Cap’n Crunch Was Out To Sea, But He’s In Social Waters Now

MUKILTEO—Boeing’s Future of Flight Museum is a rich setting for a gathering of social media marketing activists, advocates and practitioners diligently working to get their own projects off the ground at some of America’s largest companies.

Welcome to BlogWell, a half-day conference of social media case studies, presented by, a corporate membership organization and community for senior managers seeking insights and best practices in this still new (to corporate America) channel.

Barbara Liss, Director Digital/New Media at Quaker Foods (a PepsiCo company), is here to present on Cap’n Crunch, in place of MillerCoors, who backed out. She says PepsiCo’s pledge to refrain from marketing sugar-filled foods to kids, led Cap’n Crunch to go dark for awhile.

Yet, the Cap’n is one of the most iconic packaged goods brands in existence, and people were “clamoring for the Cap’n,” says Liss. Of course, it turns out that two of the people doing the clamoring were Michael Gutweiler and Cory Smale, two Chicagoans trying to get attention for their new social-media boutique. Ad Age has more on this aspect of the story, but for our purposes here, let’s just say Quaker Oats lost control of the Cap’n temporarily and had to act fast to get it back.

We had to come clean and create a story that would explain the absence of the Cap’n, says Liss, and we had to do it “overnight.” The brand settled on he was “out at sea” and jumped on Twitter and Facebook with help from VaynerMedia, the marketing arm of Gary Vaynerchuk’s rapidly expanding media world.

“People love it. They think they’re talking to the Cap’n,” enthuses Bliss, reaffirming that this is not the panel on transparency.

Liss says that “social can equal sales,” reporting that the brand saw a 3-to-5 percent lift in sales at a time when there was no other program in market. Clearly, Liss is pleased with those numbers, and she has a right to be.

Addendum: As you can see from my screen grab here, I “engaged” the Cap’n on Twitter after Liss’s presentation. Gary Vaynerchuk is all about scaling one-to-one, and his team is living that on the Cap’n’s Twitter stream–it’s one @reply after the next. I credit VaynerMedia and the brand for actually being conversational here, but I’d like to see them take the brand story much further. If you’re going to bring an icon to life, he’s going to need more than a few flimsy facts. He needs an entire book-length back story.

A brand advocate wants details about the S.S. Guppy, and other pertinent “facts.” Saying, “I can’t reveal the specs,” is a conversation stopper and that’s not a best practice, by any stretch. Conversational marketing requires a new, much more organic form of storytelling. Effective stories needs to be fluid, like the stories we tell our friends.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.