director) launched multi-Webby honored BakeSpace.com in 2006 as the Web's first food social network. She then went on to create the first traveling food blogger conference called TECHmunch which is held...

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