Ricola’s message from the mountaintop: Influencer marketing works

When cough drop sales tumbled, the brand leveraged social media to convince audiences that lozenges aren’t just for sick people.

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Here’s something to yodel about. The safeguards people are taking during the pandemic have caused cold and flu cases to plummet, which is a great thing for humanity. But it’s not so great for an iconic cough drop maker like Ricola, which has seen sales decline 40% during the pandemic. To turn things around, the company leaned heavily on influencer marketing to find new audiences beyond customers with the sniffles.

“One thing about social media is that it is nimble and you can test things very quickly,” said Alok Ummat, Director of Marketing for Ricola Canada. “In the COVID environment, every brand is experiencing this, where sales are so up and down. This impacts your marketing budget.”

Social media can be used to drill down and engage a targeted audience. But it can also be used to break new ground at scale. In addition to traditional tentpole media buys (Ricola sprang for a Super Bowl ad at the beginning of the year), Ummat looked closely at TikTok, a rapidly growing platform for social engagement and influential creators that also had an affordable cost-per-click.

“When I look at the metrics and impressions I’m getting, and who I’m getting, a dollar can go farther,” he said. “Average users are four times higher on TikTok than last year. They’ve almost caught up with Instagram.”

The Canadian campaign focused on other uses for cough drops beyond treating a cold, and after the first week,the campaign saw click-through-rates 85% higher on TikTok than on YouTube, and 2 million impressions on TikTok in the same timeframe.

New message for a new audience

“One of the things we always toyed with was how do we become an all-year health and wellness brand,” Ummat said. “We decided to talk about how people use their throats and get a tired throat from being on Zoom calls all day, using their voice and getting tired for other reasons historically they didn’t think about when thinking about Ricola.”

The “Everyday Voices,” campaign was developed by Toronto-based agency FUSE Create and launched with a four-week test run in Ontario last month. The plan now is to broaden the campaign nationally later this year or in 2022.

Animated 15-second video ads for social media show situations where you might reach for a Ricola. For instance, wearing out your throat when pedaling on a bike trail or screaming on a roller coaster or while cheering on your favorite sports team.

“The idea for the campaign was born in social, the genesis of all the ads was that it was social creative,” said Luke Moore, FUSE Create’s VP, Managing Director, Media. In addition to debuting Ricola on TikTok, the ads also ran on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. “With the Facebook buy, we had a brand lift study to inform the test and see whether we could shift consumers to everyday usage,” Moore said.

“In addition to the brand lift and ad recall piece, we could measure purchase intent against other brands,” said Rita Steinberg, FUSE Create’s Digital Media Director. The ad creative sets the tone, and then the message gets further amplified and measured through hashtags like “#tiredvoice,” she said.

Influencers on their mountaintops

The campaign was made even more viral by drafting influencers who proved that Ricola is more than a cough aid. For that, Ricola Canada teamed up with Liv Public Relations, a consultancy based in Toronto, to find the right voices.

One of the shining stars Ricola selected was Toronto Raptors’ “superfan,” Nav Bhatia. The car dealer is famous for having attended every Raptors home game since 1995 and for having created a foundation that raises funds and awareness for basketball-related social causes around the world. He’s also a longtime user of Ricola, according to Ummat.

Nav Bhatia enshrined at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Source: Nav Bhatia’s Twitter/NBA.

Additionally, Ricola tapped Astrid Loch and Kevin Wendt, a star couple from the reality TV show Bachelor in Paradise

Bhatia, who was also inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last month (the first fan to achieve this), expands Ricola’s reach among sports fans and men. The Bachelor couple, on the other hand, shores up Ricola’s core audience.

“For Ricola, the sweet spot has been women, 35 years old,” said Ummat. “And historically they can be reached on Facebook and sometimes Instagram. But on TikTok, the biggest demographic is 18 to 24. The real key is getting new users to your brand. To do that, you need to communicate with them.”

Taking optimization to the next level

A performance-driven PR consultancy like Liv Public Relations can make sure an influencer campaign is gaining buzz. But another level of optimization that is not being used by Ricola relies on AI-based technology to segment customers, match influencers to brands and amplify through paid social.

“Almost every campaign is native with paid media amplification,” said Ryan Detert, CEO of influencer platform Influential, which uses IBM Watson AI for optimization. The creative in the ads is optimized, as well as the placement on social media where consumers are going to click and buy. “The actions we measure are very lower-funnel,” he said.

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Deploying this technology in influencer campaigns helps match brands to specific audience segments or personas by leveraging third-party data. In Influential’s case, that data has been built out over time by using its AI to optimize efforts by Pepsi, Walmart, Sony Pictures and other Fortune 500s.

“For the talent, it’s tapping into the composite audience of their social following, their demography may be adjacent to what the brand has seen success with. We also amplify the creators with paid media, specifically custom audiences based on purchase behaviors or TV and streaming viewing habits,” said Detert.

In Detert’s view, influencers, especially those that are adventurous and open to speaking on behalf of a product, are a great vehicle for targeting the right personas for your brand. In fact, his message to marketers is clear: embrace these rising platforms. 

“I’ve followed this out, and there will be a time when every brand will live on Instagram, TikTok or Twitch. And I believe this year and next year, it will become a standard. They have to have a place in the community,” he said.

About the author

Chris Wood
Chris Wood draws on over 15 years of reporting experience as a B2B editor and journalist. At DMN, he served as associate editor, offering original analysis on the evolving marketing tech landscape. He has interviewed leaders in tech and policy, from Canva CEO Melanie Perkins, to former Cisco CEO John Chambers, and Vivek Kundra, appointed by Barack Obama as the country's first federal CIO. He is especially interested in how new technologies, including voice and blockchain, are disrupting the marketing world as we know it. In 2019, he moderated a panel on "innovation theater" at Fintech Inn, in Vilnius. In addition to his marketing-focused reporting in industry trades like Robotics Trends, Modern Brewery Age and AdNation News, Wood has also written for KIRKUS, and contributes fiction, criticism and poetry to several leading book blogs. He studied English at Fairfield University, and was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He lives in New York.

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