Keebler Aims to Be Buddies With Consumers

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Keebler Co. has become the first consumer packaged goods company to use instant messaging to strengthen ties with consumers of company brands including Keebler, Harvest Bakery, Club, Toasted, Vanilla Wafers, Sunshine, Murray Sugar Free and Town House.


The Kellogg Co. subsidiary will use RecipeBuddie to converse with consumers by instant messenger and offer recipes based on the person's mood and food preferences. RecipeBuddie will choose from one of more than 700 recipes available that meets the consumer's communicated needs.


"We know that millions of consumers are on instant messenger every day, and RecipeBuddie brings recipes into this quick and easy format," said Anna Murray, principal of New York-based eMedia Inc. and creator of RecipeBuddie. "Rather than asking consumers to go to a recipe database site and key in their requests, RecipeBuddie brings recipe ideas, entertaining tips and recipe-idea starters to the buddy list."


The service is open to consumers on the AOL Instant Messenger, AOL/CompuServe and the MSN platforms. It does not proactively contact consumers or collect personal information. The consumer initiates dialogue.


To participate, consumers send an instant message to the screen name RecipeBuddie in any of the AIM, AOL or MSN services. Responses are immediate, delivered in the voice of Becky, a 35-year-old mother of two from suburban Chicago.


For instance, Becky can respond to free-form natural language requests like "I need to make dinner for my kids" with a suggestion of lasagna. If the request is, "I am sad," she offers recipes for comfort food like cheese fries or chocolate cake. There are responses to more challenging requests if someone is in an excited mood and needs recipes for that state, or if somebody wants "chicken, but no garlic."


Becky's character can tell consumers what she looks like, her job and her favorite color. She also can deflect that great conundrum, "What is the meaning of life?" Her answer: "Wow, that's a really profound question. It's not something that a RecipeBuddie can answer. Remember, recipes are my specialty. Ask me about something you'd like to make."


"Through Becky, Keebler can establish a kind of trust relationship with consumers," Murray said. "These consumers will be more likely to want to communicate with the brands -- through e-mail, for example."


To ensure rich content, Keebler partnered with recipe providers such as Dairy Management Inc.'s American Dairy Association. But Murray was largely responsible for crafting the responses to the likely questions.


Keebler is promoting RecipeBuddie on sites such as www.cdkitchen.com, www.recipeland.com and www.recipezaar.com in addition to the AIM Today and the House & Home food sections on AOL.


"RecipeBuddie isn't meant to compete directly with the vast database sites such as AllRecipes.com and others," Murray said. "This is instant messaging, after all. It's meant to give good recipe ideas quickly in Instant Messenger in the most convenient, fun way possible."


According to industry figures, an estimated 100 million consumers now use instant messaging regularly. A vast majority of them use AOL Instant Messenger. And a sizable chunk of this audience is time-pressed. They also go online for menu ideas, meal planning and recipes.


"Our goal in launching RecipeBuddie is to be seen not only as some of America's favorite snack-food brands, but also as a helpful resource for meal planning ideas and recipe suggestions," said Jeff Johansen, vice president of marketing at Keebler, Elmhurst, IL.


Keebler chose New York-based ActiveBuddy's technology to develop RecipeBuddie. ActiveBuddy is responsible for introducing interactive agents like Ellegirlbuddy, AustinPowers and SmarterChild.


A Cheez-It Crackers promotion last year with ActiveBuddy persuaded Keebler to go with instant messaging. The click-through to a link on the promotion was 6.5 percent, three times higher than what Keebler experienced in previous banner advertisements or e-mail.


Besides riding the popularity of instant messaging, Keebler is looking for a cheaper way to add frequency to its marketing communications to consumers. Also, instant messaging will prep Keebler for a time in which it expects other marketing tools like e-mail may lose their luster.


"In many ways, the interactive one-on-one power of the Internet has not paid off," Murray said. "Consumers can go to large recipe database sites and key in "chicken" and get some chicken recipes. But this isn't a personal interactive relationship. In order to take full advantage of the Internet space, the relationship between a brand and a consumer needs, to me, to be more than that."


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