Thursday, June 12, 2008

Should “Tony the Tiger” Use Twitter?

Tony the Tiger, Ronald McDonald, the Jolly Green Giant – all are part the pantheon of famous characters that have helped companies personalize their brands over the years.

Today, through the power of social media, employees from rank and file to management are also getting into the act of helping to build more informal, more personal relationships with their customers.

Consider Twitter.

Now I have a confession. I follow others on Twitter, and others follow me, but I have to admit I have been slow to embrace this technology and the 140 characters it provides per posting.

But I have gained a new perspective after talking to Dave Eckoff the other day. He is a Twitter enthusiast.

He told me about Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Hsieh is an avid Twitter fan. His tweets have gotten a lot of recognition form bloggers like David Armano.

In another interview with Toby Bloomberg, Hsieh revealed that over 300 of his employees are using Twitter. His primary goal: “Our main motivation for getting our employees to join Twitter was to help improve our company culture.”

Hsieh told Tim Brunelle, “We’re interested in forming lifelong, meaningful relationships with our customers, so the more engaged our customers are, the more likely that will happen.”

And then there is Jim Long founder of Verge New Media and a television cameraman for NBC News who tweets regularly about life on the frontline covering breaking news.

So popular are his tweets that Connie Reece commented on his blog that his use of Twitter motivated her to start watching Meet the Press – a welcomed response for the network news executives who continue to experience declining viewership.

And finally there is the example of Comcast and Frank Eliason from Comcast Customer Outreach who uses it as a touch point to assist customers.

Rethinking Traditional Brand Strategies

Traditional advertisers could learn a thing or two from Tony Hsieh, Jim Long and Frank Eliason.

It occurred to me that what is good for CEOs, cameramen and service reps could also be true for company mascots or spokescharacters. If Twitter can take companies to the next level of customer interaction, maybe it can inspire brand managers to make their characters and products more engaging.

Maybe it’s time for these advertising icons to enter the social media age and start microblogging.

Now I was reminded that character or fake (depending upon your perspective) blogs have been the subject of much controversy. But maybe it’s time to revisit the topic in light of the customers-as-friends phenomenon made popular through social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook.

In addition, there was a story in the New York Times this week on how companies are updating their characters to appeal to today’s Internet savvy generation.

Imagine getting regular Twitter updates from:

The Jolly Green Giant who can share nutritional information and the challenges of being too tall particularly when sitting in coach on airplanes

Or Pop ‘N’ Fresh – the Pillsbury Doughboy – who can discuss recipe ideas and his feelings about being regularly poked in the stomach

Too much information? Perhaps, but putting aside Tony the Tiger’s possible use of Twitter, social media has important implications for brands.

It comes down to brand integrity. While social media helps build stronger connections and extends the brand, it can also tie specific individuals to products and companies. The challenge of course is determining how close that relationship should be. What happens if that individual leaves the company? It is not as simple as starting a new ad campaign. Customers will have invested in this individual, and it may be disruptive to the brand experience.

Of course, advertisers face similar brand challenges when companies end relationships with celebrities and athletes who endorse their products. Customers can make the transition, but in the case of social media you want to avoid having the employees become larger than the brands that employ them.

Food for thought as you eat your morning cereal and read on Twitter tales of that silly Rabbit and what he really thinks when he can’t get hold of that box of Trix.

Let me get back to you.

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Posted by Dan Greenfield in 14:37:00

8 Responses to “Should “Tony the Tiger” Use Twitter?”

  1. Jay Ehret says:

    I have to be in the “no” column on this one, Dan. This is an example of how marketers ruin everything. Let the fake characters set up their own blogs if they want. I’ll subscribe if I want.

    Your example would not really be a conversation but a marketing sales pitch by the mascot. Twitter already has enough problems staying live without having to worry about a bunch of marketers trying to sell something via a fake character.

  2. Marc Meyer says:

    Should brands as well known as the ones you mentioned twitter? No. They don’t need to, unless they feel they need to reach out to the millions that already love them, I can’t the reasoning behind it. Although…Should Tony be launching a new flavor, or is going to show up at a Mall, maybe the tweets become important. It’s an interesting question, since some(scoble) will say that micro-blogging or blogging done by most, is not a bad thing.

  3. DEckoff says:

    Dan, thanks for the mention in your post.

    Yes, I think Tony the Tiger should Twitter!

    But even better would be if real people behind the product like the brand manager, product manager, etc, Twitter in an authentic way – like the CEO of Zappos and Jim Long from NBC News are doing.

    More companies should have execs and behind the scenes people connecting with their most passionate fans.

    - David

    PS… Speaking of Twitter, you can connect with me on Twitter at and if you look like an interesting person I will follow you back!

  4. Jay and Marc,

    Thanks for the feedback. I think Twitter can be used sparingly, but effectively as Marc you point out around promotional events. Like companies that are updating the look of their characters to reach a new audience, marketers have also have to update the tools they use.

    Ultimately, I am less concerned about whether Tony Twitters, and more about how social media impacts a customer’s relationship to the brand.

  5. David,

    No problem. You got me to rethink Twitter. Much appreciated.

  6. For someone is trying Twitter again after over a year with only one interim “long time no tweet” tweet, this is timely given your reemergence. Big difference for me this time is I’m starting to follow people I’ve actually met face-to-face, and enjoying that more. I’m going to try to stick with it, and see if I can get value out of it w/o it occupying all my time. Wish me luck!

    P.S. I do like your character’s blogging concept.

  7. Oops, I meant “character tweeting concept.” (Damn why can’t more blogs let me edit my comments! ;-)

  8. No problem, typos welcome. Your approach to Twitter makes sense. It can be overwhelming. It reinforces personal connections. Still, I do follow most people who follow me. But it makes me think about the difference between Facebook and Linkedin. For me, Linkedin includes a much wider array of people. Facebook is mostly for friends.

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