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Hormel turns to social media to put Spam in every inbox

| Saturday, April 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

After 75 years, Spam is going social. Big time.

Hormel's popular canned meat product is attempting to boost brand loyalty and sales by marketing in social media with real-time messages through its mascot and spokesman, Sir Can-A-Lot.

A new season for “Dancing With the Stars” began? There was Sir Can-A-Lot the next day doing (what else?) the cancan.

March Madness is under way? There's Sir Can-A-Lot flying across the screen attempting to do a Michael Jordan-esque slow-motion slam dunk.

The Facebook and Twitter campaign, which also includes Pinterest, is part of Spam's emphasis on social media under the theme of “Break the Monotony” of home-cooked meals by adding Spam, the largest-selling canned meat product in the United States.

“Spam is as American as apple pie. No one can steal that from us because of Spam's tradition,” said Nicole Behne, Hormel's senior product manager for the Spam brand. “We need to continue to innovate.”

Some of the Sir Can-A-Lot pieces are event-specific, like the Irish jig he danced for a spot that ran around St. Patrick's Day. Some can be used multiple times, such as a “Game of Thrones” themed post that can reappear throughout the HBO series' third season.

The social media campaign is the work of Minneapolis-based BBDO Proximity, which has served as Hormel's only advertising agency for more than 80 years.

Spam isn't the only brand using social media to market products. During this year's Super Bowl, when the stadium lights went low during a power outage, Oreo tweeted the message “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” That tweet went viral and was praised by the advertising community for its immediacy and humor.

The Spam team meets daily, constantly surfs the Internet to see what topics are generating buzz on any particular day and then social media posts — usually less than 15 seconds in length — are developed. The voice of Sir Can-A-Lot comes from a professional voice-over actor in Los Angeles. The animation work is shipped to a specialty shop in Portland, Ore.

“It's almost like a newsroom,” said BBDO executive creative director Brian Kroening of the immediacy of the campaign.

Behne said Hormel researched its Spam customers — both lovers and occasional users — before releasing its first national digital advertising campaign.

“We found that those families are more digitally engaged. They're into crafting, they have hobbies, they love to cook,” Behne said. “They're social, so we can go where they are.”

Marketing a brand through social media is becoming more and more mainstream, said Jennifer Johnson, a professor who teaches brand management at the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“Social media allows everyone to be social and to have a point of view and interact. You don't have to be an extrovert to be on social media,” Johnson said in an interview. “If Spam's target consumer is a user of social media, this should be successful for them.”

But social media cannot totally replace conventional print and broadcast media.

“If you're trying to attract my 78-year-old parents, who don't use the Internet, it's not going to be very effective,” Johnson said.

Despite all the jokes made about Spam, it remains a popular staple among American consumers, with a growing international following. Spam is available in 44 countries.

In the United States, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm, Spam sales were up nearly 7 percent in the 12 months ending Feb. 24.

Behne said Spam's market share in the canned luncheon meat category is 87 percent, according to AC Nielsen data. Behne didn't provide a dollar figure for Sir Can-A-Lot's online marketing campaign but noted that it can be less expensive than traditional print and broadcast advertising.

“Social media allows us to target our message to a narrower base of consumers that have a higher likelihood of buying this product, which makes it more cost effective,” she said.

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