December 5, 2009 – “Zhu Zhu what?” This was my reaction when I sat down to read the paper this morning. Apparently, small toy hamsters are this year’s Tickle Me Elmo, and frantic parents are camped out at Toys R Us to snag one of these scarce holiday “must-have’s” for their 7-year-olds. According to a recent Washington Post article, Zhu Zhu Pets are “like owning a hamster with one important exception – it doesn’t die and you don’t have to have a funeral in the backyard.”
What may be surprising here isn’t the Zhu Zhu Pet craze. Fads come and go – witness Furby and Cabbage Patch dolls and Pokemon. What may surprise you is that I said “when I sat down to read the paper this morning."
Unlike the Zhu Zhu, the once sacred ritual of enjoying the crackle of a morning newspaper is dying. This isn’t new news. We’ve all heard the drumming, louder and louder, “Print is dead, print is dead...” So, as strategic marketers, what are we to do?
We’ve also heard the answer: “Social media, social media, social media.” Apparently, so did the hamsters. To paraphrase The Post: “To fight the likes of Hasbro and Mattel, Cepia – Zhu Zhu’s small family-run company – turned to social media. They engaged BSM Media who took Zhu Zhu viral through a series of Zhu Zhu Tupperware-like house parties and a Twitter party for moms and kids attended by more than 1,000 people who sent 8,700 tweets in one hour. Buzz was born.”
This is what grabs me as a strategic marketer, not the $10 fur ball selling on eBay for $50 that “smells good and doesn’t leave any dirties in the cage.”
So, is the answer for marketers obvious? Abandon the tabloids for Twitter? Well, not so fast. Creating viral buzz for a holiday fad with consumers is one thing. Developing new business-to-business sales opportunities is another.
Right now, J Street is in the process of developing a 2010 marketing plan for one of our long-time clients – a professional services firm with a solid reputation and strong customer base, looking to expand into new markets. Is Social Media in the marketing mix? Yes. But as a supplemental communication channel, not as a “be-all and end-all” replacement.
Use of Social Media depends upon your marketing targets – Are they more comfortable texting or talking? It also depends upon what you are selling – Is it simple and compelling enough to warrant a tweet? And, in this new world of marketing communications, all of the old rules still apply: Your selling proposition must clearly meet a customer need and your brand message must break through the marketing clutter. But, now the clutter has spread far and wide – to the DVR, email box, blackberry and iPhone. Breaking through becomes much more challenging, and the clarity of strategy and branding is even more critical.
Can Social Media create buzz for businesses? For some, but not all. What is clear is that Social Media opens up several more options for how people want to be reached. If your target spends more time on Facebook than reading trade magazines, then you must reach them on Facebook. Ditto for Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. You have to fish where the fish are swimming. The rules of marketing haven’t necessarily changed, just the ponds.
Zhu Zhu robo-hamsters are smart. Smart enough to rake in a projected $70 million – more than triple original projections this year. Smart because they leveraged Social Media to help create a new social phenomenon. And, smart because their media firm and marketing professionals helped get a story placed on the front page of the Washington Post – prominent enough to grab the attention of this strategic marketer and prompt him to write a blog.
J Street Consulting
President & Founding Partner